Nominal Christianity in Contemporary Europe

Posted October 1, 2018 by europeanmission
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Nominal Christianity in EuropeOf course I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was raised as a “nominal Christian”.
My mother was a disillusioned and non-practising Irish Catholic; my father was “C of E” but rarely showed his face at the local parish church. I was christened and went to the local Church of England Aided Primary School but there was no Christian practice at home: no prayers, no Bible-reading (in fact I am not even sure there was a Bible in the house) and no conversation about spiritual things.

When I finally met a believing Christian in my early teens I can distinctly remember thinking: “These guys talk about Jesus as if he was still alive, not like the dead Jesus they have taught us about in school”. It was the start of my journey into faith in Christ and the turning point in my life.

This issue of Vista tackles the complex issue of Nominal Christianity. The lead article by Evert van de Poll provides a description of the phenomenon and traces its essential parameters. We then reproduce the Lausanne Statement on Nominal Christianity which resulted from a consultation in Rome 2018.

Darrell Jackson reviews the Pew Research Center’s report “Being Christian in Western Europe” and René Breuel writes on the vital importance of visual metaphors for initiation into Christian faith. Lastly, an article by Jo Appleton draws on insights from three participants in the Rome Consultation who write about Nominal Christianity from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox perspectives.

Jim Memory

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Creating Community through the World Cafe

Posted September 27, 2018 by europeanmission
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Like the rest of Europe, life for asylum seekers in Gloucester, England, is a ‘liminal space’ where they survive and wait, knowing they could be moved by the authorities at any time.  “It is like living in an open prison without a status, charged of a crime without a name,” says ECM missionary Rita Rimkiene, who with her husband Vidas Rimkus, founded the World Café.

world cafe foodThe World Café is not a ‘ministry’ however – it is a community where the emphasis is on hospitality, friendship and valuing everyone’s contribution.  “My family in Lithuania was great at hosting parties and as a child, our flat was a place where people gathered and shared life. God brought that back to me when I met Him. Vidas and I have always been fond of having people join us for dinner, lunch and sometimes even breakfast”

As more people joined them, they began meeting in a church hall in central Gloucester, and the World Café Community was born.

Twice-monthly social events are held for between 80-150  people, sometimes even more. The asylum seekers and refugees cook meals from their own countries, with occasional British cuisine. “Everybody comes together to eat, share their joys and troubles, celebrate child birth and mourn, share joys when receive refugee status and be encouraged when they are refused. This is the night when friendships are formed,” says Rita.

While local people are encouraged to befriend the refugees and asylum seekers, “at the end of the day it does not matter who befriends who, we all just  need to be encouraged and loved and experience unity despite of our religious, social or ethnic backgrounds. I love seeing people moving on in life and when it is really tough we can stand together.”

The World Café supports asylum seekers who have particular professions like GP’s where Home Office without a refugee status gives work permission. Generosity of local folk enables World Café to fund some of the exams. Recently, a Pakistani lady passed all the exams and is looking for a job.

Dalal was a Syrian 5 Star Hotel chef who recently arrived in Gloucester with his wife and three children. He has been volunteering at the World Café and using his amazing cooking skills around the city at various church events. The next step is to get Dalal into his own catering business with the help of local business people.

The café has also built relationships with other organisations, such as GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) as well as with Fair Shares, a secular organisation, which helps to find volunteering jobs for all willing.

Rita sees the local involvement as two way: “we want to help local people to use their gifts,” she says “such as sewing, English language teaching, arts, anything really, that can help people to connect and find a new trade or help develop friendship by doing something together.”   This has included a local English teacher who had young children, so couldn’t teach evening classes – but was available for the daytime English club, and even a local charitable trust who has been impressed by World Café’s self-sustainable model which meets both physical and spiritual needs.

And the spiritual side is important too. “The World Café is funded and runs on the compassion and love of local people and churches,” explains Rita. “It welcomes everybody, no matter of their faith and background and is a safe place for inter-religious dialogue. It is a place where Buddhists, atheists, Muslims and Christians feel equal, loved and nurtured.

“Muslims began to come to church on Sunday services. As a result of this, men’s Bible study group started. When people make friends, we hear stories of churches looking after a refugee or an asylum seeking family or an individual. People celebrate Christmas and Easter, take people on holidays, camps and have Sunday dinners. During Ramadan Christians fast together and break fast. People started to pray together and read Holy Books.”

