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WCC Consultation on Mission and Ecclesiology of the Migrant Churches

Report of the consultation held 16-21 November 2010 in Utrecht, the Netherlands

01 January 2011


Netherlands Mission Council Guesthouse
Utrecht, the Netherlands
16-21 November 2010


Migration is a global phenomenon. Today, globally around 250 million people are labelled migrants. A recent BBC report stated that at the start of the 21st century one in every 35 people is an international migrant. Migration is the movement of peoples either forced or by choice in search of livelihood. Those who are forced to migrate, research has shown, are those who leave their homes and countries because of war, environmental degradation, religious and/or political conflicts and persecution, corrupt political regimes, repression, poverty further accelerated by the impact of neo-liberal market economy.

Migration thus is a justice issue. Women, children and undocumented workers are the most vulnerable among the migrants in all contexts. The rise of right wing conservatism, coupled with xenophobic attitudes and the persistence of racism, the casteism, gender discrimination, and human trafficking has contributed to a rhetoric that demonizes the migrant and sees migration as a negative phenomenon, and as a problem. This has had the impact of problematizing the migrant as a person, detracting from a necessary and urgent analysis of the root causes of migration. As prophetic communities of faith, we believe that the Church is called to reframe the rhetoric of migration, both for the church and the society.

In seeking to reframe the rhetoric and to redefine understandings of mission and ecclesiology from the perspective of migrant and multicultural churches, a consultation of concerned components of the World Council of Churches (WCC) , with representatives of Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), Faith and Order Commission (F&O), Just and Inclusive Communities (JIC), and partners related to the Ecumenical Network For Multicultural Ministries (ENFORMM) came together in Utrecht, the Netherlands, at the hospitality of the Netherlands Mission Council. Participants in the consultation also included local organisations and networks related to the Association of Migrant Churches in Netherlands (SKIN) which works with migrants and multicultural churches, who enriched the discussions with their experiences, stories, and good practice ideas.

Through keynotes, small groups, caucuses and plenaries, the consultation identified a number of issues, challenges and opportunities relating to migration and migrant/multicultural churches, highlighting the fact that these are crucial for the work of ecclesiology, mission and evangelism and the shaping of the ecumenical agenda. In the conversation a number of key questions were raised including:

What needs to be the response of the global ecumenical community and the churches everywhere to the phenomenon of migration which brings to the table a number of hard challenges of justice, dignity, rights and peace to churches’ witness today?

How do Christian communities express theologically their self-identity / ecclesiology and mission each in their particular contextual reality, whether as a minority or majority community?

In the context of increasing multi-confessional reality of the church, how can mutuality be the basis of our ministry to the other?

How do we deal with the issue of reverse mission and its implication for ecclesiology and mission?

How are the migrant churches living in the context of religious diversity of the migrant communities? How can we promote inter-religious dialogue and cooperation as a pastoral response?

What are the gifts and challenges of migration towards the unity of the Church?

The conversation also allowed for some helpful clarifications on the following:

Migrant/Multicultural Churches

Reverse Mission

Inter/Intra/Extra approaches to mission

The consultation starkly exposed the grim realities faced by migrants globally, and the sobering necessity to raise awareness and educate both church and society on issues of migration, religious and cultural diversity. It emphasised the urgent need for World Council of Churches in partnership with the Roman Catholic Church, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Pentecostals and other Church World Communions to begin constructive dialogue with member churches who “live” the reality of migration. Each ecclesial community must be invited to bring its rich experience and learnings to the table to address not just the reality of the migrant but also the root causes of migration. In so doing it will be necessary to make sure “the migrant” and not just their community leadership is contributing to the dialogue.

Migrant communities continue to develop “migrant/multicultural” churches especially in the global north. These ecclesial communities invite the established local churches to enrich their understanding of Christian self-identity, ecclesiology and mission, challenging the assumptions of migration of the colonial and post colonial era, and its impact on church and global relationships. The gifts and challenges these migrant/multicultural churches provide demand a re-imagining of mission, evangelism and being church. Questions about Christian identity and migration are two-fold. To the members of migrant communities it means affirming who they are and what their internal, intra, and extra mission is in a new context. To the members of the local established communities it means redefining Christian community in terms which transcends the categories of nation, language, ethnicity, and status; it recalls the biblical language of 1 Peter 2.11 in which we are all aliens and strangers. It necessitates a new paradigm for ecumenism that takes seriously the need to be inclusive and collaborative, taking into account inter/intra and extra approaches to mission, and that directly impact the life of people at the grassroots. It is, therefore, imperative that the World Council of Churches and its member churches create space for migrant/multicultural communities in its life, programs and ministries as equal partners.

