Saturday, 23 April 2011

'migrant workers'

I suspect that this post is one to file under 'statin' the bleedin' obvious' category however, stemming from a conversation with current supervisor, it has bubbled up as one of those things to go 'ah, yes, hmm, think about at some point' for me - perceptions 'n suchlike, and so, I'll blog it anyway...

'Migrant workers': it's been the phrase that is usually followed in the tabloid headline by ...
'undercut our jobs/
destroy our economy/
get 'em out',
and other such scaremongering words.  It's been handy fear fodder for both the previous Labour government, and the current ConDem pact of horror.  And it does seem to be a battle about perception.
Being away from the UK has provided a little food for thought already on how we perceive others, and how we perceive ourselves.  I google-imaged the term 'migrant workers' and was met with row upon row of pictures of non-white, impoverished looking people - refugees, illegal immigrants: popular stereotypes.
But ... I'm a migrant worker.
I just hadn't thought of myself as such!

Apparently, here in Geneva, 1/3 of the population is made up of foreign/or migrant workers: from huge multinationals and NGO's, all the way through to illegal folk, hoping for a better life, but who have fallen through the cracks in the system.  So perhaps a case in point, again, of the dangers of assumptions and painting labels with wide brushes.
In the context in which I'm currently working here, the church is mostly - not entirely as there are some Swiss - comprised of non-native Swiss... thus, mostly 'migrant workers'... and this makes for a fascinating dynamic.  The congregation has a core of longer term folk, but also has a high proportion of folk on the move - on one/ two/ three year contracts.

With so much movement, one of the questions I'm beginning to reflect on is how this affects a congregation - relationally, spiritually, liturgically?  Does it make a congregation opt to stay with a more traditional form of worship or does it mean that changes can occur without too much turmoil?
Here in Geneva, I think perhaps, a little of both.  Given that the congregation is not just made up of Scottish Presbyterians, but a wider spectrum, a more traditional format is at least something that provides familiarity: it can be recognised from Church of Scotland, to PCUSA, to Uniting Church of Australia, etc. In this context, it provides a helpful structure, I suspect.  From a community point of view I guess the challenge is to 'plug' the new folks into the existing community as quickly as possible, given time factors, but also not to make them feel 'pounced on'.
[Oh dear, now I have an image in my head of zombie apocalypse and the words 'fresh meat' being uttered... not quite what I actually had in mind!!!!  Pesky zombies do crop up at inconvenient moments in my reflection process - what would Jung say, I wonder?  Note to self: Geneva is not a zombie apocalypse!!!]
One of the church groups I've been involved with the most has been the woman's group.  It's excellently run: a good and varied programme as well as being an incredibly welcoming bunch.  Very good sense of folk belonging and feeling supported... finding community, friendship, fun, spiritual nurture.  I've been really impressed by the hard work of the organisers to keep the thing not only running, but fresh and lively.

As an aside... re churches and migration:
Further afield in the Presbytery of Europe...
Malta has seen a large influx of Libyans, due to the current unrest as the Gadaffi regime clings to power in the face of protest.  As a response to this, the Church of Scotland has set up a project to provide aid to those seeking refuge from the conflict.

In the end, though, I am brought back to thinking that all of us are strangers in a strange land: exiles for a time, here on earth, searching for that heavenly kingdom where all are citizens, all are welcome, all belong.  A vast multitude bound together in and through and by the love of God.  And also, thoughts return once more to Augustine and my favourite quote: 'our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you'. I never tire of that one - it goes deep!

And a tangent to end:
It is also a very odd feeling - I can't believe how quickly this month in Geneva has gone.  It seems no time at all since I arrived and suddenly it is time to think about returning back the the 'burgh.  Last day is Wednesday.  I will miss the people and the place - we have bonded very quickly and it has been a superb experience.


spotthegerbil said...

Terrible things them migrant workers. They come over here and...

Pay taxes.


Nobody ever mentions the 5 million or so Brits that are working abroad. Emigrants get less headlines than imigrants.

And for the benefit of the zombies...


(Zombies do lousy coffee mornings)

Mrs Gerbil said...

Lets talk about us all being immigrants. Living here during the last ice age wasn't possible.
Lets talk about ice cream and fish 'n chips. Brought to the UK by Italian immigrants.
Lets talk about the 2007 government report showing immigration had an effect on the economy equivalent to a reduction in income tax of 1.5% (
Lets talk about foreign students subsidising UK ones through the fees they pay.
Lets talk about God's love for everyone.
At the end of the day, it's what's in people's hearts that matters.
Not sure about immigrant zombies, though...

Nik said...

Spot on, Gerbils... I don't think I've ever told you that you both rock :)

spotthegerbil said...

Aww. Cheers! (from two blusshing gerbils)

JohnO said...

The European churches (of Scotland) are a fascinating study of a very different dynamic at work in a congregation. They are themselves, essentially, strangers in a strange land and that, I think, is reflected in how the congregation operates and interacts with others. Hospitality, for instance, in such a transitory setting, becomes a crucial activity for building relationships, not just a vehicle for polite welcome.
Glad you had a productive time there.

Nik said...

yes, totally John - am now thinking once more about the ministry of hospitality... from the invitation extended by Jesus through to our extension of that offer - who is welcome/ who isn't; why/why not; the context of community as those who you journey with... the context of community as those who at times support you, or who you support... community as part of the process of spiritual nourishment/ encouragement to keep walking, to keep offering welcome, etc. Lots to chew on and will be very sad to leave here on Wed.!

Martin Ritchie said...

Love that Augustine quote too!