Press Release No: 02/23
10 February 2023
Thirty-two ecumenical officers and representatives of Conference of European Churches (CEC) Member Churches from across Europe met from 6-8 February in Brussels, where they explored the role of the churches and public theology—and how CEC’s programmes can strengthen that role in the future.
Among their concerns 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 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 EU, 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 organisations.
Depaigne highlighted on 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,” reflected 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, 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 from 14-20 June in Tallinn, Estonia, exploring the theme “Under God’s blessing – shaping the future.”
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