“For example, a young Iranian came to the World Café for a meal. On Sunday he came to church to find out about Jesus, where he joined men’s Bible study group. He went to every housegroup during the week until one day he accepted Christ as his Saviour and got baptised shortly after that. Now he is active within a youth group and has become one of World Café leaders.”

So while asylum seekers and refugees are amongst the most marginalised in society, the vision of the World Café is to give them somewhere to belong  through creating community.

As Rita explains: “The World Café has endless opportunities! ‘The table’ is the beginning of a journey together. As food sustains us physically, open conversation opens a door to our very being – our soul.”

Jo Appleton

Mission from the Margin in Kosovo

Posted September 13, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

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Christianity as default is gone: the rise of a non-Christian Europe’, was the title above a recent article.1

We see this kind of message in publications with some regularity, but it struck me that this research was all about young people aged 16-29. I asked myself, a bit skeptically, ‘what will the future church look like?’ I can imagine from a Christian perspective, this is often exactly how the decrease of Christianity is seen. It feels painful and we feel skeptical. What will the church be in the future?

But then, in the same article, another sentence struck me: ‘In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed.’2 Small in number, but highly committed. The church in the margin, as minority, but faithful present in the society. The aspect of Christian alienation might help us to understand the decreasing position of the church in a more healthy and positive way.
In this article we will look at 1 Peter 1:1 and at the Protestant-Evangelical movement in Kosovo. This church exists in the context of Islam, and has already been in the margins for decades.3

In the beginning of 1 Peter we see the author of the document calls his readers: ‘God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered’. (NIV) There are three elements in this verse which relate to Christian alienation: Identity, Estrangement and being Scattered. I will describe each and include some modest comments related to the church of Kosovo to give us possibly a more optimistic and hopeful view on the future of the Christian movement in the margins.4

Kosovo demographicsIdentity of the Christian movement

Why are Christians alienated on earth? It seems logical to say that this is a consequence of being Christian. But, in my humble opinion, it is often seen as an unintended – and even maybe unwanted – consequence. It might have negative associations. We do not long for Christian alienation. But in 1 Peter 1 Christian alienation is related to God’s sovereign love. The author speaks about God’s election and this makes the church a movement of strangers. Because of God’s sovereign love he has chosen the movement of Christians as His representatives on earth.5 So, if this is the case, Christian alienation is not, by definition, a negative consequence of being Christian or an unintentional aspect of Christian life. No, it is just a positive consequence of being chosen and intentional in nature. This is a radical other perspective which might be often overseen.

This consideration can be helpful for churches in the margins. In Kosovo for example, Christians have to face social persecution.6 There is tension within their families because they become Christians. Gossip, insults and disdain occur regularly. But, despite these difficulties which I don’t want to downplay, they may see that alienation, with all the challenges and difficulties, is intentional and a consequence of being chosen through godly love. That’s why Paul said: ‘You are no longer foreigners (…), but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household (…) with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.’7 Such a clear identity gives a great comfort in all circumstances for the church in Kosovo as well for all churches all over the world.

Estrangement

The author of 1 Peter speaks about ‘strangers’. What does this mean?
First of all: believers are mentioned as strangers in this world. This because of their calling to live a holy, i.e. distinct, life.8 This holiness makes them different from their environment, because of their identity, because of their calling to live a holy life.
This difference is twofold in nature. 1) Christians feel themselves different in their own environment. This gives an inner estrangement to a non-Christian context. But the distinction also works the other way around: 2) The non-Christian context sees Christians as strange because they have other convictions and they behave differently. The latter one is an external perspective.

In relation to the external perspective Christians in Kosovo are often seen as foolish and even as traitors. This has to do with historical tensions between Serbs and Albanians. Kosovar Albanians know that Serbs are (Orthodox) Christians. From their perspective, the Christian Serbs killed and raped a lot of Albanians during the war at the end of the 90’s.9

With regard to the inner perspective Christians do face the fact that they have to behave differently. On the one hand they keep some distance and on the other hand they try to reach to their own people. This paradoxical attitude, inspired by the notion of Christian alienation, raises the question of how to protect the churches’ identity and at the same time try to be of value within the public sphere? Christians have to live their lives in the seemingly contradictory position of neither distance nor assimilation. Alienated but as seed in their environment.

Scattered

According to 1 Peter, Christians are apparently scattered in their non-Christian environment. This translation emphasizes the notion of being a minority or at the margin of a society. A movement which is scattered has no religious or political power. In Greek the term ‘diaspora’ is used. This also reminds us about the exile experience of the people of Israel during the Old Testament. What was one of the characteristics of the exile? Longing for their home, Canaan.

