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And now what are you waiting for?
(Acts 22:16)


 Rev. Dr Guy Liagre

 

CEC and its Mission in a Changing Europe


In recent years, discussions about the effects of changes in the world on the ecumenical movement and its vision of the future have been on the agenda. Also, the number of ecumenical organizations constitutes a genuine challenge for churches and the financial partners who are supposed to collaborate with them and support them.

The subject we will be dealing with, therefore, is quite risky: the future of CEC.  First, let’s ask ourselves the question: The future of what CEC? In the life of what CEC do we want to take part? Planning CEC’s future naturally means reflecting about the challenge of transmission, a challenge that is not unique to CEC, but concerns all Western society institutions: churches, families, the classroom, the media.

We need to reflect on how the new generation, in its cultural context, can reconnect itself with Christ tradition, become fully familiar with it to the point of making it its own. In this way, we get away from a rationale of replication and perpetuation of the past. Transmission goes hand in hand with reception, which raises another challenge.

At a time when the decline in religious practice leads to the closing of churches and the restructuring of parishes and communities, at a time when the ecumenical movement’s weaknesses are beginning to show, one might think that CEC does not have much of a future in our society or, if it does, that that future is impossible to predict and that, in these conditions, we must content ourselves with passively biding our time.

Not passively biding our time is precisely what the CEC revision working group proposes in its report to the 2013 Assembly. The report invites us to analyse all the available facts on demography, the evolution of practices, social changes and the situation of religious communities. Reading this report, we find ourselves confronted with a very biblical question: “And now what are you waiting for?"

Planning the future


CEC must, on one hand, carefully examine its past and, on the other, allow itself to be challenged by  the aspirations, expectations, basic characteristics and  the intellectual and spiritual movements of  the world in which it lives. Lastly, planning CEC’s  future means giving an important role to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Planning the future of CEC means reflecting on the presence of the Church in Europe and redefining the  role of confessional structures and institutions in a changing Europe. Like every institution, CEC must constantly be able to reform itself.  

Changes in society

It is  also  necessary  to  consider  the  desire  for  visibility  that  for  several  decades  has taken  hold  of  churches in  some  parts  of  Europe.  The  causes  are many.  There is  the decline in numbers. It is not surprising that minority consciousness in some areas of Europe  has  sharpened  the  need  to  become  mobilized  in  order  to  exist,  in  order  to bring to the fore ideas whose vocation concerns more than the number of committed Christians. Generalized secularization is a challenge that has to be met. 

Other  social  realities  include  social  and  religious  pluralism, as  well  as  the  need  for points  of  reference in a  society in  search  of direction. One must  be conscious  of  the fact that this need for identity in a climate of broad insecurity (unemployment, social crisis, violence, the instability of governments).can easily lead to withdrawal. 

The importance of the gospel message

When  everything  seems  to  be  collapsing,  shouldn’t  one  gather  new  momentum  by relying on that which ensures the continuity and strength of the mission of European churches—the gospel message? 

It  may  be  said  without  hesitation  that  CEC  only  has  significance  if  it  witnesses  the gospel. Indeed, if CEC only speaks to itself, its message will have a very limited impact and it would be neglecting its specific mission. It cannot resign itself to that. This would be forgetting that CEC exists to serve churches in their witness, not in and for itself.  

It is in this context of service to churches and of greater visibility that the CEC Assembly will have the task of deepening the meaning to be given to its future direction.  In  this, CEC is not powerless and doomed to despair. It does not live on its own strength, but on that of the gospel, and in the gospel it finds again and again the path it must follow. This priority places CEC institutional problems in their proper place. CEC is subordinated to this priority, from which it derives its energy and the criteria for its action. The gospel is the  word  of life,  that is,  the word  that  brings life,  not  because it is  undemanding,  but because it is a creative activity. The gospel is not merely a set of good ideas or opinions among  others.  It is, in  discipleship with  Jesus,  a  commitment  to  a  certain  style  of life. Serving the gospel also imperatively demands that the word of God be made to relate to those to whom it is destined.  

Religious pluralism

As already stated,  the Christian  faith exists within a context of  religious pluralism. On one hand, religious diversity is before our very eyes. On the other, religious pluralism as well  as  religious  extremism  have  become  social  realities.  It  is  in  this  new  context  in which  open  secularism  stands  opposite  the  fear  of extremism  that  the work  of  CEC is inscribed. 

The respect of human rights and the fight for justice and peace are at the very heart of CEC’s  activities  and  programmes.  For  example,  at  present  reflection  with  regard  to bioethics has considerable space in CEC programmes. Nonetheless, besides the work of its  Church  and  Society  Commission  and  the  Commission  for  Migrants  in  Europe,  it  is doing more  than merely  encourage joint  action  to  promote  peace and  human  dignity. The ecumenical and interfaith theological dialogue is another import focus area. Via the Churches  in  Dialogue  Commission,  CEC  investigates  the  specificity  of  the  different churches and religions in Europe and their individual way of providing answers to the most fundamental questions of human existence.  

What conception of  the CEC of  the  future are we  forging so  that we might continue  to pursue  this  fundamental  task? What modern means  of  communication  do we want  to employ? What resources are we giving ourselves in this regard?

The importance of discussion

No  progress  in  responding  to  these  questions  seems  possible  if there  is  no  room  for discussion  at  the  2013  Assembly.  As  the  adage  says:  “Quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus tractari et approbari debet”  –  “What  touches all  should  be discussed and approved  by all.” If the Assembly is to be productive, it is necessary that CEC already now resolutely address  the needs of  the  time, its centres of interest, its questionings, its  fears and its reasons to hope.  

Indeed: people talk about the crisis of religious practice, of budgetary restrictions, of the gradual deconstruction of the ecumenical movement. But is there not a way to reinvent together  the  relevance  of  our  churches  and  of  our  Conference  of  European  Churches within contemporary culture? Better  yet, have we really explored all  the possibilities? Are  we  certain  that  there  is  not  a  mode  of  management  that  is  more  modern,  more responsible, lively and attractive to the service of everyone? 

Lastly, let us note  that  the action of  the Holy Spirit and  the ingenuity of churches and member organizations constitute renewal capital giving reasons for hope with regard to the future of CEC and especially to the advent of the Kingdom of God.

Photo (CEC Archives/Lyon)
Photo (CEC Archives/Lyon)