In an interview with the World Council of Churches, Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, reflects on hopes for the upcoming assembly Tallinn in June, as well as on the role churches play amid the conflict in Ukraine.
How are the preparations going for the Conference of European Churches assembly in Tallinn in June?
Dr Sørensen: Preparations for the assembly in Tallinn in June are well underway. We’ve been working on this for almost two years now with quite a large international team of volunteers and staff members. I think we are getting there, and we are looking forward to receiving delegates, observers, and other people in Tallinn in the middle of June. I expect this to be an opportunity for churches in Europe first and foremost to come together, to share the fellowship of churches in Europe. It has been five years since we’ve had our last assembly and since then we’ve had the COVID-19 crisis where people have not been able to meet. People are urging us to come together, to worship together, to pray together, and of course also to make decisions on the future of the organization. How are we churches in Europe today in a society that is characterized by increasing secularism, by increasing pluralism, and with increasing crises throughout Europe? I think these will be some of the items that will be on top of the agenda when we meet in a few weeks time.
What have been the efforts of CEC responding to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine—and are European churches united in their stand against the aggression?
Dr Sørensen: By coincidence we had planned a large virtual meeting to take place a few hours after the invasion in 2022, so we had the opportunity to get together immediately after the invasion, and we met more than 100 people virtually to talk about what had happened, to pray together, to share our thoughts, to cry together, and I think that was the beginning of a strong commitment from CEC to working and engaging with this conflict and this war. Since then we have conducted visits in the region, and in Ukraine, with church leaders. Most recently we have launched our initiative Pathways to Peace, which is a catalog of projects and initiatives where we welcome our member churches to become part of a common work towards peace in this war and also especially to work towards what comes after the war, what can be built after we rebuild Ukraine. Churches also looking at their role now and, not least, after the war ends eventually.
Where do you see hope in how churches can overcome the challenges?
Dr Sørensen: There’s been a very strong call from our member churches that we should engage as much as possible in this current crisis. In various ways our member churches themselves have been very active in working with refugees from Ukraine, with relief work, making sure that there were goods taken into Ukraine that were needed there for refugees and others, so I think that the response from local churches and member churches has been huge, and nobody really has the overview of what has happened. On our side, we try to work with what is our comparative advantage in this: We approach the European institutions in Brussels with the particular perspective of a faith-based organization, and we try to make them understand, the decision-makers, that also the church has a role to play in a conflict like this and for peacemaking at the end of the day.
What are your hopes and expectations from the upcoming CEC assembly in this regard?
Dr Sørensen: This will be an opportunity for churches to express themselves: how they see the conflicts in Europe, how they see the situation at the moment, how they would like to address this situation with war on European soil, how they see themselves as resources for peace and reconciliation. I think these will be pivotal issues to be discussed in Tallinn in June this year.