In a secular Europe, churches see need to work together

In a secular Europe, churches see need to work together

Europe’s churches can withstand secularisation and make progress in mission work if they pool resources and cooperate more closely, according to a top ecumenist.

“We haven’t tried to plan long-term objectives, just to be realistic and see what needs to be done,” said Viorel Ionita, interim general secretary of the Conference of European Churches (CEC). “But there’s a strong feeling real chances exist for effective mission, and for winning back some of the ground lost by churches in Europe.”

The Romanian theologian was speaking after a consultation of CEC’s Churches in Dialogue Commission in Budapest, August 29-31, which set out practical recommendations for shared mission work between the continent’s Christian denominations.

In an ENInews interview on September 5, he said mission had always been a “key concern” of CEC, which groups 120 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Old Catholic churches in Europe, with 40 associated organisations, but had been determined and directed by member-churches rather than the conference itself.

He added that a working group set up by CEC’s July 2009 Lyon general assembly was expected to recommend a “very complex process of reflection” on mission priorities in an upcoming report.

“While some European countries are post-modern and post-Christian, some societies are not so secularised, while others can be defined as post-secular,” the 65-year-old Orthodox priest said. “Given these varying contexts, we’ve tried to identify what CEC’s role should be in the field of mission, and to channel this into debates on the Conference’s future, so the tasks of mission will be central.”

The social and cultural role of churches and religious associations varies widely within the 27 member-countries of the European Union, which includes four traditionally Orthodox and six Protestant countries, and 17 with predominant Roman Catholic churches. The Council of Europe comprises a further 20 countries, including predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey.

A September 1 news release said the Budapest consultation, hosted by Istvan Szabo, a Hungarian Reformed church bishop, had reached a consensus on “the need for mission activity to be located more closely to the organisational centre of CEC,” and had called on CEC to help develop “a shared terminology and understanding of common mission.”

It added that Cardinal Peter Erdo, Hungarian president of the Roman Catholic Council of European Bishops Conferences, had talked in an address of “the potential for the discovery of a deeper unity between and among the Christian traditions” in mission work, and said “concrete steps” should now be taken towards “establishing closer relationships with the existing European missiological networks.”

“We recommend that CEC, in considering the new ecumenical realities and vibrant ecclesial changes that are shaping an expanding ecumenical space, should develop an appropriate platform for the widest possible Christian and ecumenical engagement,” the release added.

Ionita told ENInews that the Churches in Dialogue Commission had recommended a stronger emphasis on mission in theological education, and had recognised the “special opportunity” provided by migrant churches, whose members often came from countries with deeply Christian roots.

“It would be inappropriate to think Europe’s historical churches are in such poor shape that they need help and salvation from outside, but migrant churches often bring fresh approaches and experiences which can enrich those already here,” he said.

The Budapest consultation called on the Churches in Dialogue Commission to organise an “annual mission consultation,” while encouraging a “deeper commitment” to existing ecumenical mission statements such as the 2001 Charta Oecumenica and 2010 Edinburgh Common Call, and promoting the “formal ecumenical education” of pastors and priests, and the collation of models of best practice at parish and congregation level.

By Jonathan Luxmoore, Ecumenical News International

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