There has never been so much cultural and confessional diversity in the church landscape in Germany. This diversity and common Christian roots provide a great opportunity to actively develop cultural life together. However, there is often very little contact between the migrant churches and German congregations although they both hold their worship services in the same building. The German service is in the morning and the migrant church meets in the afternoon. Ignorance and a lack of understanding of the other results in isolation and marginalisation. This website is an invitation to find out about cultural diversity, encourage you to make contact with migrant churches and to initiate intercultural encounters. Feel free to contact us for support in this endeavour.

In this section we have presented reflections on intercultural encounters, examples of local cooperation, as well as further reading and practical help.

Reflections on Intercultural Encounters

Intercultural relationships do not simply happen. They have to be initiated and cultivated, which requires time and patience. Trust has to grow and mutual appreciation must develop. On the basis of experience and observation, as well as examining various theories, I have distinguished four key dimensions which contribute to the success of intercultural encounters and cooperation.

(1) Mental models and inner attitudes

Encounters with people from different cultural backgrounds will be shaped by our mental model and inner attitude. “Mental models are deeply rooted assumptions, generalisations, or pictures and symbols, which greatly influence how we perceive the world and how we behave.”

(MSenge, Peter .2011. Die fünfte Disziplin. Kunst und Praxis der lernenden Organisation. Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel Verlag, Seite 18) [Senge, Peter M. 2011. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organisation ,is available through Amazon]

We are often not aware of these mental models. They only surface when we encounter people who are different. We are confronted with thoughts revealing our own discriminatory or even racist attitudes. Only when we face up to these mental models and no longer suppress them out of shame will we be able to experience reconciliation and change.

Our attitude, on the other hand, is the conscious decision on whether I affirm cultural diversity; whether I welcome refugees or demonstrate against them. Our attitude also determines whether we are willing to learn and be changed by intercultural encounters. It is especially important in these intercultural encounters with refugees and migrants that we choose to organise events with them and not for them. Christians with a migrant background bring with them many spiritual and social resources, which need to be recognised, encouraged and appreciated.

(2) Context of intercultural encounters

Intercultural encounters do not take place in a vacuum but are shaped by a social context. The unequal access to resources, socio-economic differences and everyday racism also affect relationships in a Christian context.

A classic example is the use of places of worship. German churches act as landlords, while the migrant churches rent the rooms for a lot of money on an hourly basis. Cultural differences such as loud music, unfamiliar smells coming from the kitchen, or a more flexible understanding of time mean the relationship between the churches is often strained. This is especially the case when a landlord–tenant relationship characterises the encounter rather than a caring relationship between brothers and sisters.

This social reality needs to be recognised, reflected upon and where possible changed. A first step is to ensure that for all projects the intercultural preparation and leadership teams are on an equal footing. A further step to reduce the imbalance is to stop regarding the migrant churches as a source of income, but rather to see them as a further ministry for God's kingdom in the city, which they should be support.

(3) Relationships

Reflecting on our own attitudes and recognising the unequal social reality prepares the ground for open and respectful relationships. Such relationships require time, investment and patience. Meeting each other at a planning session for a joint worship service is not sufficient to gain deeper insight into each others' lives. Attending the church service of the other party or taking part in their festivities would better serve this purpose. Listening to each other without judging is fundamental to relationship building, winning trust and removing prejudice. Without personal and sustainable relationships each intercultural encounter will remain superficial and fail to strengthen the cohesion of society.

(4) Methods

Finally, methods and programmes also help to initiate intercultural encounters. You will find some examples of cooperation in the next section.
I deliberately present this dimension last because methods are often applied before reflecting on the three dimensions described above. Preparations for an intercultural service illustrates the need for a right foundation: The German pastor is waiting for the African pastor. He is hoping that the African pastor does not want to preach because of complaints his congregation would make concerning the pastor's accent. The African pastor arrives late and excuses himself on the grounds that a church member called. The German pastor feels vindicated in his prejudice that Africans are basically unreliable and never punctual. The preparations run politely but there is no real encounter because no relationship had been established between them. The German pastor has no idea of the real life situation of the African pastor. Some of his church members are threatened with deportation and he has to help them with their acute problems. The African pastor does not share the privilege of having a church secretary and has to take care of many things himself.

