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Internationaler Kirchenkonvent - informations in english
The cooperation with churches from abroad
The « Internationaler Kirchenkonvent (Rheinland Westfalen) »
International Church Convention (Rhineland Westphalia)
- Germany is a country of immigration (a truth frequently denied till the 1990; there has been the use of talking about “Gastarbeiter” (literally: “invited workers”) as if they left one day). There is an ambiguous situation: on the one hand, demographic decline in Germa-ny demands a strong immigration, especially of skilled workers, on the other hand, a problem of xenophobia persists namely in the East of Germany.
- In 2012 800.000 immigrants were living in Germany, most of them coming from Bulgaria, Poland, Spain and Greece.
- 57 % of the immigrants are Christians; the media however keep making believe that their majority is Muslim.
- Since the 1990 there has been a decreasing number of seekers of asylum (because of stricter laws and the closing of outer borders of the European Union). In the last years the number is significantly increasing again due to the crises in the Near East.
- Historical background: Germany lost its colonies in 1914; as a consequence, there is no German speaking Christian country outside Europe. Welcoming congregations from abroad in Germany is therefore mainly a problem of language.
- The Rhine / Ruhr region is an ancient industrial area, today with changed economic structure and traditionally open for strangers, liberal and marked by immigrants (Hugue-nots from the Netherlands, Polish in Ruhr region in the 19th and 20th century, Turkish immigration since the 1970), still the most populated area with big cities like Cologne, Essen, Dortmund, Duisburg, Düsseldorf and others.
- The Evangelical Church of the Rhineland and in Westphalia is traditionally a minority churches in a mainly Roman-Catholic region. Except from some protestant « islands » around some noblemen, protestant settled in great numbers in our region not before the end of World War II. As a consequence, the Church of the Rhineland and in Westphalia started as immigrants’ churches, without their children being aware of this fact!
- The Evangelical Church of the Rhineland and in Westphalia are united churches gather-ing different protestant traditions, Lutherans, Reformed, Pietists, liberal…
- There is, within the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland and in Westphalia, a gap be-tween the big cities where most of the immigrants are living and the rural regions. (e.g. Düsseldorf : 72 foreign congregations, whereas the whole South of the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland do not count more than about 10.)
Important notice: membership to a protestant church is clearly defined by the church tax. In Germany you have to declare either “Protestant” or “Roman-Catholic” (or “Jewish” or “Muslim” or “without confession”) to the tax office. The church tax (9 % on the annual income) is automat-ically withdrawn by the employer.
Consequence: Most of the foreign congregations do not benefit from the privileges of the two main confessions in Germany. They are organised as societies (and not as “Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts” - public corporations) and make their living only on the contributions and donations of their members. Frequently, foreigners declare “protestant” when they come to Germany and pay hence both, the church tax and a fee in their church from abroad.
Consequence: The German church remains the stronger and more powerful partner in the co-operation as to financial, human or social resources. This strong position contradicts to the thought that we are all equal as sisters and brothers in Christ. It is thus a crucial point of the cooperation between us to use the privileges and the gifts of an established church and to avoid its theological, administrative or liturgical dominance.
Diversity of the member churches
In the three “Länder”, Nord Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, there are at least 550 different fellowships and Christian groups of foreign origine and language. The “Inter-nationaler Kirchenkonvent IKK” (international church convention (Rhineland Westphalia) gath-ers 143 assemblies and groups of different origin and multiple characters. The link in the diversi-ty is defined by
- confessing Jesus Christ as the only saviour,
- an open mind for ecumenism and acknowledgement of different creeds as parts of the one Church of Christ,
- the common root of the Reformation ; the IKK only gathers protestant groups (in the widest meaning of the word).
There is a great variety of traditions among the member churches of IKK that does accept nei-ther Roman-Catholic congregations (that are organised as foreign ministries in the midst of the dioceses), nor Orthodox, nor anti-ecumenical (extremely charismatics, conservatives as some congregations of Germans coming from Russia):
- Classic free churches like Baptists, Methodists (African, Spanish, Italian, Indian, Arabic)
- Churches descendant from European or Northern American protestant mission: Presby-terian, Calvinist, Lutheran (African, Korean, Chinese).
- Foreign churches still linked with their mother churches : Finish Lutherans, Hungarian reformed and others
- New free churches: Pentecostals, Charismatics (moderates), often in transition from a free group to a structured church (African, Brazilian)
As far as the geographic origin is concerned, most of the congregations - 83 of 143 – are rooted in Africa (Congo, Ghana, Ethiopia, Cameron and Angola), 32 come from Asia (above all from Korea, India and Indonesia, from China), 20 from Europe (Hungary, Finland, Netherlands, Spain etc.), three more from South America (Brazil) and five called themselves international and multilingual.
However, the European congregation count most members: the most numerous foreign church-es are the Hungarian and the Finish (1.200 with five places of worship).
