The PC(USA) partner looks at issues including the shrinking space for religion in public discourse
April 28, 2023
Editor’s note: Thirty-two ecumenical officers and representatives of the member churches of the Conference of European Churches from across Europe recently met in Brussels, where they explored the role of the churches and public theology — and how CEC’s programs can strengthen that role in the future. The CEC is a partner organization of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Among the concerns expressed during the recent Conference of European Churches meeting is the shrinking space for religion in public discourse — a concern that makes CEC’s position even more valuable. Participants acknowledged that strengthening the Christian voice in contemporary European societies is better done together.
Promoting human rights and freedom of religion as well as ending the human suffering caused by the conflict in Ukraine were among other top concerns stressed by CEC member churches.
“Theology and church cannot not be public,” said the Rev. Serge Fornerod, director for Ecumenical Relations with the Protestant Church in Switzerland, as he addressed the role of the church in public theology. He highlighted the coaching, mediating and participatory aspects of this role in public discourse.
Dr Vincent Depaigne, European Commission coordinator for the dialogue established under Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, spoke about the history, framework and contemporary challenges to the treaty, which introduced a legal obligation on the EU to conduct an open, transparent and regular dialogue with churches, religious associations, and philosophical and non-confessional organizations.
Depaigne also talked about the increasingly urgent need to address the war in Ukraine.
Plans for the CEC Pathways to Peace initiative were also discussed. “As churches, we give witness to radical hope, transcending the limits of the here and now,” said Dr. Christine Schliesser, director of studies at the Ecumenical Center for Faith and Society of Fribourg University. “We do acknowledge the life-threatening gravity of war and death, yet we refuse to allow death to have the final verdict on us. Even within war, we give witness to the victory of resurrection over death.”
Schliesser reflected on why Christian churches should engage in public issues.
“We need a solid theological foundation to understand that our engagement in the public spheres, in politics, in economics, and civil society — including questions of war and peace — is not something external or even alien to the Christian faith, but something grounded in the core concerns of our faith,” she said.
CEC General Secretary Dr. Jørgen Skov Sørensen expressed encouragement by the large number of participants and the intensive sharing of ideas at the meeting.
“The participants affirmed continued support from our member churches, a strong commitment to the strategic initiatives set out by the Governing Board and appreciation of the way CEC’s new programmatic directions are reflected in the planning of the Assembly in Tallinn.”
“‘Under God’s Blessing – Shaping the Future,’ [the theme of the June 14–20 CEC General Assembly] is indeed a theme that resonates with the member churches. We are blessed as a fellowship and with a strong urge to share that blessing with others in our European societies, shaping our common future,” added Sørensen.
Within their own dialogues, ecumenical officers explored answers to the open-ended questions: “How can the radical vision of God’s reign inspire public theology? How can ecumenical theology play a part in effecting positive changes?” Most answers were founded on receptive ecumenism or managing differences rather than overcoming divisions.
Participants also engaged with suggestions and messages directed toward the CEC Assembly that will take place in Tallinn, Estonia.
The Conference of European Churches, Special to Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Conference of European Churches
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Raymond Bonwell, Corporate Secretary, Board of Pensions
Margaret Boone, Project Manager, Special Offerings, Ministry Engagement & Support, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Let us pray
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard our heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.