The Biblical and Theological Imperative

Throughout the whole scriptures and the Biblical stories of migrants and sojourners we believe that God’s people are always on the move. We are reminded that the stranger and alien are central to the biblical story and that migration into the unknown and the unfamiliar and unsettling is an integral part of human reality and our theological reflections. Our Christian faith and tradition is rooted in the narrative and story of the migrant. Jesus Christ himself was a refugee and the early church was born in a multicultural and multi-religious context of mission and migration. We are reminded that the Church was intentionally started as a multiracial, multinational and multicultural community of faith (Acts 2, with Is. 66:18). In Ez. 47 we understand the church as an open and inclusive community called together to witness to the promise of God’s reign here and now, offer hospitality to the stranger (Rom. 15:7), to that extent multicultural ministries involve preparing the people of God to affirm and celebrate diversity which is a self expression of God of the Bible, (Gen. 1:17, Matthew 25 and Ez. 47). The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbours as ourselves. Therefore, the affirmation and celebration of diversity is a feature that runs across the whole biblical tradition. Such responses in faith test our capacities to be just, compassionate, respectful and humble, the way God in Jesus Christ wants us. Through such acts of celebration of human oneness as well as of God’s whole creation, through our options to be on the side of the vulnerable and the strangers, we witness to the hope of the coming of reign of God.

The phenomenon of global migration has also created a need to engage in inter-religious dialogue within our local and global communities more than ever. Our experience of ecumenical dialogue has given us essential and foundational tools for listening and engaging in the dialogue with the believers of other religious traditions. However, migration brings us together as a people on the journey of faith in search of how God’s call is common to all of us, particularly as we address the challenges of injustice, human and environmental abuse, exploitation, discrimination, etc. We are called to respect the sacred texts and experiences of other world religions to find a common ground for dialogue, cooperation and human solidarity. (Jer.29: seeking the welfare of the city) This collaboration should include secular organizations who work for the well being of the all people of God. In the light of our conversations on migration, we read in a fresh light the World Council of Churches Porto Alegre statement on Called to be the One Church:

The relationship among churches is dynamically interactive. Each church is called to mutual giving and receiving gifts and to mutual accountability. Each church must become aware of all that is provisional in its life and have the courage to acknowledge this to other churches. Even today, when eucharistic sharing is not always possible, divided churches express mutual accountability and aspects of catholicity when they pray for one another, share resources, assist one another in times of need, make decisions together, work together for justice, reconciliation, and peace, hold one another accountable to the discipleship inherent in baptism, and maintain dialogue in the face of differences, refusing to say "I have no need of you" (1 Cor.12:21). Apart from one another we are impoverished. (Called to Be One Church, §7)

Implications for the World Council of Churches:

There can be no doubt that migration and multicultural ministry are core issues for mission, evangelism, ecclesiology and the work of just and inclusive communities of the World Council of Churches. And we recommend that there be intentional and conscious collaboration and cooperation on these issues between the various programme sreas as a necessity, and to work in partnership with other networks (e.g. Ecumenical Network FOR Multicultural Ministries) and communities (World Evangelical Alliance). In particular, in the lead up to WCC Assembly in 2013 we urge:

  • Faith & Order and Just and Inclusive Communities to work collaboratively to ensure that migrant issues and voices are integral to their programme agendas and priorities.
  • Faith & Order to continue to reflect on how migration and multicultural ministry need to shape its thinking on ecclesiology into the future, and the critical and urgent need to make space for contextual and multicultural theologies which are necessary for how we do theology in the 21st century.
  • Commission on World Mission and Evangelism to lead a three year process (2011-13) of consultations between Faith & Order, Just and Inclusive Communities, Ecumenical Network For Multicultural Ministries and including World Evangelical Alliance to ensure that the new mission statement of World Council of Churches incorporates the significance and centrality of migration and multicultural ministry to the work of World Council of Churches.
  • We encourage Faith & Order, Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, Just and Inclusive Communities and Ecumenical Network FOR Multicultural Ministries to reflect on inter-religious dialogue and migrant/multicultural ministry in their three year joint endeavour.
  • Request that we keep each other engaged in the progress on the work and to identify together the next steps by the spring and fall of 2011.
  • Propose Bible studies for the next WCC Assembly in Busan to include issues on the themes.
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