Summarised by Roswith Gerloff
The concluding session 'The Way Forward made it quite clear that the consultation was not - as promised - a membership campaign but the exploration of a joint Christian venture, or 'Oneness in Christ', in which 'witness, unity and evangelism belong together'. As such it pleaded for the basic recognition of ethnic minority churches in Europe, and, more specifically, asked the WCC to assist the African Diaspora in Europe educationally, socio-politically, culturally and evangelistically. In other words, it requested from the world organisation to promote interaction, dialogue and networking with Europe's established churches, and to allow African and African Caribbean Christian communities to be regarded as equal partners theologically, culturally and ecclesiologically.
This, the participants voiced unanimously, should rank highly on the WCC's public relations work, taking into account the cultural, social and spiritual roots of these churches.
General proposals in this session were, therefore:
1 The promotion of publications on African and African Caribbean church life and theology for a wider audience, as a voice from within and not as an interpretation by outsiders only.2 The inclusion of Asian Christian communities in further ventures.
3 The renewal of the Black Christian community from within by establishing an Annual Leadership Conference which brings together the African and African Caribbean leaders of churches, as diverse as these may be; develop a joint agenda; function as an umbrella group towards the wider community; and give particular attention to the young population as Black people who were born and educated in Britain and therefore strive for a new African-European identity.
The categories mentioned about: education, finance and related resources, social justice politics, culture and mission/evangelism, had been the issues discussed in the Five Workshops the previous day. Their topics had been drawn from pre-suggestions Each of them made their own more specific recommendations which are briefly summarised here:
- What language to use?
- How does theology relate to young black people in Britain?
- How to tell 'one's own stories' or experiences of struggles in a variety of contexts: generational, denominational, and regional?
This also points to the tremendous search for formulating one's own theology:
- the need for writing down the oral traditions of ethnic minorities in Europe;
- the need for affirming the dignity of each and every individual;
- the need for asserting God as real in African lives (which is a reason for the drift to the Nation of Islam of young Blacks which asserts Faith in its practical and political implications).
Proposals to WCC
1 Help to fund theological education for Black majority churches both within Europe and from Africa.
2 Help to fund publications and reports on Black majority churches in WCC journals (eg RISK or ONE WORLD).
3 Allow space for both re-defining and presenting theologies from an African perspective, ie the re-interpretation of (Black) Pentecostal and African charismatic theologies.
4 Promote links with E.A.T.W.O.T. and encourage membership in a European Forum of Black Theologians.
II WCC Resourcing Black majority churches
Black majority churches in Britain came into being out of necessity to serve their cultural and spiritual constituencies. They nevertheless have also displayed features which are a historical legacy of the colonial mission ('handout mentality', dependence on missionary support) and have shown problems in relating to a genuine partnership. This raises at least three issues:
- What are the best means and structures for relating to the indigenous churches?
- How can poverty best be tackled, ie how can maximum resourcing go the most marginalised in both South and North?
- How can project failures be effectively avoided, eg by training into accountability?
This also points to the need not to interpret resourcing on a purely financial but also spiritual basis. The Black majority churches have much to offer:
- a spirituality of 'belonging', so important in a fragmented Europe;
- the bringing of self, or the whole person, into worship;
- the enrichment of community life;
- theologising at the grassroots, full of vibrancy and meaning to life, or seeing God's actions not just in remote sacred or academic but very practical terms;
- a healing ministry which is not manipulative but sees Salvation related to the whole person;
- pastoral care and social action as a form of evangelism for society.
Proposals to WCC
1 Facilitate the sharing of information and the development of an efficient network
2 Tackle the question of 'bureaucracy', or the tension between movement and institution, which may involve a change of the structures of WCC.
3 Take into account the function of leadership within Black majority churches as community leaders and representatives.
4 Support first and foremost the care for the marginalised.
III Racism and Social Justice
Britain's Black population differs from other ethnic minorities (eg Irish) in that they are visibly different, ie subjected not only to discrimination and prejudice, but to institutional and individual racism; they have no power and no control. This raises at least three issues:
- Racism must be on all churches' agenda, including the Black majority churches who have stayed 'heaven-minded' and indulge in 'powerlessness'.