So, somehow Christians have a kind of diaspora experience.10 They are longing for their home country,11 the eschatological reality with God, and powerless in the earthly reality.
In Kosovo there is no Christian political movement, no Christian lobby, no big churches. In Kosovo we have only Christians who live their lives and share their hope within their families, within their villages. They share their hope for a future reality, but also hope for their country in this earthly reality. There is no room for any kind of escapism. And just in this paradoxical engagement they live their godly missional lives.

Godly lives, in the margin, in a non-Christian society. And from the margins Christians try to live in the midst of their (non-Christian) neighbors. Not as victims, but as victors, as chosen people. Alienated on earth, but not alienated before God.
I know; Christianity as default is gone, but I see the rise of a church in the margin in a non-Christian Europe. Right there where God called the church to be.

Rik and Matched Lubbers are ECM missionaries who have worked in Kosovo since 2013.

Endnotes
1. Sherwood, H., ‘Christianity as default is gone: the rise of a non-Christian Europe’ in: The Guardian, 21 March 2018. See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion (Last consulted on 4-6-2018) Compare also: Bullivant, S., Europe’s Young Adults and Religion: Findings from the European Social Survey (2014-16) to inform the 2018 Synod of Bishops (London: St. Mary’s University, 2018)
2. Ibid
3. Because of the given space I cannot work out all the Bible passages related to ‘Christian alienation’. I chose the first letter of Peter because it is just this letter that turns a marginal indication of Christian alienation to a more prominent quality of the church. Cf. e.g. Gen. 23:4; Ps. 38:13 [LXX: 39:12] and Hebr. 11:13. At the same time we recognize that this designation of the Christian movement never had a central place in the NT. It is just one of the designations for the church.
4. Christian alienation contains a lot more, but for this contribution I have to limit myself.
5.. 2 Cor. 5:20. We deliberately use the terms
‘church’ and ‘Christian movement’ alternately to
emphasize the church as collective.
6.. With social persecution I do mean social tensions which expresses as e.g. discrimination, tension within families, disadvantaged positions on the labour market etc. In Kosovo is, as far as we know, no physical persecution.
7.. Eph 2:19.
8.. Cf. e.g. 1 Pet. 1:15, 16; 2:5, 9.
9.. The difference between the Serbian orthodox church, the catholic church and the protestant church is often unknown in Kosovo. I want to emphasize that it is, in no way, our intention to interfere in any political debate related to the existing tension between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians.

10. I am careful in using the notion of ‘exile’ for the Christian church. This has mainly to do with the fact that the exile was in the OT a punishment and judgement from God.

11. See e.g. 1 Pet. 1:4.

Reaching the Roma

Posted August 23, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

Download Vista 30 hereReaching the Roma

There is a bus which runs directly from a small Roma Hamlet in NE Slovakia to Sheffield. When Slovakia became part of the EU in 2007, many Slovakian Roma travelled on this bus and settled in estates in the north of Sheffield, UK.

As the number of Roma grew, so did tensions in the city. Stories of increased theft, litter-strewn streets and ghettoisation started to appear in newspapers. In 2015 there were fights in the streets, particularly between the Roma and Pakistani residents.

Whilst tensions have decreased in the city, any mention of the Roma generally brings stories of disrespectful, system-abusing, unwanted immigrants.

Marginalisation of the Roma – the largest ethnic minority in the EU, is nothing new. Efforts to improve integration have met with limited success, with one in three Roma in the EU experiencing some form of harassment, with 4% being physical violence. (Fundamental Rights report 2018, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights)
Lack of education, employment opportunities and poor social skills contribute to their social exclusion. The 2016 European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey of nine member states found that 80 % still live at risk of poverty. Moreover, an average of 27 % of Roma live in households where at least one person had to go to bed hungry at least once in the previous month; in some EU Member States, this proportion is even higher.
In addressing some of the need, there are many ministries reaching out to the Roma across Europe – this article highlights just two.

Mission Possible in Bulgaria started running soup kitchens and classes for children in Roma villages and hamlets in 1998. In addition, they give ‘Baby Boxes’ to families with newborn children, which contain donated essentials such as clothes and nappies.

Roma girls are married young and many become mothers between ages 13 and 15. They don’t receive instruction and lack medical care. So alongside the Baby Boxes, the Mission Possible staff hold classes for the mothers giving them teaching, health care, and mental and spiritual help and support. The spiritual aspect is important, and in several Roma villages, churches have also been planted as part of Mission Possible’s work.

