The Conference of European Churches (CEC) emerged in 1959, building bridges between the East and the West during the European Cold War era. With conflict raging on European shores in Ukraine, it felt appropriate to be gathering as national General Secretaries at CEC’s new head office, just a stone’s throw from the European Commission building in Brussels.
Subjects for discussion included public theology and approaches to engaging statutory agencies in the public square. We also reflected on the relationship between church and state in our various countries and the challenge of secularisation and how the church finds its place in the midst of a changing socio-political climate. Finally, it was informative to hear from General Secretaries from countries neighbouring Ukraine about the refugee crisis and how difficult it is build peace when a nation has been invaded and is understandably praying for victory! As distressing as the Ukraine war seems from our homes, the perspectives of neighbouring countries and the real threat of an escalation of the conflict which they feel provided valuable insight into the pressures on the continent.
There was a good contingent from these islands, with all of Ireland, Wales and England represented. While the sessions included excellent content, some of the richest interactions occurred at our evening meals at a local Moroccan restaurant. I was particularly struck by my conversation with the General Secretary of the Council of Churches Germany, Dr Verena Hammes, a millennial leader who had been in her post for over 4 years. The engagement of a younger generation became a cross-cutting theme for the General Secretaries’ gathering. With millennial leaders like Dr Hammes emerging, there is hope for the continent of Europe.
This CEC gathering certainly whets my appetite for their forthcoming conference in Tallinn, Estonia in June 2023.