Sunday, 16 September 2007

Migration matters to me

Sibiu was a fascinating place in which to discuss migration. Speaking over lunch on the first day with Torsten Moritz from CCME, the Churches Commission on Migrants in Europe, it was interesting to hear about the different waves of immigration and migration that Sibiu had experienced and is still experiencing. Torsten is German and his wife Romanian. Looking through Bishop Klein's book about the different churches in Sibiu I was intrigued to discover that it was only late in the 18th century that the first Reformed and Orthodox churches were built in the city - following an act of toleration. Shifting national borders, shifting religious allegiances, shifting politics and empires are very much part of Europe's history and present - think of Kosovo or Montenegro, Europe's most recent state. Shifting ideas too about what kind of people and what kinds of religion could be officially sanctioned.
The story about the act of toleration leading to churches of different confessions being built in Sibiu made me think about how it was only in the 19th century that Roman Catholics were allowed to be elected to the House of Commons in Britian and that it was not until after 1871 that non-conformists, Jews and atheists were allowed to attend Oxford or Cambridge universities. In France huge waves of migration followed the revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes, the act of toleration which Henri IV had tried to put in place in 1598 , and it was not until the 19th century that Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues began to be built again in France. In many cities, like Lille for instance, the "temple" (the French word for a Protestant church!) and the synagogue are in the same part of town. Today it is often the building of mosques that is an issue. Religion being very closely identified with the regime led to many statues in France's Catholic churches being destroyed or decapitated following the 1789 revolution.
People move around through choice or by force, and sometimes our ideas, our understanding and our ability to welcome the stranger don't move forwards positively at quite the same speed. Refugees, asylum seekers, economic or political migrants, people fleeing for their lives, looking for work, seeking education, exile or simply looking to broaden their horizons - these are our fellow human beings, yet often we feel threatened by them or by the idea of them.
The issue is one of the key areas where churches, or perhaps I should particularly say church leaders, try to speak out and act in favour of those suffering as a result of restricitive and unjust policies. Simon Barrow has written on the issue in the comment is free section of the Guardian, I find the comments following what he has written really frightening.
Migration and integration means coping with change and change can be destabilising for both host and migrant. The German Rheinland Church, the Reformed Church of France and the Cepple (the conference of the Protestant churches in southern Europe) are holding their bi-annual meeting in Lisbon on "How migration is changing the face of our church communities".
All my life I have been a semi-invisible migrant or immigrant - only the "z" at the end of my name might give pause for thought. My father, his parents and sister left Hitler's Germany in April 1939. They got into Britain because Kathleen Freeman, an evangelical Anglican, founder member of the Council of Christinas and Jews and key campaigner in the Save the Children Fund, opened her own home to German-Jewish refugee children and signed the immigration papers for my father and aunt. My grandmother got in because Quakers signed her forms and my grandfather because his feisty sister Helene Hurwitz was already in London and sat in Sir Stafford Cripps office until he signed her brother's papers - "My brother is a lawyer so are you, you will sign his papers."
In the post-war years my father and his sister delighted in George Mikes' How to be an Alien
particularly when remembering the intense embarassment of travelling on the Underground with their grandmother speaking very loudly in German during the war. Aged 15 and 17 when they left Berlin for London neither of them completely lost their German accents.
A second generation immigrant in my homeland, I have become a migrant worker but a very privileged one, travelling each day from my adopted homeland in France to my place of work in Switzerland - a huge distance of about 2km! And of course despite occasional compliments to the contrary I have not entirely lost my accent either.
And if I could choose a hymn to accompany this blog it would definitely be "break the bread of belonging" by Brian Wren. You can find it in Praising a Mystery the words and the music are wonderful.