The Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Iraq
The Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Iraq is an association of five Evangelical (Protestant) congregations in Iraq which have had historic connections with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church of America. The five congregations are independent and self-supporting, and though they have lost many members in recent years, they faithfully continue their worship and witness at this difficult time in Iraq’s history.
Christianity in Iraq dates back to the apostolic era. Iraq contains some of the oldest organized churches in the world. Christians there were pioneers in spreading the gospel to China, India, Persia and Arabia. However, in modern times, political and social changes, major wars and continuing persecution have led many Iraqi Christians to emigrate. Since the 8th century, Christians have been a minority in Iraq, but the precipitous decline of Christians in Iraq over the last 25 years – especially since 2003 – now threatens the very existence of Christianity in Iraq. In light of this situation, it is heartening to see that the members of the five churches of the Assembly have not given up hope or faith but are continuing their work, expanding their outreach and planning for the future.
Presbyterian and Congregational mission personnel, under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, began work in northern Iraq in the early 1800s. They eventually partnered with Reformed missionaries in southern Iraq to form the United Mission of Iraq (UMI) in 1924. The UMI worked actively in evangelism, education and health care. They helped to establish several congregations for indigenous Christians who were drawn to the Protestant form of faith and worship. These congregations, in Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Basra, became self-governing and self-supporting and were able to continue as independent Christian churches after the UMI missionaries were expelled from Iraq in 1969. More recently the five congregations joined together as the Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Iraq. They are formally recognized by the Government of Iraq and are given equal standing with other churches in Iraq.
The five churches maintain an active ministry today. In addition to ministering to their own members, the churches in Baghdad, Basra and Kirkuk reach out to people of all faiths in the wider community through their kindergartens, youth work, radio and prison ministries. They are planning programs to address the needs of orphans and the elderly. The Assyrian Protestant Church of Baghdad, which joined with the larger Baghdad congregation after many of its members left the city in 2003, now plans to reestablish its church in Irbil, in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, where many of its members now live. Due to security reasons, members of the church in Mosul can no longer meet in their sanctuary, but they worship in each other’s homes and participate in the national work of the Assembly.
The United Church of Christ and Global Ministries maintains its connections with these faithful Christians in Iraq. In addition, the Iraq Partnership Network, an organization of congregations and individual church members in the USA is dedicated to strengthening our partner relationship and supporting the work of those churches – through prayer, advocacy, visitor exchange opportunities, lay leadership training, and financial gifts. The Iraq Partnership Network continues the long history of Protestant activities that began in 1830 with European and American Christians living in the areas of the Ottoman Empire known as Mesopotamia. During the twentieth century Presbyterians, the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ, cooperated in the United Mission in Iraq. The network’s vision is to continue this tradition of ecumenical cooperation in raising the voices of reformed churches to work toward God’s just peace in Iraq.
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