In daily practice the four dimensions are inseparable and mutually dependant. I encourage all those involved in intercultural matters to pause and reflect from time to time. They can ask themselves about their attitudes, identify situations where the social power imbalance is significant, and assess the state of their relationships with each other.

Examples of local cooperation

The joint use of church rooms provides a basis for building relationships. In such a set-up there are many opportunities to move from isolation towards community. At the same time the immediacy of such relationships presents the greatest challenge, since conflicts can easily occur in everyday encounters with one another.

It is important that their common use of a church facility is geared towards an intercultural partnership right from the outset. Thus it is helpful not to sign a rental contract but a partnership agreement. A rental contract emphasises the landlord – tenant relationship. The one sided balance of power becomes obvious when challenges arise because the landlord has the right not to extend the contract. A partnership agreement, however, implies that both parties are required to meet challenges together.

Responsibilities for the rooms can be specified, such as questions related to financial participation and the decoration and cleaning of the rooms. Joint solutions should be found, which do not mean a financial loss for the German church and at the same time are acceptable for the migrant churches.
It would be ideal to appoint competent intercultural contact persons in both churches who serve as reference points when difficulties arise. Open and honest communication on the part of those responsible in the church leadership and good communication with the parish caretaker are among the prerequisites for a successful partnership. It is beneficial to the relationship to make the existence of the migrant church visible from the outside. This can be done by putting information about their activities in the church showcase or in the monthly church magazine.

A partnership lives by encounters and by building personal contacts. They do not result from occasional ecumenical worship services, but through joint projects in which diversity and gifting find their expression. It is essential to to develop and support these projects together., otherwise the members of the migrant church would notice that projects are initiated for them but not with them. Some creative ideas have been listed below. There are, of course, many others that could be added:

• “ At home in Germany”: On six encounter evenings participants with migrant background meet with locals to converse about various aspects of German culture and society . Input is given followed by discussion on topics such as: everyday culture; schooling; the police; and German law. The course involves locals as well, simply because creating a welcome culture depends on locals gaining insight into the real life of migrants. Eating together and personal sharing around the tables are keys to building relationships and encouraging togetherness. For more information on this course please click here.
• Many churches have choirs; some even have gospel choirs. Almost all migrant churches of African background also have a gospel choir. A Berlin church gained valuable experience by holding a joint Gospel workshop. The project choir sang at a joint worship services followed by an intercultural banquet.
• Eating together is an important part of hospitality and fellowship in many cultures. Many dishes are associated with traditions and cultural customs about which stories are told. An intercultural cooking course with stories about the recipes could also prove to be a worthwhile project.
• An exchange platform could be established as a win-win situation for all participants. An elderly lady or an elderly man, for example, helps a member of a migrant church to fill out forms and write German letters. The migrant on his part helps the elderly person to do the shopping or to repair furniture; this is exactly what a member of an Iranian church did for an elderly couple. Another form of of mutual support is a language tandem, where two people help each other in their language skills.
• Relationships are also strengthened by attending each others' church services. It is important in such initiatives to avoid confusion by explaining the different forms and procedures in the worship service to the visitors.
• Periodically joint intercultural Bible study events can be organised. We can recommend “Sharing the Bible” as a good method to promote intercultural dialogue on equal footing [Vgl. Werner Kahl: Interkulturelle Bibelarbeiten, in: Zusammen Wachsen, EMW 2011, 210-217.].
• Once a year a week of intercultural hospitality can be announced in which church members visit one another or go on an excursion together.

The cultural and confessional transformation of the church landscape in Germany cannot be halted. We are faced with the challenges of entering into relationships with one another and removing distorted views and prejudices. Our common faith provides a unique opportunity to develop intercultural relationships, to overcome cultural boundaries, and as churches to to be an example of successful inclusion - something desperately needed in Germany. The focus is on personal relationships. The joint use of church rooms offers good possibilities for such relationships to form. Structures and prerequisites need to be in place, however, which initiate and provide support for the encounters. Developing good relationships to each other is the only way to prevent isolation and marginalisation.

[This text is by Bianca Dümling. The reflections on intercultural encounter are based on:  Dümling, B./Sommerfeld, H. (2016): Neue Gemeinden hat die Stadt - Migranten, Migrationskirchen und interkulturelle Gemeinden. In: Sommerfeld, H.: Mit Gott in der Stadt. Die Schönheit der urbanen Transformation. Transformationstudien 8. Marburg: Francke Verlag, S. 407-424 ]

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