“Go forth…” FSPC conferences on alternative forms of church work

A marketplace introducing new forms of being the living church engaged the FSPC’s combined Women’s and Diaconal Conference on October 28, 2013, in Bern.

The Protestant churches in Switzerland are looking for new ways to reach out to people. The shared goal is to continue to be a living church, tomorrow and all the days to come. Because one thing seems clear: what the churches have to offer traditionally only reaches a small fraction of today’s population.

Accordingly, “Go forth…” was the motto of the joint gathering of the Diaconal and the Women’s Conference of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSCP). Roughly 100 delegates and guests of the 26 FSPC member churches congregated in Berne on October 28, 2013.

To “go forth” is a challenging and sometimes unfamiliar experience. In the context of a “marketplace”, participants had the opportunity to learn about practical examples from various churches. These included background studies from Zurich and Neuenburg as well as the project “Évangile en chemin” of Reverend Hetty Overeem of Waadtland, who is hiking with her dog, donkey cart and a tipi as an itinerant pastor. Among the projects introduced at the marketplace was “Heiland Sack” (an idiomatic expression that can be roughly translated as: “the savior’s bag”), an initiative from the Basel region distributing food and consumer goods to the poor.

“The church must switch from a ‘come-structure’ to a ‘go-structure’,” Christina Aus der Au emphasized. The church must go and reach out to those who don’t need it – because they don’t know about it – “and those who have questions about religion and spirituality,” the theological director of the Center for Church Development at Zurich University explained. “If people do not expect anything from the Christian faith because they don’t know it, it is doubtful whether they will ask for a pastor in times of joy or need,” she added.

The message should be formulated in a way that “it stays true to its origin and mission, reaches people in all their diversity and can be actually relevant.” The church needs an open ear both for the Word of God and “for the individual person here on earth.”

She explained that the aspects that can make the church attractive to people vary immensely, as the life style background studies clearly show. As a consequence, the church must emerge and grow along with people and their lifestyle. “People want to participate instead of merely attending,” one conference feedback stated.