- Concerted pressure of all churches on the government must be exerted, ie cooperation of various agencies promoted;
- Special attention must be given to immigration issues, the judicial system (prison population!) and the health service (Blacks in mental health institutions).
This also points to the need for more efficient networking within Britain:
- draw Black Christians into voting power;
- promote affirmative action;
- highlight immigration and asylum issues;
- lobby MPs;
- network between CCRJ, ACCIS, ACEA, WYACCC, Black Christian Concerns etc;
- promote prison and mental health institution ministries;
- highlight Racial Justice Day (September 10);
- proceed with the employment of a Racial Justice Officer (see Black Christian Concerns).
Proposals to WCC
1 Promote interaction between Black and White organisations: all too often organisations set up by white structures tend to serve only their own constituencies.
2 Facilitate information on resources and proceedings on funding (eg PCR): all too often Blacks are not familiar with opportunities.
3 Work out a common agenda, but start with the needs of the ethnic minorities, and take heed of different localities: White Christians ought to listen to problems of the Black community.
4 Influence Councils of Churches to improve dialogue with all churches of the area:
'Oneness in Christ' would be being together from the onset!
5 Help lobbying members of the European Parliament.
IV Church, Culture and Identity
Black majority churches necessarily know the connection between faith, culture and identity. Culture is intrinsic to humanity, and if people's culture is not affirmed, they become de-humanised, as colonial history has demonstrated. Culture is related to people's past, present and future, and is carried as baggage of a group, family or society. This raises at least three issues:
- Culture in this context cannot be understood as static, but very dynamic, as it evolves around the specific needs of a community.
- Language is central to this process, as it expresses values given or taken away in the course of changing perceptions, eg the ever changing terminology asserting people's cultures.
- Cultural identity of people of African descent is therefore interrelated with specific aspects such as the history of oppression, racism, social injustice etc.
This also indicates the need for:
- assessing the problems and aspirations of Black youths who are born and educated in Britain;
- recognising church leaders as community counsellors, or mediators with social workers;
- support local Black ventures such as WYACCC and similar ones which are small, new and relevant to changing perceptions.
Proposals to WCC:
1 Foster a holistic understanding, proclamation and incarnation of the Christian Gospel.
2 Take seriously the Black concept of Church as an 'extended family' or fellowship which serves as a vehicle for community building or community capacity building, so crucial for the young.
3 Help Black majority churches to re-activate social and political services.
4 Support the affirmation of African and African Caribbean identity in the churches' mission, evangelism, pastoral care, and prophetic ministry.
V Mission and Evangelism - Reverse Mission
Black majority churches have an understanding of Evangelism as ministering to both the spiritual and material needs of people, and of Mission as being broader than Evangelism, as it covers the world and can never be separated from the context of politics. This raises at least three issues:
- Mission in modern times must be based on mutual respect and sharing, as it has now to be a two-way route and as such a joint venture.
- Mission cannot any longer be colonial but dialogical, as demonstrated in the New Testament and church history.
- Mission must be based on spiritual empowerment, ie prayer and attention to people, not just strategies.
This also indicates some important features:
- There is a different between getting people 'back to church' or leading them to Christ.
- There is a need to observe Revival which is already happening instead of concentrating on one's own agenda.
- Mission and evangelism must be very clear about their targets: eg has a Ghanaian only a mission to fellow Ghanaians or the whole of society? Are we building all-inclusive congregations or just ethnic groups?
- The contributions of Black majority churches and African independent churches must be recognised as gifts of the Holy Spirit for today's society (see under II, paragraph 2).
Proposals to WCC
1 Explore and develop a common agenda in Mission.
2 Give proper recognition to the independent churches' contribution to Mission in Europe and worldwide - with an effect on European religious and secular establishments.
3 Consider the conversion of WCC's and its member churches' structures as they relate to assisting mission.
4 Pay particular attention to the African Christian diaspora in Britain and other European countries as living communities which long for unity in mission and evangelism in today's political world.