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Catholicity Challenging Ethnicity

An Ecclesiological Study of Congregations and Churches in Post-apartheid South Africa


Erik Berggren

This book deals with the relationship between the catholicity of the Church and ethnicity. Churches confess their «catholicity» – which means that they declare that their members belong to one community; but at the same time, the churches are often internally divided along ethnic lines. South Africa was a divided society under apartheid, which also shaped the churches ethnically. The legacy of apartheid continues to cause division between people through inequality, injustice, skewed power relations, and marginalisation. The author presents an analytical tool that has been derived from key documents of the Faith and Order movement and the World Council of Churches concerning the catholicity of the Church. In addition, he tests the catholicity of the Church against an operative ecclesiology of South African congregations and churches twenty years after the dismantling of apartheid.
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Chapter Nine: Tower of Babel or Day of Pentecost?


Language is one of the principal means of communication. This is the case in the Church, too, when sermons are delivered, when liturgy is conducted, or when members build community and gather for social events.

The previous chapters have shown that linguistic diversity was particularly difficult for the congregations and churches to manage: it was both an advantage and a disadvantage when congregations and churches were building community and gathering for church services across ethnicities. This chapter is based on interviews with church councils and church leaders about linguistic diversity, and on congregational publications and statistics.

In this chapter I will examine how the congregations and churches deal with the situation of having several official languages in the democratic South Africa. I will focus on language practices that are found in the diverse congregations and churches. It is important to examine what influences the choice of language. Firstly, I will investigate how the language practices are related to the Church’s catholicity as defined in my analytical tool. Secondly, I will explore situations where one language dominates, and how these situations might be seen in relation to the catholicity of the Church.

9.1 Congregations’ Accommodation of Languages

The different congregations in the case study solved linguistic diversity in various ways, depending on their background, location, and members’ first language. Most congregations have chosen to use the language of the place where they are situated. A number of congregations use several languages...

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