2008, Europe (general), Third European Ecumenical Assembly - Sibiu

The Challenges of Sibiu to the Churches and to Faith in Europe

The Challenges of Sibiu to the Churches and to Faith in Europe:

Elizabeth Fisher and Colin Williams

Colin Williams

I would like to thank Faith in Europe for the work it does in highlighting in the UK the European Ecumenical Agenda.

The general consensus on EEA3 was that it was a positive if flawed occasion. The sense of excitement and anticipation has to some extent gone out of ecumenical life since the first European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel in 1989. But as one Lutheran delegate to the Assembly commented, Europe is still the only region in the world where the major Christian confessions are able to come together in this way. The general feeling of those present was to welcome the fact that the Assembly had taken place, and that it had enabled the major Christian traditions to speak to each other in so visible a way. The Assembly was offered by one delegate in a letter to me as a sign that there is still a strong will for the ecumenical journey to continue. Another delegate spoke of how the Assembly demonstrated that Christians in Europe need regular opportunities to celebrate our common roots and our common vision. There was also value attached by delegates to the fact that Sibiu showed that we were able to be open about the differences which still exist between us, as a basis on which to build further

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2008, Third European Ecumenical Assembly - Sibiu

Europe’s Christians Meet in Sibiu, Romania – Richard Seebohm

Europe’s Christians Meet in Sibiu, Romania

Richard Seebohm

The Third European Ecumenical Assembly took place in Sibiu, Romania from Tuesday 4 September to Saturday 8 September 2007. There were some 2,000 church-nominated delegates and 450 registered as press [some who failed to get in as delegates gained entry this way], plus 100 young volunteer stewards [of these, 80 were local linguistically enabled Romanians; after the first day, 50 of them were never seen again]. This was a contrast to the 1997 Graz assembly, attended by 700 delegates but with a fringe of some 10,000 supporters and pressure group activists. The first ever fully ecumenical assembly at Basel in the fateful year 1989 had even fewer delegates.
Sibiu is a 2007 European City of Culture (jointly with Luxembourg). It supplied a vast tented auditorium; there was a linked entertainment programme. Most set piece addresses were available in English (and other) translated typescripts on the day of delivery [much paper was inevitably wasted. There was a recycling bin, but the Romanians do not recycle, so it was to be driven to Germany (or somewhere) for disposal]. There was a high standard of simultaneous translation (by volunteers). The delegations from each church were split up both for sleeping accommodation and for restaurant meals. I had hoped to gain even further local colour by staying with a local family, but they, although charming, spoke no word of any language other than Romanian.

What follows is mainly a collection of the sound bites I actually heard, with an italicised commentary mainly for a Quaker readership.

The event was loaded with a number of messages and greetings, but the main business days comprised plenaries on the three themes of the Church; Europe; the World. Each of these themes was subdivided into (simultaneous) ‘forum’ sessions, as I will explain, not always fully reported back. There were also numerous ‘hearings’, proposed and run by interest groups (rather than the secretariat). These were also able to set up display stands at an ‘agora’ location (not very conveniently sited). The secretariat was split in every respect between the joint sponsors, the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC). CCEE is of course Roman Catholic. CEC encompasses most of the national Protestant and Orthodox churches who can subscribe to a simple credal formula; the Quakers are observers. I was struck by how often Protestants and Anglicans were spoken of as distinct. In recent years there have been a number of bilateral agreements between Anglicans and other Protestant groupings, and among such groupings themselves over such matters as the Eucharist and mutual recognition of baptism. Recognition of baptism (and hence of church membership) has been a running issue for ecumenists since Basel and before.

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2008, Third European Ecumenical Assembly - Sibiu

Europe’s Christians meet in Sibiu, Romania – Martin Conway

Europe’s Christians meet in Sibiu, Romania

Martin Conway

Ruth and I were thrilled to be able to share in the Third European Ecumenical Assembly which took place in this relatively small Romanian city from September 4 – 9, she as co-chairman of the Creation Forum, I as a reserve interpreter. The sheer fact of the gathering of some 2,500 people, brought together by the partnership of the Conference of European Churches, whose members are both Orthodox and Protestant, and the Conference of European Catholic Bishops’ Conferences, involving all the Roman Catholic Churches, is a deeply encouraging sign that almost the whole spectrum of Christian churches are now in contact with one another. All the more so if we remember that the first of these, in the Swiss city of Basel in 1989, was the first occasion for a representative cross-section of Christians from both the East and the West of Europe to meet since the mutual excommunications of the year 1054 !

