What migrants say about church

25 01 2021

I browsed the article and thought I was reading about America. It said that

  • forms of unity across cultural differences are desirable, a sign of the work of the Spirit, and
  • multiethnic churches have a particular missional role to play

Well, the research was actually done in a small town in the UK, but it could have been talking about the U.S. The interviewer asked migrants from Africa, Asia, and Europe how they were experiencing their small church in the UK. Here are some tidbits you may find interesting:

They described the church as ‘home,’ ‘family,’ ‘belonging,’ ‘community,’ and ‘hospitable.’

Asked about the importance of place and people, some indicated that sanctity and sanctuary were meaningful; a place of holiness, awe, and wonder aid in worship and bringing humanity closer to God.

One described church as a watering hole, where an essential element for life could be found and then shared.

Why does a migrant choose to attend a church? To get involved in the local community; to nurture my faith; to form friendships. One said, “You feel that people know you and you end up feeling that you know almost everyone who is here.” (the attendance at her church is around 100).

Since the relational nature of church is important, migrants interviewed were conscious of the way they were initially welcomed; one noted the genuine interest shown; another was pleased that if they missed a Sunday someone noticed and asked about them.

Informal contemporary style of worship appealed to most respondents; some wished the singing was more animated (had to have been the Africans!); some appreciated the number of songs from around the world. Some appreciated being asked to participate, while not being forced.

Aspirations for children were significant motivators for several parents; the activities provided spiritual nourishment, helped with integration, and upheld the values their parents appreciated.

Most found it novel that they could contribute to Jesus’ mission in a unique way.

Respondents described mission as being a good neighbor, talking about one’s faith, praying and using remittances to support relatives, and helping the disadvantaged in their homeland.

Some suggested they could provide a link between host country church and immigrant churches so as to develop a partnership with them in mission. Another suggested that travel to other cultures helps with appreciation of diversity.

The focus which the church had on integration and unity helped migrants enculturate their faith with their new homeland; they expressed a desire to understand the culture and act appropriately within it, rather than openly challenging its values.

Isn’t it interesting to view church life from the viewpoint of immigrants? And does it not make us more aware of how important it is to be friendly to someone new?

While not the focus of this research, another side of the story is the benefit which the host congregation experience because of the immigrants joining them. The article did, however, make this observation: “the local congregation considers itself enriched by a growing multiethnic profile which provides a more complete image of the universality of the body of Christ.”

One of my friends likes to say, “Everyone who belongs to Christ belongs to every other person who belongs to Christ.” That is one amazing implication of belonging to the body of Christ. Jesus sees us all together as His body; His love flows through every joint and ligament, from one part to the other.

    Robert Rasmussen

P.S.  Is this a topic of interest to you? Please email me and let me know what questions or topics you would like me to take a crack at.

Blog contents drawn from, “The Experience of Migrants in a Native British Church: Towards Mission Together,” by Emma Wild-Wood, in Global Diasporas and Mission, edited by Chandler H. Im, and Amos Yong (Regnum Books International, Oxford, 2014), pp. 175-190.



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