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A Reconciled Community of Suffering Disciples

Aspects of a Contextual Somali Ecclesiology


Frank-Ole Thoresen

Church members among the ethnic Somali population in the Horn of Africa constitute a culturally marginalized and persecuted minority. Despite more than a hundred years of Protestant missionary efforts, the growth of the church has remained slow and protracted. The very concept of «Somali Christian» accordingly continues to constitute a contradiction of terms in the mindset of most Somalis. Moreover, the few Christian congregations that have been established have most often remained unstable and in flux.
Through empirical research, A Reconciled Community of Suffering Disciples: Aspects of a Contextual Somali Ecclesiology explores the background for such a development and interprets it within Somali cultural and religious patterns. By emphasizing the key aspects of contextual relevancy and theological coherence, it suggests a way forward for the Somali church.
A Reconciled Community of Suffering Disciples is particularly relevant for courses on contextual theology in contexts of religious persecution. It offers insights for anyone with an interest in the Somali church and Somali culture in general.
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8 “We are the Church”—Unity in Diversity


The historical introduction to the Somali church which I presented in chapter 4 concluded with an apparent lack of concord among the Somali Christians with regard to the general interpretation and acknowledgement of the role of the Christian church.1 Furthermore, since congregational continuity has historically been limited, while separation and inner-group conflicts have been recurrent features in the Somali Christian congregations, I initially asked the question, “What ecclesiological lessons can be learned from studying Somali Christians’ experiences of ecumenism and Christian unity?” A second research question was also put forward, relating to the subject matter of ecclesiological structures and organization. The question was formulated as, “What ecclesiological lessons can be learned from studying Somali Christian groups’ experiences of leadership and patterns of organization?”

Features with immediate relevance to the issue of organizational patterns raised by this question have been discussed repeatedly above (see particularly 5.4.3). Significant aspects related to the twin challenges of ecumenism and church structure have, however, only been limitedly considered. Based on the past experiences of division and conflict among the Somali Christian groups, I maintain that further ecumenical deliberations cannot be omitted in this context where ecclesiology is the main focus. In the following, I shall further explore the discourse of ecclesiological interpretation, namely what constitutes the church. This deliberation will integrate relevant aspects related to ecumenism and church structure in the Somali context. These features are both intertwined and complex and the discussion contribute to the overall inner coherence of the study.

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