In the city of Calvin where Reformed and Protestant roots run deep, migrant churches are bringing a new dimension to the theological and ecclesial landscape.
Recently, more than twenty churches, most from migrant backgrounds, came together to raise concerns of migrant communities, support their efforts for integration and reflect on the evolving church situation in Geneva, Switzerland.
The event, which was sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Witnessing Together in Geneva took place from 30 September to 1 October 2011 at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, and focused on a theme, 'Migration and the Ecclesial Landscape: An Ecumenical Response to Migration', as part of the WCC programme on Just and Inclusive Communities.
The Rev Matutina Romeo, a participant and founder of the Christian Church Fellowship International in Geneva, shared his experiences of serving in a “migrant church”.
He said: “As a faith community, we naturally look for a place of worship, once we move from our home countries. This wish has its roots in our inherent search for a sense of belonging and to find fellowship, which can help us integrate in a new environment.”
Romeo moved to Geneva from the Philippines in the early 1980s, and founded a church five years ago. His church includes a large number of members from the Philippines, Nigeria, USA, Fiji and Switzerland.
“International churches have influenced theological and ecclesial landscapes in Geneva. The city has opened its culture to other traditions” he adds.
Romeo also shared on how churches can play a strong role in assisting migrant communities. “Migrants in un-expected situations often face difficulties. Financial insecurities, lack of health facilities and discrimination. Many do not get to see their families for a long time. We at the church try to provide an assurance to them, encourage them to think of a concrete plan for the future, so that they get re-united with their families.”
The conference also served as a forum for the local churches to get to know the WCC and its work for migrant Christian communities. The WCC staff shared information about its different programmes and sister organisations.
“I appreciate the efforts of the WCC to reach out to local churches. This empowerment is significant for us, and a chance to come together for a common purpose. With more unity, churches can make their support for the migrant communities visible, not only at the local level but also at international level,” said Romeo.
The Rev Dr Roswitha Golder, from Witnessing Together in Geneva, co-host of the conference with the WCC, also endorsed the stance for church unity in support of migrant communities. Witnessing Together in Geneva is a programme of John Knox International Reformed Centre, which unites 70 Christian communities of various ethnic, lingual and national backgrounds.
“It is evident how various regional perspectives are impacting theological and ecclesial scenes, including church music. There are influences from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, as I visit worship services in Portuguese, Spanish, English and other languages, right here in the city of Calvin,” said Golder.
“Churches have opened their doors to the migrants. Yet I see a need for an ecumenical approach necessary to promote a culture of acceptance and love. And this is to compliment a shift in spirituality, which is the result of a multicultural fabric of our society,” she added.
Concluding the conference, Sydia Nduna, WCC programme executive for Migration and Social Justice stressed to “utilise the unique placement of the WCC for further engagement in the processes that will lead to closer relationships between WCC member churches and migrant Christian communities”.
* WCC work on migration and social justice: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/unity-mission-evangelism-and-spir...
© Naveen Qayyum is staff writer at the World Council of Churches, based in Geneva, Switzerland.