You Shall Be My Witnesses: Hundreds gather for Novi Sad General Assembly

Opening of the CEC General Assembly in Novi Sad, Serbia. © Phil Tanis/CEC

After many months of preparation, more than 500 delegates, advisors, stewards, youth, staff, and distinguished guests have arrived in Novi Sad (Serbia) to take part in the 2018 General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and related events.

Gathered together under the theme, “You shall be my witnesses,” the General Assembly will spend six days forging a path for CEC for the coming five-year period and beyond. Of central concern is the future of Europe in light of economic, political, and social crises and how the churches will live out a vision of witness, justice, and hospitality within this context. Livestreamed keynote addresses will be given in the coming days by His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II (Syriac Orthodox Church), Lisa Schneider (Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe), and The Most Rev. Dr Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Uppsala (Church of Sweden).

The General Assembly is hosted by CEC Member Churches in Serbia, including the Serbian Orthodox Church and churches in the Vojvodina region, the Reformed Christian Church in Serbia and Montenegro, the Slovak Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Serbia, and the United Methodist Church in Serbia.

Outgoing CEC President Rt Rev. Christopher Hill KCVO, DD officially opened the ceremony and dealt with business matters, including welcoming two new Member Churches, the European Baptist Federation and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church welcomed delegates to Serbia and emphasised the significance of the gathering. “Today [given] the state the world is in, it is expected that the church—both in Europe and in the world—would raise its voice against [the] many negative things in our times, in our world. This voice is expected—this voice needs to be heard.”

The patriarch referred to the historic importance of Kosovo and Metochia as the cultural cradle of Christianity in Serbia. He urged the European churches to raise their voices in solidarity with those who have been displaced from their homes.

Bishop Irinej of Bačka of the Serbian Orthodox Church reflected on the suitability of the setting in Serbia. “This moment is solemn and joyful, among other things, because our country Serbia has always been at the threshold of east and west and is now given an opportunity to pursue what has been her vocation for centuries—being a place of meeting, dialogue, and cooperation among churches and cultures.”

The President of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina Igor Mirović echoed these sentiments. “I express my conviction that my country, the northern province, and this city are the right place for this event.” He noted with appreciation the “intertwined” lives of people from many different backgrounds.

An open-air worship in the city centre of Novi Sad set the tone for the spiritual life of the General Assembly. Hundreds gathered to enjoy words of inspiration as well as a choir from the local Orthodox cathedral. Young people brought together pieces of a bridge, recalling both the bridges of Novi Sad present in the assembly logo and CEC’s historic role as a bridge building organisation.

The General Assembly is the highest governing body of the Conference of European Churches. It gathers in person every five years and is made up of delegates appointed by Member Churches as well as representatives of associated organisations and Organisations in Partnership. For more information on the history and work of the General Assembly, please visit the CEC website.

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