Australia

Keeping the faith: Asian-Australians fill church pews amid exodus

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While the wider population is turning away from traditional worship, Asian-Australians continue to fill the pews of Christian churches.

This feature is part of a special five-part series on religion happening all week across SBS News. 

On a cold Wednesday evening, dozens of faithful Christians gather at the Saesoon Presbyterian Church in Western Sydney.

The Korean congregation sing and pray for over an hour, the entire service in their mother tongue.

It’s an increasingly common scenario that reflects the changing nature of Christian worship across Australia.

Christians gather at the Saesoon Presbyterian Church in Western Sydney.
Christians gather at the Saesoon Presbyterian Church in Western Sydney.
SBS News

From masses in-language to weekday Catholic services, churchgoers say the trend of more diversity at traditionally Anglo gatherings has been hard to miss.

Over at Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Church in Chatswood, Rose Wu, who migrated to Australia from Hong Kong 40 years ago, says she enjoys seeing a more diverse congregation at her local place of worship. 

“I meet all these familiar faces, we are here for each other,” Ms Wu told SBS News.

The congregation at Sydney Saesoon Presbyterian Church.
The congregation at Sydney Saesoon Presbyterian Church.
SBS News

The latest census data revealed that many Australians are turning their backs on religion.

But Father Jim Mckeon, a pastor at Our Lady of Dolours, says Asian families are keeping Christian traditions alive at his parish.

“It’s both due to migration but also people in the first generation [of migrants] tend to really hold firm to their cultural values of faith and family,” he said.

“So if you are a Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese or Korean Catholic then it is likely you will come and be a regular church attender.”

Father Jim Mckeon at Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Church.
Father Jim Mckeon at Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Church.
SBS News

A recent National Church Life Survey found the majority of churchgoers with a Chinese background are under 50 years old.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Monash University, Gary Bouma, told SBS News while census data shows most recent Chinese migrants claim 'no religion', a third of Asian migrants do identify as Christians.

“Australia's religious profile is always a product of migration, who is coming, who is arriving,” he told SBS News.

A translated passage at Sydney Saesoon Presbyterian Church.
A translated passage is displayed at Sydney Saesoon Presbyterian Church.
SBS News

Bouma said many migrants find a sense of community and belonging by going to church.

“Some of them will hold more tightly to their faith or have a faith that is more community-grounded and be looking for community and of course churches provide that.”

Reverend Fie Marino works with different multicultural groups at the Uniting Church in NSW and the ACT, including Pacific Islanders, Koreans and Chinese Australians.

Mr Marino said older parishioners should be encouraged to see more ethnic diversity at mass.

“There are exciting times for the church ahead,” Mr Marino said.

“It's not going to look the way it looks now, it's going to look very different and it's going to have a very different flavour here in Australia.”

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