European churches witness across borders

Future of Europe plenary at the CEC General Assembly. Photo: Albin Hillert/CEC

Two years of study and dialogue are culminating in presentations, discussions and decisions on the future of Europe at the 2018 Novi Sad General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC).

A two-year consultative process concluded the need for churches to be active in society, underpinned by a “qualified theology.” Three classical terms form the building blocks for such an approach:

  • Koinonia, the building of fellowship between churches
  • Diaconia, offering service to people in the world
  • Marthyria, providing an understandable witness to the wider society

A message from the His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, delivered by CEC Vice-President Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, noted that Europe is in a fragile place right now but that “a secularized Europe cannot be cut off from its Christian past” and “Christian churches will remain a vital space to live out this freedom.” The message also noted three priority areas: 1) the situation of Christians in the East, 2) human rights, and 3) environmental protection.

“History would indicate, and the command of Jesus direct, that the Church is first to seek to be a holy community, based in order, in mutual love, service and hospitality,” said Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in a keynote address to the Assembly. “That all sounds good and harmless, but it is in fact something that runs directly contrary to much of what we see going on in Europe today.

“Secondly, the Church’s presence and witness must be more powerful in its unity than the centrifugal forces within Europe are powerful in their fractures. Our ecumenical endeavours are not for the sake of organisational tidiness but so that the Church is a faithful presence and witness,” he said.

Bishop Petra Bosse-Huber, Head of Department for Ecumenical Relations and Ministries Abroad for the Evangelical Church in Germany, in her address said, “What is our common Christian witness in Europe? We can bear witness to our experience in faith that holds people in their life and in their death. This has been connected with the overcoming of borders. Crossing borders is an early characteristic of Christianity. This art of crossing borders always has to be learned, and we have to strengthen our bonds across borders.”

Citing 1 Corinthians 1:10, as interpreted by Martin Luther, she also urged the Assembly to “hold onto one another.” A witness of unity is something “we can express. Argument doesn’t have to be at the expense of unity.”

The communique from the Youth Pre-Assembly raised similar themes, calling on CEC and its Member Churches to witness together for justice across borders:

“As young European Christians witnessing injustice, we support CEC in continuing its efforts in working for justice and advocating for just policies on the European level, including European Institutions and the Council of Europe. For example, but not limited to, working on climate issues that will have a major impact on today’s and future generations, collaborating for more human migration policies, and advocating for more accessibility for travelling to the European Union for non-EU citizens.”

“I am holding your lives in my hands. You hold my life in your hands,” said Amelie Cordes in the youth presentation to the Assembly. “The polices which are implemented today in the European Union impact people in Europe and all over the world. All have to live with the political decisions today. I don’t want to tell my future kids that I didn’t do anything. We should not be building walls, but building bridges.”

With Europe facing an increasing number of challenges, including rising nationalisms, Brexit, migration and financial crises, the CEC Governing Board, at its meeting in June 2016, launched a continent-wide discussion on Europe’s future with an open letter which stated, in part:

“Political and economic disintegration seem the new norm. Europeans are losing confidence in the European project, mistrust of politicians and the structures they serve is growing, and policies are reduced to national interests. In this open letter, CEC returns to the fundamental question of common values and how these are expressed in Europe today. The existence and flourishing of the European Union is central to this discussion, but we will also look beyond its borders.”

The process focused on the role churches could play in the questions of what it means to be European, what values Europeans collectively share, and what goals should be set for the future of Europe.

A broad consultative process was undertaken with more than two dozen CEC Member Churches, Organisations in Partnership, and National Council of Churches contributing through a variety of means. In addition, throughout 2017, CEC hosted regional consultations to listen to experiences from different geographical parts of the continent and thus develop a truly European response to common challenges.

“Public theology equipped by such instruments should not be afraid of an inevitable encounter with secularism. Such an encounter will not be a threat, but an opportunity for the churches,” said the report presented to the Assembly.

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