A short History of IKK
Before 1997: local partnerships between German and foreign congregations
1997: project of an international church of a Rhenish pastor when she returned from China, Since 1998: program of the United Evangelical Mission (VEM) in Wuppertal “cooperation be-tween foreign and German churches” (research, edition of an index, contacts)
1999: first meeting of delegates of the VEM, the Rhenish and the Westphalian Church and for-eign churches, opening of a “list” of groups and assemblies from abroad
Since 2000: committee of churches from abroad established
Since 2001: start of the annual training program “Kikk” (“Kirche im interkulturellen Kontext”) church in an intercultural setting (7 terms since)
Since 2002: criteria for membership to the list, general assemblies each year
2008: the program “cooperation between German and foreign churches” is transferred to the Churches of the Rhineland and Westphalia
2011: special ministry established for the program
2011: commission of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) working on the chances and challenges of the growing presence of churches from abroad in Germany
2012: “Internationaler Kirchenkonvent IKK” (international church convention (Rhineland West-phalia) established
2013: Founding of regional conventions and networks.
2014: First modifications of law in advantage of member churches of IKK (hiring of employees, opening of church committees etc.)
Criteria for membership in the « Internationalen Kirchenkonvent IKK »
(International Church Convention (Rhineland Westphalia)
(Formerly: list of congregation of foreign origin and language in the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland and the Evangelical Church in Westphalia).
- The congregation applying for membership agrees with the following basis of faith of the World Council of Churches: “We belong to the fellowship of churches which con-fess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and there-fore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” It is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one Eucharis-tic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for his followers, "so that the world may believe." (John 17:21)
- The congregation is aware of being, together with other churches of German and for-eign languages, a part of the body of Christ in Germany and is committed to an ecumenical cooperation with churches of German and other language. It is committed to solidarity according to the biblical background: “This is my commandment that you love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). It is engaged to avoid all splitting and to promote unity “so that all become one" (John 17:21).
- A steady structure of the congregation. It is registered as a society (e.V. “eingetragener Verein”). If not, it has to exist at least for three years with a sustainable structure. At least one responsible person should speak sufficiently German.
- If the congregation is guided by a pastor, he or she should in general be ready to join training programs organized by the Evangelical German Churches. Such programs are offered and run in cooperation with representatives of churches of foreign lan-guage and are supposed to enlarge their knowledge of the church’s situation and of the social and theological issues in Germany. They shall be a meeting point of Chris-tians of different languages to make them learn from each other.
- The congregation should attach two (written) letters of recommendation to their application, one in preference by the hosting church, another by a network or a council of congregations of a foreign language or by a third congregation of their place that matches with the criteria. The delegates of the congregation should enter into a con-versation with the members of the committee which decides finally on the demand. The recommendation should be short and should prove that the congregation recom-mended corresponds to the criteria given. As a consequence, it is helpful for the recommending congregation to read the criteria before.
The crucial points about the cooperation with churches from aboard
- The cooperation is a reaction of the church to an important change in the social setting of our country: Germany has become a multicultural country of immigration. The ecumenical landscape is changing too. How does our church respond to the arrival of thousands of Christians coming from all parts of the world?
- The cooperation tries to live the unity of the Church of Christ amongst the protestant communities without denying the persisting theological differences. The presence of a great number of congregations from abroad is asking an ecclesio-logical question how and to what extend the German culture contributes to our protestant identity. Which parts of our creed are cultural and thus variable contribu-tions?
- The cooperation should be a proof of our ecumenical commitment: Are we really ready to share new visions of the Gospel, to accept different spiritual traditions and different way of living Christian faith? Or do we insist on our academic theological positions only reserving for others a place among the exotic forms of Christianity?
- The cooperation is part of our contribution to the integration of immigrants. What is our contribution to a multicultural, peaceful, nonviolent society if we do not suc-ceed in regarding other Christians from elsewhere as sisters and brothers? In spite of all the differences in financial means, social reputation and human resources: Is our cooperation done in real partnership, in real equality?
The Committee of IKK
- is composed of 11 members, 4 of African origin (2 English speaking, 2 French speaking), 3 of Asian origin, 2 of European origin and two delegates from the German churches,
- is gathering each six weeks,
- decides on the membership to IKK,
- discusses the training programs and other events,
- represents the member churches to the public,
- argues about theological and practical items,
- encourages the members churches to work together,
- shares at every meeting a text from the Bible.
How the member churches are benefitting from the membership:
- Invitation to all the events of the network like the annual general assembly in may,
- Invitation to training programs of the German churches as to the KikK-program („Kirche im interkulturellen Kontext“ Church in an intercultural setting“ at 10 weekends, and to the program for Sunday school teachers,
- invitations to events of the churches, their services and institutions, like the Missionale, the Gospel-Kirchentagen and the Kirchentag (protestant church meeting),
- letters of recommendation for the chaplains to see prisoners or sick people in hospitals;
- letters of recommendation to the office of immigration, to embassies and consulates for visitors coming from foreign countries, for visas and in questions of residence permit
- the right to purchase church buildings,
- on request et against reference: financial support for projects of the member churches;
- publishing the churches’ addresses, time and places of worship in the internet on the sites of the Evangelical Church of Germany and the regional churches in the Rhineland and in Westphalia,
- help for administrative and practical problems and in search of a place of worship,
- guest membership in committees of local churches and church districts in the Rhenish Church,
- exceptional hiring of candidates coming from member churches of IKK for jobs in the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland.
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