Each person there will have been able to meet and talk with people from very different backgrounds, cultures and churches to her/his own. Our stewards, over 100 young people, half from Romania, the rest from 27 different countries, wrote a letter at the end reflecting on the title of our gathering: The Light of Christ Shines upon All – Hope for Renewal and Unity in Europe. They ask,

‘Where have we found the light of Christ? The light of Christ shines in the faces of delegates, staff, volunteers and our fellow stewards: through a smile, a handshake, a heartfelt thank-you, through prayer with a friend. These God-given moments have given us the strength to endure harsh words, pressure and exhaustion. (…) We will never forget what we have learned from each other, the experiences we have had, the friends we have found.’

All of us will gladly echo that.

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2008, Third European Ecumenical Assembly - Sibiu

Report from Sibiu – Dorothy Knights

Report from Sibiu

Dorothy Knights

I was the delegate for the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women, EFECW. I hadn’t been at the first EEA, in Basel in the summer of 1989, or even Graz in 1997, but I had met participants of these events. The sharing had been very important. It had included, in 1989, attending a parish ‘preparation for Basel’ group in Radeberg (Dresden, GDR). These personal reflections of mine should be supplemented by referring to http://www.cec-kek.org/

Sibiu, in Transylvania, is a beautiful city. This year it is European City of Culture. The predominant Church in Romania is Orthodox but in Sibiu there are many other denominations represented too.

Christ’s Light Shining over Europe was the theme and light shone, though it was cold and wet outside! There was even lightning when we arrived in Sibiu in the middle of the night, and fireworks on the last night when a festival of light was relayed on TV.

We met in the Tent each morning. It was a beautiful structure and I leave you to imagine the predominantly male Assembly of over 2000 delegates, half Roman Catholic (Council of European Bishops’ Conferences), half members of the Conference of European Churches. Black Cassocks and interesting hats abounded! Official languages were English, French, German, Italian and Romanian. The morning started with worship reflecting our diversity with Orthodox responses and catchy choruses, candles and drums. A Dominican nun spoke about her retreat at a Buddhist monastery. Hilary from the L’Arche community in Liverpool, and Tim, a student from Warwick University, gave testimonies.

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2008, Third European Ecumenical Assembly - Sibiu

Europe’s Christians Meet in Sibiu, Romania – Richard Mortimer

Europe’s Christians Meet in Sibiu, Romania

Richard Mortimer

At one level, I had a schizophrenic response to this event. The curmudgeonly control freak in me found the organisation and administration frequently shambolic, felt like saying, ‘If you can’t do it properly, why bother?’ and, I confess, had moments of frustration so acute that I wanted to kill something. The more reflective side of my nature could only applaud those who, in response to a bewilderingly complex European ecumenical scenario, chose to attempt to hold the event in order to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, and the man of faith ended up giving thanks to God that, given all the potential for serious ecclesiastical political damage between and within confessions, it was as good and productive as it was.

It was an event where the Church politics were at least as important as the outcome. In 1989, some months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first European Ecumenical Assembly took place in Basel, Switzerland, on the theme of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. In 1997 the second such event took place in Graz, Austria, on the theme of Reconciliation. By dint of location and style, Basel was perceived as a Protestant Assembly and Graz as a Catholic one.

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2008, Europe (general), Third European Ecumenical Assembly - Sibiu

Reports from the Third European Ecumenical Assembly

Reports from the Third European Ecumenical Assembly

Seven reports are offered here. Richard Mortimer is Secretary for Ecumenical Relations for the United Reformed Church. His report will serve as an excellent introduction to the experience of being in an Orthodox country with a communist history, and will give the reader a sense of what it felt like to be part of an occasion quite foreign to the Romanian or Orthodox ways of doing things. Richard’s report is here.

Richard Seebohm comes from a Quaker family and has worked in the steel industry, in the civil service and at the Quaker Council for European Affairs in Brussels. He is at present writing about how government and business interacted between the two world wars. Richard’s report is here.

Dr Martin Conway is a past President of the Selly Oak Colleges and has been on the staff of the World Council of Churches. His report is here.

Dorothy Knights is Co-President of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women www.efecw.net. She belongs to Great Malvern Priory and is a member of Worcester (C of E) Diocesan Synod. She serves on the British Kirchentag Committee and is Focal Person for Europe Mission Forum, Global Mission Network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Her report is here.

Jim Bryden is the Salvation Army’s Territorial Ecumenical Officer, United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. His report is here

The Venerable Colin Williams, a priest of the Church of England, is Archdeacon Emeritus of Lancaster and General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches. Canon Elizabeth Fisher is Tutor in Biblical Studies at St John’s College, Nottingham, and Moderator of the CEC Commission ‘Churches in Dialogue’. A report of their joint presentation is here.