The SMB defines itself entirely out of its mission and purpose.
The documents of the General Chapter of 1967 reflect the Vatican II concept of mission. An important aspect in structural terms was the switch over from “mission fields” to “missionary project assignments”.
Three main motifs guiding the General Chapter 1974 were:
– the essential link between mission and development cooperation
– partnership with local churches
– and the basic ecumenical orientation.
The General Chapter of 1981 can be summarized with: “holistic human liberation”:
– option for and with the poor
– commitment to human rights,
– building basic communities.
The General Chapter of 1988, emphasized the equal status of women.
“Life in abundance” was defined as: justice, peace and the preservation of creation.
The G.Ch. of 1993 emphasized missionary presence: “What we do speaks louder than what we say.”
To meet the challenge of change in missionary personnel, the General Chapter of 1998 modified the structure of leadership: Lay cooperators and SMB members jointly take equal responsibility in the fulfillment of the missionary mandate.
The newly created “mission vision statement” summarized the concept of mission in three options:
– the proclamation of the God of life,
– the commitment to work with and for the disadvantaged
– intercultural and interreligious exchange.
On 23 November 2000 the “Bethlehem Mission Immensee” (BMI) was established, consisting of two civil law associations:
– Partner Association Bethlehem (lay)
– Association Mission House Bethlehem, (representative of the priests and brothers of the Bethlehem Mission Society (SMB).
This new structure reflected the new situation in the missionary projects, where ever more voluntary specialists and priests worked closely together in the same projects. The aim was that lay people and members of the SMB had an equal say in the planning and implementation of the missionary mandate.
In 2003, the General Chapter notes that the restructuring of the Bethlehem Mission (BMI) with the two carrier associations was largely successful and formulated the result as follows:
“The General Chapter notes that great sensitivity is continuously required at the various levels of relationships to realize the missionary task as a joint work. The SMB and the partner association share their common but diversified spirituality. We recognize, appreciate and encourage the lay spirituality of the members of the partner association. The individual expression of spirituality as priests, brothers and lay Christians means a mutual enrichment and challenge for both partner organizations.” (G. Ch. 2003 documents, p. 20)
On 24 June 2007, the association “Bethlehem Mission Immensee” was awarded the prize of the “Herbert Haag Foundation for Freedom in the Church”. The Foundation paid tribute to the partnership approach of BMI with the two partners SMB and PaA, who worked together as church organizations in different countries. This award was not only of local, but also of missiological significance.
The General Chapter of 2008 grappled with the theme “Mission today”. In its document, the new concept of mission was not only compared with the pre-Vatican II concept, but it was also presented to the SMB members and lay partners as a common guideline for their missionary activity in the various continents.
In 2011 the association “Bethlehem Mission Immensee” was transformed into an association with the same name, but with individual and group membership in which the SMB no longer has a legal position. The BMI was now defined as organization for human development cooperation, independent of the SMB. This change marked the end of the experiment of an equal partnership and structure of laity and clergy, which was designed in 2000 as a model for future church structures and which has been studied with great interest by other mission organizations worldwide.
The General Chapter of 2013 took note of the separation of Bethlehem Missionary Society and the development aid organization (NGO) that kept the name “Bethlehem Mission Immensee” (BMI) and dealt with its own identity as a mission society.
It also produced a document with the title “Some of us are getting older …” with elements for a spirituality in the last stages of life that are equally valid for one’s entire life.