Refugees turning European churches to hospitality, multicultural outreach

The massive influx of refugees and other migrants into Europe over the past several years has had a significant impact on evangelical and mainline churches, as they have rethought and retooled their ministries to meet the needs of such newcomers. Ken Chitwood reports in Christianity Today (October 3) that many churches have played important roles in helping to integrate these migrants, ranging from providing practical necessities to helping them learn a new language and navigate their way through bureaucratic social services and other institutions. A 2018 study by the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) found that, aside from hospitality services, such involvement with immigrants has provided them with “symbolic resources for positive self-identification and opportunities for interaction.” Chitwood writes that such a process has also led to a “transformation of European churches.” A subsequent CCME survey of 74 churches of mainline and evangelical background found that migrants had started attending half of these congregations by 2020. About a quarter reported that they had become a notable minority in their congregations and another 20 percent reported that they had become the majority. This demographic change has led churches to develop a European theology and Christian social ethics based around migration issues and the mission of the church at large, Chitwood writes.

Source: Lutheran World Federation.

Part of this rethinking of mission has led to a growth in church planting and the building of new institutions. Chitwood points to the founding of a new seminary in Rome to meet the pastoral needs of the Chinese churches that are burgeoning in Italy and Europe and train new Chinese missionaries to the region. Eventually, the seminary sees itself becoming a “hub of multicultural mission work on the continent.” In the East German suburb of Gotha, the Mustard Seed District Mission, which was started to minister to migrant families from Ukraine, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Syria, has been “experimenting with new forms of community,” member Ute Paul said. The mission focuses less on events, she said, and “more on relationships, ‘accidental’ encounters, and natural life in the district…[creating] a vibrant network of relationships between people of different backgrounds and origins from around the world.” She added that this shift has meant leaving behind the paternalistic methods of missions and discovering an alternative style of “walking alongside people, giving priority to newcomers’ experiences and strengths.” Missiologist Detlef Blöcher, chair of the Working Group for Migration and Integration of the Evangelical Alliance in Germany, said initiatives like Mustard Seed are a “blood transfusion to the church in Europe…We need their contribution to be a witness to our post-Christian society.”