Icelandic church strengthens commitment to immigrants, refugees

Rev. Toshiki Toma and Bishop of Hólar Diocese Solveig Lara Gudmundsdottir at the LWF Ecumenical Center in 2019. Rev. Toshiki Toma of the International Congregation in Breiðholts Church is pastor to immigrants and refugees at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. Photo: LWF/A. Danielsson
Rev. Toshiki Toma and Bishop of Hólar Diocese Solveig Lara Gudmundsdottir at the LWF Ecumenical Center in 2019. Rev. Toshiki Toma of the International Congregation in Breiðholts Church is pastor to immigrants and refugees at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. Photo: LWF/A. Danielsson

General Synod adopts comprehensive new policy

(LWI) - The General Synod of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland (ELCI) recently approved a comprehensive immigration and refugee policy that pledges to improve the church’s services to people with a foreign background, thereby creating a vibrant community.

The policy, prepared by a working group appointed almost two years ago, sets out an initial one-year plan with a scheme to expand the work over the next four years.

Part of the implementation of the policy will include greater participation of immigrants and refugees in congregational work and making four congregations initial “special reception” churches.

To date the church’s service to refugees has focused on the pastoral and personal, said Rev. Toshiki Toma, ELCI’s pastor for immigrants and asylum seekers. He serves in the International Congregation in Breiðholt church in Reykjavík.

The policy calls on congregations to create “opportunities for immigrants to participate in the life of the congregation,” but does specify precisely how that should happen.

Toma, originally from Japan, arrived in 1992 and shortly afterwards began providing advice and counseling to other immigrants who had little or no support from the state. Today he still provides practical and spiritual support to a growing immigrant population, largely African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers fleeing from poverty and conflict.

The International Congregation in Breiðholts church where many initiatives will happen is a congregation of asylum seekers. It will receive formal status and increased financial support. The policy commits the national church to supporting the International Congregation and supporting congregations to assist immigrants adapting to Icelandic society – especially with Icelandic language lessons.

There are also urgent issues such as "refugee care and tangible assistance that must be a priority, and to challenge the state for fair and humane treatment in the affairs of this group and the processing of its asylum applications,” Rev. Toma said. “The church should take on the responsibility for these people,” Toma continued.

LWF/A.Gray and Kirkjan news