Report from Dr. Roswith Gerloff Department of Theology & Religious Studies University of Leeds, England
In conjunction with W.E.B. DuBois Institute Harvard University Cambridge, MA
Newsletter of the Afro-America Religious History Group of the History Group of the America Academy of Religion
"The Significance of the African Christian Diaspora in Europe and its Interaction with Africa"
In fall 1995 two consultations took place which can be perceived as the beginning of a future process both among churches and researchers. They were the first of its kind and put the phenomenon of the African Christian Diaspora firmly on the table of the historical European-Western religious establishments and academia.
The first was the Consultation Building Bridges', jointly organized by the Centre for Black and White Christian Partnership (Birmingham, UK) and the Organization of African Instituted Churches - OAIC (Nairobi, Kenya) in Nairobi, 20-24 November 1995. It was dedicated to the need of dialogue and action between African Traditional churches and the Historic Mission churches. Approximately 75 participants from several African countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa and Ghana, and Britain, and from many independent and almost all historic' tradition began to tackle three areas of concern:
-- to initiate a stock-taking of recent developments in the movement of the African Church Independency and their impact on the Historic Mission Churches', i.e. discussing the issue of de-colonization of mind and religion;
-- to bring about an encounter between African leaders and the mission and ministry of AICs in Europe, i.e. to look into the shift of paradigm in Mission form a Third World' perspective;
-- and also to create an occasion for the African Instituted Churches themselves to meet and interact. In obedience to God as common Creator and Liberator, it was urged to explore a joint Christian venture in which pluriformity, contextuality and mutual acceptance in these diversities lead to a common witness in the post-colonial era.
Workshops included the mission and ministry of Blacks in Europe; African Independent church contributions to world Christianity; relations and interactions between traditional African-initiated and the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements; recent developments between the ecumenical' and the evangelical' grouping and their impact on the AICs; interaction between Christian and non-Christian new religious movements; African identity and the attraction of Islam, and Theological Education.
I myself was involved in three aspects: the plenary report on Europe (together with Ronald Nathan of the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance, London), the grassroots visits to the African Church of the Holy Spirit' and the African Israel Niniven Church' in the slums of Nairobi, and in the two workshops on the AIC's contribution to the wider Church and on theological education. I was most impressed by the worship in the streets and community halls: what a storehouse of human potential, critical reflexion, closeness to both people's culture and daily predicaments, joy and participation in responsibility including the women! Under contributions', I only mention the holistic approach to worship, a contextualized theology, the sustainance of African traditional religion, pastoral care as facilitating people, church as we'-feeling, the involvement in the struggle for freedom from colonial rule - and self-criticism not to become complacent but to regain the political prophetic role.
Theologically, not only could we share our respective education programmes from TEE and grassroots training to colleges and universities across the continent and Britain, but debate the principles of a non-alienating education in conjunction with the need for higher degrees. The latter are urgently needed for critical reflexion, promotion of dialogue and - last but not least -- for becoming equipped for writing and publishing the AIC's own histories and experience - especially in view of Africa's political crisis, the encounter with the Nation of Islam', attractive for young Africans, and the onslaught of America prosperity religion'.
The second was the World Council of Churches Consultation with African and African Caribbean Church leaders in Leeds, England, 30 November to 2 December 1995, jointly organized by a planning committee of representatives from diverse black traditions in Britain under the guidance of Pauline Huggan (Black Pentecostal member of the central committee of the Conference of European Churches), Roswith Gerloff (Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Leeds University) and Hubert van Beek (Office of Church and Ecumenical Relations at the General Secretariat of the WCC). This was part of the WCC's decision at Canberra 1991 to increase its efforts to establish and strengthen relationships with evangelical, pentecostal and independent churches worldwide, following a consultation of this kind in Latin America 1994, and preceding a similar event in Lagos, Nigeria in January 1996.
The Black majority churches in the United Kingdom were chosen as a very significant example of the presence of the black church movement on European soil' and also of involvement in ecumenical partnership' with the indigenous churches. The Conference which was sponsored by the University, and housed by the New Testament Church of God (Church of God, Cleveland) and the West Yorkshire African Caribbean Council of Churches was also attended by a few representatives from the Asian community and an African Forum in Hamburg, Germany. Striking for the latter was the high degree of self-assurance and self-determination of African and African Caribbean representatives, coupled with critical self-reflexion of one's performance both within their own communities and wider society. From the abundance of material only few observations can be mentioned. The recommendations work out in five workshops included:
-- Black Theology and Theological Education: the need for developing one's own Black theologies which are nurtured by the experience of struggles in Britain's urban ghettos, and must be equipped to tell their own stories' in asserting God as real in African lives.
-- WCC Resourcing Black majority churches: the urgency of shaping a culture of mutual sharing in which the financial and social-education resources of the established' organizations are matched by the spiritual gifts' of the independent churches, such as the concept of church as an extended family', a spirituality of belonging', the enrichment of community life, and theologizing at the grassroots where God acts in practice not in theory.
-- Racism and Social Justice: the necessity for all churches to put racism on their agenda, including the Black majority churches which sometimes have stayed heaven-minded' and indulged in powerlessness', with special attention to asylum and immigration issues, the judicial system (prison population) and the mental health institutions, and for networking of all agencies working on social justice.
-- Church, Culture and Identity: the need for affirming people's cultures as intrinsic to their humanity, for recognizing church leaders as community counsellors, and for supporting the identity of people of African descent in its specific interrelationship with the history of oppression and marginalization.
-- Mission and Evangelism: the call for a common agenda in mission as related to society and politics, for a re-definition of mission and evangelism as geared at the whole person in community, and for spiritual empowerment which must not be afraid of changing structures.
In all these, the WCC was requested to promote publications from within the Black Christian Community on these issues; to give proper recognition to the independent churches' contribution to Mission in Europe - with an effect on European religious and secular establishments; to allow space for both re-defining and presenting theologies from an African perspective; to give priority to the care for the marginalized; and to help networking and exchange of information across the borders.
Interestingly, the Consultation created a spin-off, not with WCC but within the United Kingdom. Considerations are under way how successfully to establish an Annual Leaders' Conference of all major African and African Caribbean organizations and councils in Britain. Besides this, expectations have been raised that this event was not just a talk show' but that actions will follow, e.g. fair representation on the World Council of Churches' programmes and assemblies such as Harare 1998.