Has ecumenism in Europe still a sense?

 

Among the three Euwebarmenian6ropean Ecumenical Assemblies promoted by the Conference of European Churches (CEC, which gathers Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox) and by the Roman Catholic Council of the Episcopal Conferences in Europe (CCEE), the last one – held in Sibiu, Romania, from September 4 to 9, 2007 – was undoubtedly the most difficult.

A complex organization in three stages (with two preparatory meetings in Rome and Wittenberg) certainly favoured a more careful and mindful participation of the churches involved, but did not prevent tensions between them and, in particular for the Catholic Church, between hierarchy and grass-roots movements, whose participation was intentionally limited compared with the previous assemblies of Basel (1989) and Graz (1997).

Above all, the assembly of Sibiu ended with a regrettable incident: the surreptitious inclusion in the final message of a statement about the defence of life “from conception to natural death”, proposed by one of the Catholic delegates of Opus Dei and presented at the meeting only verbally. The result was that the final message was not released at the closing ceremony. Moreover it took two weeks, for CEC and CCEE, to find an agreement on the definitive text, in which the controversial statement was eliminated.

Despite this incident and the widespread feeling that the assembly was a “fiasco”, three months later – on November 23, 2007 – the Vatican newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano” hosted, on the front page, an article by the French reformed pastor Jean-Arnold de Clermont, the then president of CEC, with the title: “The Assembly of Sibiu denied the ecumenical deadlock”. Clermont’s thought was simple: without hiding the difficulties of the ecumenical path and the tensions among the churches, he pointed out that the “ecumenical people” present in Sibiu “had clearly stated that it is worth while to continue talking to each other”. This may be “difficult and hardgoing”, but progress is possible, as shown for example by the recommendation of the final message inviting us “to continue the discussion on the mutual recognition of baptism” or the fact that the delegates of Sibiu “reaffirmed their commitment to the advancement of the issues we all care about, such as environmental protection, social justice, reception of migrants, fight against poverty in Europe and worldwide, commitment to peace”.

Church leaders – faced with the reality that “the members of our communities, although dissimilar, are on many subjects engaged on a common path” – need to ask themselves: “are we ready to guide them so that, beyond the common testimony, a deeper ecumenical spirituality, a common reading of the Bible and a stronger theological dialogue may be reached?” In order to carry out this task of “guidance”, de Clermont recommended not only continuing and enhancing the collaboration between CEC and CCEE, but even to wonder whether it was not appropriate to “start working towards a single European ecumenical structure, useful not only to increase efficiency, but also to find a long term vision on ecumenism”.

Six years have passed since this “visionary” writing of de Clermont. What has changed in the meantime? I would say that the situation has worsened on all fronts. CEC, preparing for its 14th Assembly (Budapest, from 3 to 8 of July), has been going – since 2009 – through a considerable organizational and financial crisis; the cooperation with CCEE (which lost another ‘visionary’ person, the secretary Mons. Aldo Giordano, transferred to another position) is worn-out; the 10th anniversary of the “Ecumenical Charter – Guidelines for the growth of cooperation among the churches in Europe”, approved by the two organizations in 2001, was celebrated with no particular emphasis and real proposals to revive or update this important document; the Russian Orthodox Church has suspended its participation in CEC in dispute with the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the question of the two Estonian Orthodox churches (one dependent on Russians, the other in communion with Constantinople)… and so on and so forth.

Despite all this, in my opinion, de Clermont’s intervention retains all its validity. Ecumenism is irreversible, and the rigidity of ecclesiastical and ecumenical structures fails to stop the will of the “ecumenical people” to witness together and walk towards unity. This is also the impression one gets from reading the report at the next meeting in Budapest, by the new Secretary General of CEC, the Belgian Protestant pastor Guy Liagre, who alongside the undoubted difficulties (mainly relating to the internal structure of the European ecumenical organism, which has become too complex and cumbersome) lists a whole series of initiatives that show how the ecumenical movement is alive and rooted throughout Europe. Our desire for the delegates in Budapest is that they may work for a new, lighter and more effective structure of CEC, without losing sight of the broader horizon: that of the common testimony of all Christians in Europe and in the world. In his report, Liagre recalls the death of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former president of the CCEE, who “liked to emphasise that, with ecumenism, it was not necessarily a question of churches having the same view, but, above all, challenging one another and moving forward together on the road to God… To do this, we must look forward, we must believe in the long-term perspective and the positive effects of ecumenical dialogue”.

By Luca Negro, Editor in chief of the Italian weekly “Riforma”. The article is also publiced in NEV (press agency of the Italian Protestant Churches).

 

The aim is many voices

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- Communications and the Media at the General Assembly

On the theme “And now what are you waiting for?” we try to ensure
that communications before and during the General Assembly
in Budapest is transparent and hopefully fast. We must seek ways
of increasing participation for delegates, member churches, members and of
course the media.

The aim is that many different voices must have an opportunity to
be heard, in parallel with the formal elements of the Business sessions.

Communicating about church activities is something above
and beyond the ordinary and must be conducted with great respect
for the Gospel, but this does not prevent us from using terms and
strategies from the business world. These represent a means to
achieve our goal.

The website www.ceceurope.org is the hub and is seen as a digital
archive which gathers all the documents together. The focus is on
getting the official documents and decisions published as quickly
as possible to increase participation for those who are not attending
the Assembly. The website will be updated daily during the
General Assembly, describing what is taking place at the Assembly
with links to the day’s documents which are official. The website
will link to activities in social media with a daily blog written in
three or four languages and daily tweets from the deliberations with
the hashtag #cecfuture.

We have created a Facebook group for the Assembly (CEC
Assembly) which is open to everyone. Every day during, the General
Assembly, all the published articles will be linked, links to Web
TV, tweets and pictures. Anyone can write and submit pictures,
send a greeting from a member church, etc. You are welcome to
share your thoughts!

If our resources permit, we will offer Web streaming of the
deliberations. The deliberations will be filmed and broadcast live and published afterwards (within 24 hours).

A daily newsletter to delegates and the media providing brief facts
about what is on the programme, brief looks back at what happened
the day before and highlighting different voices to give
an insight from their own perspectives. The newsletter will be produced in English, German, French and Hungarian.

Outside the Plenary hall there will be an exhibition with several
elements: there will be a special corner for the different topics that
concern CEC and its member churches and a special corner for
the youth. A future wall (Prayer wall) will also be created where
people can communicate their thoughts, prayers and/or wishes or
concerns.

There is a Press Centre for media and daily Press Conferences or Press Briefings. The Press Centre is open 7:30 – 22:30 every day July 3-7 and on July 8 from 7:30-15:00.

Our hope is, prior to and during the General Assembly, to establish
communications that are characterised by faith in the future
and the hopes that are part of the ecumenical work being done in
Europe. These communications are to serve as proper support to
the management of the General Assembly and create the conditions for a dialogue between the member churches before and during the event.

We welcome your thoughbildts and input!

“And now what are you waiting for?”

Marianne Ejdersten,

Communication Co-ordinator of CEC’s 14th General Assembly
e-mail: marianne.ejdersten@svenskakyrkan.se
mobile +46 70 348 41 59

Welcome to the future wall

In just a couple of weeks the CEC’s 14th Assembly will start in Budapest. There will be discussion and debate about CEC’s future, structures, mission, strategies and much more.

The Future wall blog is intended to cover some of those discussions and debates, in addition to giving short glimpses of some of what is happening before, during and after the Assembly.

Sigurdur Hafthorsson
Communications officer for the CEC-Assembly
Church of Sweden