Back in Sheffield, a small missional community linked to a local church is reaching out to the Slovakian Roma living in one of the estates.
“Many Roma already know Jesus – one of the first things you’ll hear out of their mouths when you truly start to get to know them is ‘I love Jesus’,” explains Sarah who has been part of the group since mid-2017. ‘But we want that they might truly encounter the living God and to cultivate a spirit of worship among the children.”

The group is currently in touch with over 100 children and their families (with families typically having up to 10 children). Due to the nature of migration in Sheffield, most of the Roma are related to each other in some way, and homes are always open with children moving freely from one to another. Sarah reports that it is hard to walk up the street without being stopped by 10 different children, all eager for conversation. “In such large families, children are often hungry for attention and time – which is something we can give them,” she says.

“Part of our mission is house visits. When visiting a new family, it often takes no more than a knock on the door and saying ‘Hi, we’re neighbours, can we be friends’ to be let into their house, offered food, coffee and friendship. We listen to the adults as they express concerns or worries, helping them to decipher letters, finances, doctor appointments, as many adults have limited English and literacy. We often end by reading the Bible together, praying and singing to Jesus, which they love.”

The group also do discipleship classes with older teenagers, and a highlight of the week is the Jesus party (so-called by the children) where they all share food together, have a short sketch or talk, and then singing and dancing, with the children often making up their own songs of praise.

“We have also started doing homework with the children,” says Sarah. “Many struggle in schools. Their chaotic home lives mean that they are not able to adapt well to the rigid school environment, and most of them before coming to England will have very limited experience of school. In Slovakia, the Roma are not allowed in normal schools, and instead attend special schools – or none at all. As a result, children are not used to rules or sitting still, and the exclusion rate is disproportionately high.

Their parents’ lack of English means they often can’t get help with their homework, even if they want it. Often during home visits, children are keen to practice reading or maths, or show us with pride a class test they have passed.

“But the children and families are also extremely vulnerable. Grooming is an issue. Alcoholism is a problem in some families. They are often very poor, exploited by landlords and employers and unable to access legal aid.

“Even so, we are seeing lives transformed. Children who a year ago had little respect for authority, and who we struggled to engage with are now kind and respectful. They listen, are polite and don’t fight.

“The Roma are so eager to and ready to love, and deserving of our love, if only we are willing to put aside cultural barriers and see them as Jesus does. They are a beautiful people and we just need to open our eyes to see it.”

Jo & Sarah Appleton

For more information about mission among the Roma visit romanetworks.org

Marginalisation in Europe

Posted August 6, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

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Mission in Europe cannot be properly understood – or responsibly carried out – without reference to the margins of European societies and those who find themselves there. Just as Jesus’ mission was “at, with and from the margins… the church’s mission cannot be otherwise.” 1

For Jesus this meant spending time with women, children, gentiles, lepers, the poor and others who were excluded by his contemporaries. We are duty-bound to ask questions about equivalent groups in Europe today: who is marginalised, from what, and how? And what should be our response to such marginalisation? But we also need to ask searching questions about our own locatedness (centre or margin?) – and what those on the margins may be teaching us.

Some European Christians complain that secularisation has seen the church itself being marginalised but loss of power and – which are not to be understood primarily as geographical or physical but social.

The English language abounds with forceful words for those who have been described as “from the underside of history, from the outskirts of society, from among the oppressed masses”2: these are the downtrodden, the ostracized, the dehumanized, the subjugated, the alienated, the stigmatized and the disenfranchised. The common thread being a denial of the right to participate fully or equally in society; being “far removed from decision-making processes.”3

There are those who are marginalised on the basis of their ethnicity, race or religion, whether Roma or evangelical Christians in some countries, or victims of centuries-old prejudices and discrimination. Such marginalisation may be institutionalised, legalised or legitimized by state approval (or tacitly endorsed by, for example, state churches).

Secondly, there are those who are marginalised because of their social and economic status: the homeless, unemployed, lower social classes, prisoners and others who face limited opportunities as impersonal but powerful forces work to exclude them from fully participating in society. Refugees and asylum seekers and those who are trafficked also fall into this category: often socially marginalised and, sometimes barred altogether from ‘Fortress Europe’.

A third type of marginalised people are those who are rejected, dominated or
‘dis-privileged’ because of their identity: women, young people, the elderly, the disabled, those not conforming to heterosexual ‘norms’. Across Europe, different states have made different levels of progress in terms of social inclusivity and acceptance, with some lagging behind considerably.

