By Astrid Weyermüller
“I welcome you to Novi Sad, a city where the lives and faiths of people with about 20 different identities intertwine—we are a multi-faith, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural society,” says the President of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina Igor Mirović, addressing the delegates of the CEC General Assembly in Novi Sad, Serbia.
This diversity is also reflected in the four Serbian member churches of CEC, hosting the 2018 General Assembly. The churches are the Serbian Orthodox Church (the majority church in Serbia and one of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Christian churches), the Reformed Christian Church in Serbia, which has its roots in the greater Hungarian Reformed Church, the United Methodist Church in Serbia, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, and the Slovak Evangelical Church A.C. in Serbia with a tradition that is Lutheran and mainly Slovak-speaking members.
A welcoming view of Europe
Stressing that Europe is much wider than the European Union, the President of CEC Rt Rev. Christopher Hill KCVO, DD pointed out that Novi Sad lies “more or less in the centre of our continent” as well as being sited on one of the great rivers of Europe, the Danube. Thanking the host churches for their invitation he stated, “What better a place to be in terms of the importance of a wide and welcoming view of Europe, the whole Europe, in the face of the movements and pressures to retreat from a vision of our continent deeply indebted to the Christian churches and Christian culture.”
The theme of the General Assembly “You shall be my witnesses” together with its accompanying image of building bridges were the key aspects of the opening worship service held on Katolička Porta Square in the city centre. Delegates, passersby, and guests of the adjacent restaurants witnessed young people setting up a bridge from separate wooden interlocking sections during the service. A choir with singers from Novi Sad congregations accompanied the liturgy with music drawing on the Orthodox traditions and provided a warm welcome to the guests from across Europe.
Visiting congregations on Sunday
The encounter with the host churches will be strengthened when delegates of the General Assembly join congregations at their church services in and around Novi Sad on Sunday. There will be Eastern Orthodox services at the Holy Great-Martyr George Church as well as St Nicholas Church. Services are also taking place at the Slovak Evangelical congregation, the Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic church in Novi Sad. The Reformed Church will meet in Maradik, thirty kilometres outside Novi Sad, whilst the Anglican and Old-Catholic worshippers will gather in the chapel at the conference venue.