Welcoming “strangers”

Church challenge: Welcoming “strangers” in a climate of fear

Workshop COE-WCC (9-13.11.2015) by Kristine Greenaway

In the midst of a mounting climate of fear of refugees and immigrants, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is calling on Christians to be true to the Biblical imperative to “welcome the stranger”.

A weeklong workshop that concluded in Geneva on Friday, hours before the terrorist attacks in Paris, focussed on multiculturalism, ministry and mission.

Twenty-five participants from 13 countries gathered for a five-day workshop (9-13 November) to explore ways of promoting multicultural dialogue and activities at the parish and community levels.

The objective was to equip ordained leaders and lay people to work in increasingly culturally mixed communities. Theological education, liturgy, and intergenerational dynamics in migrant churches were featured in the programme. The intent was to encourage both established churches and migrant churches to overcome fear and distrust of people different from themselves and to create inclusive and welcoming communities.

The workshop, organised by Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, who is responsible for WCC’s migration and multicultural mission programme, was co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and The United Church of Canada.

Representatives of “Witnessing Together”, a network of more than 90 migrant churches in the Geneva region, pointed to a number of partnerships with historic churches that have led to joint activities such as regular shared Sunday services and joint events for children and youth.

“Integral to multicultural ministry and mission is the formation of such collaborative partnerships that foster close and lasting relationships of trust and mutual care,” says Tahaafe-Williams. “These become communal and personal bonds that are invaluable in enabling meaningful multicultural sharing and active support that can help people work through their fear of newcomers in their community in such circumstances.”

WCC plans further work in the field of multicultural ministry, in order to equip local churches from established and migrant communities to work together to counter rising xenophobia and intolerance in the wake of mass refugee migrations and violent incidents.

WCC Executive Committee speaks out on migrant crises (WCC press release of 12 June 2015)

Statement on responses to migrant crises (WCC executive committee statement of 12 June 2015)