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Europe Day Service: St Paul's Cathedral - Thursday 11 May 2017

Bishop Christopher Hill, President of the Conference of European Churches



Three pictures at Evensong marking Europe Day.

Close to the ferry port in Dover a Banksy mural appeared overnight last weekend. It covers most of the wall of an end of terrace house. The mural is bright blue with a circle of twelve gold stars. But Banksy also painted a ladder against the wall and a workman at its top is chipping away one of the stars - chipping away at ourselves. Banksy does not give us an interpretation of what is happening or where we are going. There is no magic answer to this question and we now have to learn to live with the pre-Brexit uncertainty of a workman chipping away at one of the stars.

My second picture is of a regular journey I make from Gloucestershire to Paddington, St Pancras and the Eurostar. At Brussels Midi I change trains to a Luxembourg train for just a few minutes to get off at Schuman where the now finally completed mainline and Metro station debouches you below the Berlaymont itself, the huge European Commission offices which are the butt of so much of the bile of the Daily Whatever. As I exit the station up the escalator to walk to cross the road to the Conference of European Churches office the first thing I see is the bust of Robert Schuman. Schuman, lawyer, supporter of children and refugees, hunted by the Gestapo, minister of finance, author of the 'European' Declaration of 1950, and undergirding all of this an ecumenical Christian. Of course there are many others we could name: Spaak, Adenauer, Gaspari, Monnet. All pursued a vision of reconciliation after the 'apocalypse' of the Second World War in Europe. And all were in different ways formed by Christian social teaching - catholic and protestant. In 1990 Jacques Delors famously invited the churches to give Europe a soul, a spirit, a meaning. That would have been to go back to the inspiration of the European project's founders. But what is there in current European political debate - certainly in the United Kingdom - of that soul, that spirit, that meaning? Post-war reconciliation, permanent peace building, cross-cultural flourishing (witness the Erasmus project)? At least in the UK, and here we should be deeply penitent, the debate has been either Remain for solely economic reasons, or Brexit for reasons tantamount to xenophobia.

Penitential analysis is necessary. The UK did not come 'into' the European structures at the very beginning. We actually joined a Common Market (The Daily Whatever triumphantly proclaimed 'We're In!') Should we have chosen to argue at a deeper level than the market? To argue for structures for prevention of further European wars; for politics which would open up rather than close borders; for patterns of international relations which might have coped more adequately and responded to the collapse of Marxism and the rapid entry into the EU of some but not all the nations of the old Eastern Bloc; for European financial constraints which could cope more justly with the economic disparity between northern and southern Europe? And for structures which could have responded more humanely to the crisis of migration from the Middle East and North Africa? My list is not, you will notice, confined to laments about my own country. The EU itself has - as Delors hinted even in 1990 - also failed to be true to its original (and Christian) inspiration.

My last picture is one where I am standing on Maria Theresa's fortress on the Austro-Hungarian side of the Danube at Novi Sad in Serbia. The other side was once Turkish, the limit of the Ottoman Empire. It is in Novi Sad that next year in June the Conference of European Churches will hold its Assembly. In a country which is not, not yet anyway, in the EU. Looking down on the Danube from the fortress, I look at one of the bridges NATO (we) bombed in 1999. We shall make a peace pilgrimage to that bridge.

My first picture was of the present confusions and loss of deep vision both here and on the other side of the channel. My second picture was retrospective, the humane and Christian origins of the European Project. My last picture reminds me of the Novi Sad agenda of the Churches of Europe - including of course the Roman Catholic Church with which the Conference of European Churches works closely - representing as we do the Orthodox, Oriental, Anglican, Old Catholic, Protestant and Migrant Churches of all Europe, not simply the EU. Not that a gathering of any Churches will solve matters or produce instant panaceas. But if our agenda were also to be the agenda of our member churches - including the Church of England - then we should indeed be beginning to form a new and transforming vision: the vision found at the end of our reading from Isaiah. That indeed is a messianic vision, a vision of peace, of justice, of righteousness. It is the vision of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in our second reading: a vision in which we do not fear our neighbour but love them: philoxenia rather than xenophobia.

As we work on our Novi Sad agenda, an agenda of Christian witness in today's confused and centrifugal Europe, two subtexts emerge: hospitality and justice. In travelling to Brussels I pass through the acres of razor-wire circumscribing the rails at Calais. In Serbia the railways to westward are overwhelmed with refugees and migrants from the Middle East seeking stability and peace. Can the Churches of Europe again take up the duty of hospitality, as we did in the aftermath of the Second World War - witness the founding of both Christian Aid and Oxfam? And justice includes economic justice. Should Greece and Italy bear the full weight of genuine immigration problems, including security, when they are also not the strongest of European economies, as they are doomed to under the Dublin Agreement? And justice can never be separated from peace: what of the Crimea and Ukraine? What price the peace of Europe in the first century of the Third Millennium?

Christians concerned for Europe and our place therein do not have the vocation or the luxury of simply wringing our hands. We have now to make the best Brexit we are able. I suggest that the way to do this is indeed to witness to the profoundly Christian origins of the European Project; to remind our fellow Europeans in the EU that Europe is wider than the EU; and to invite our churches to witness to the profoundly human and Christian virtues of both hospitality and justice: 'for if you love those who (only) love you, what reward have you?'

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