All three forms of marginalisation describe situations where those with power and influence use it (whether intentionally or not) to control, impair or harm those with less (or no) power and influence. That is to say, marginalisation has its roots in human selfishness, power lust and, ultimately, sinfulness. It is a complex phenomenon and varies from context to context; a person who is marginalised in one setting may be someone who excludes or marginalises others in a different context.

Our response

How can European churches and Christians respond? There are at least four necessary responses.

Firstly, oppressive powers – and that includes those of marginalisation – must be identified and denounced. This is part of the church’s prophetic role in society, and such denunciation may bring us into conflict with elites and those benefiting from the status quo. In some countries such as the UK there are many precedents for such condemnation; in others countries, churches may need to take bolder steps to confront injustice and inequality.

Secondly, the church itself must practise a “radical inclusiveness”4 that simply refuses to perpetuate us/other divisions, fundamentally challenging the concept of core/margin thinking: all are to be welcomed, all are to be invited, and the need for genuine Christian hospitality has never been greater in European churches.

Thirdly, those who have been marginalised “should not be seen as only recipients… but as actors in mission.”5 The marginalised are to be equal participants not only in society but in terms of participating in God’s mission too. Some would go further and argue that marginalised people are the “main partners” in God’s mission.6 What could we learn from such sisters and brothers? As the World Council of Church statement Together Towards Life reminds us, on the margins it is often possible to see what is out of view from the centre.7

And finally, some hard questions need to be faced by European Christians, especially given our continent’s long history of imperialism and colonialism: how have our lives, our churches, our theology, even our missiology, served our own interests and excluded or marginalised others? To what extent are we complicit in others being marginalised? Have our actions (or inaction) led to other groups or individuals being kept out – of our countries, our parliaments, our universities, our workforce, our churches.

When we marginalise

It is important for churches in Europe to be alert to the possibility of marginalisation wherever there may be imbalances of power. Three examples will illustrate the point.
Firstly, Harvey Kwiyani has sensitively raised the question of whether non-Western missionaries are being marginalised in the West, including Europe.8 The danger being that Western attitudes, assumptions and unacknowledged prejudices may lead to non-Western missionaries being seen as inferior to Westerners; or seen as equal but lacking equivalent resources and influence and being disregarded as a result.

Secondly, at missions conferences, training colleges and so on, are minority European voices being heard? Do Eastern Europeans have as much influence as Western Europeans in these circumstances? We need to reconsider who is setting the agenda for European mission.

And thirdly, are some missiologies or missiological approaches themselves being marginalized within Europe – whether liberationist, feminist, Pentecostal (or non-Pentecostals) or other? So even within missionary and missiological circles, we may find marginalisation occurring.

Where does this leave us? Ironically, there has been talk in recent years of Europe itself being marginalised, as other countries, including China and India, develop economically and assert themselves politically.
But whatever the international status of Europe, its churches and its Christians would do well to simply follow the example of Jesus Christ and his approach to power and to those isolated or excluded by it: the Jesus who ministered to the poor, the sick, the maligned and the oppressed, and challenged his disciples to do likewise; the Jesus who died among the despised, rejected and forsaken; the risen Lord who sent – and continues to send – his followers “to the margins (ends) of the earth” that all might be invited in.

Chris Ducker is Lecturer in Mission at Redcliffe College, Gloucester.

Endnotes
1. Joseph Prabhakar Dayam, “Postscript: Mission at, with and from the margins – A missiology of the cross” in Jesudason et al (eds., 2014) Mission At and From the Margins: Patterns, Protagonists and Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum Books), p.262.
2. Miguel de la Torre (2014) Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, 2nd edition (Maryknoll: Orbis).
3. Genevieve Mwayuli and Misia Kadenyi (2009) “Environmental Justice for Peace and Development: A Biblical Perspective”, African Ecclesial Review 51:4, p.533.
4. Matthias Wenk (2009) “Reconciliation and Renunciation of Status as God’s final aim for Humanity: New Testament Thoughts on the Church’s Mission and Unity”, p.5. Wenk notes that this radical inclusiveness “also prompted conflict and schism with those that did not share his vision.”
5. Emma Wild-Wood and Peniel Rajkumar (eds., 2013) Foundations for Mission (Oxford: Regnum Books), p.240.
6. WCC (2012) Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, p.107.
7. Ibid, p38.
8. Harvey Kwiyani (2012) “Power in Mission,” Journal of Mission Practice No.2, Autumn 2012.