Some of you may have noticed that a week or so ago, a new section of links appeared on my blog. They direct you to various sites (appropriately, not only in English) about the third European Ecumenical Assembly, or EEA3, in Sibiu, Romania. I myself was privileged enough to attend this assembly as a steward, one of over 100 like-minded individuals from over 30 nationalities: we had at least 26 native languages between us and yet over the ten days that we were there, both prior to and during the conference itself, became one family. This was, and I think I can safely speak for most of the stewards here, the time of our lives. It wasn't all easy: more of that to come, but it was a wonderful experience and we are bursting to tell all about it to anyone who cares to listen.
This will happen in instalments as I am amidst packing to return to university and can't possibly write all about it in one go…but to begin with, I leave you with the report I've prepared so far, and with a link to my own photos of the event.
What can 2500 Christians from over 30 nations of Europe do about ecumenism in just four days?
This is what the stewards were wondering as they gathered in Sibiu, Romania on August 31st. 120 young people sent by Christian youth organisations across Europe, we had come to prepare for the arrival of the delegates to the third European Ecumenical Assembly on Sept 4th, and to ensure that the assembly ran smoothly. Five of us had come from the UK; two of us were Anglicans.
Of course, the problem with ecumenical events is that only those interested in ecumenism go, and not those who would rather not make friends with the other churches, or those who are too tied up in the worries or divisions of their own church. So if it seems like you’re achieving something while you are there, that soon seems a very small something. The problem with ecumenism itself, on the other hand, is that no-one dares say anything that might offend the others, and so no one says what they need to say and you can have as much dialogue, dialogue, dialogue as you like, without achieving anything in a real sense.
That is why, once every ten years, 2500 Christians gather to make progress on Ecumenism in Europe. Aided by the stewards, they spend four days discussing the “Big Topics”. This time, the title was “The Light of Christ Shines upon All”, and discussions were on Unity, Spirituality, Witness, Europe, Religions, Migration, Creation, Justice and Peace. Many people, amongst them politicians, patriarchs and bishops contributed to these, seeking to build on the outcomes of the previous assemblies in Basel (89) and Graz (97). Many others were there simply to witness this discussion and take something new and progressive home with them. The final message, together with the separate youth delegates’ statement, can be read online at www.eea3.org, and from that it might look like EEA3 didn’t achieve an awful lot. But what it did achieve was to re-open the door to ecumenical action around Europe, and to make us all aware of just how much we have ignored ecumenism recently, and just how much we need to wake up and do something.
At the end of the Assembly, the stewards who had come together from all denominations, nationalities and backgrounds, who had worked in offices, in the main tent where plenary sessions were held, in the Press office, the IT team, or the VIPs’ hotel, were one big tired family. Amidst renovation work, in the middle of the beautiful Sibiu, this year’s Capital of Culture, we had made friendships we will never lose, served God through one another and reflected for ourselves on the Assembly’s goals.
We reported back, in song, image and words, telling of our experience prior to and during the EEA3, and our message to the delegates ended like this:
We didn’t come here to say what has been said before.
The light of Christ shines upon all…but are WE willing to share it?
The Venerable Colin Williams told us all on our first day together that the important stuff of EEA3 would not happen in the plenaries; it would happen in those moments when we would talk to each other on a more informal level. This could not have been more true: wonderful as it was to attend a joint Anglican and Old Catholic mass in a Lutheran cathedral on the feast of the birth of the Virgin, the experiences that made EEA3 particularly special and memorable included having coffee with S.B. Gregorius III of Antioch, eating lunch with a Romanian bishop, discussing Apostolic succession with another steward from Romania, and getting to know an orthodox priest from Bosnia as I accompanied him to the main office on registration day. For some people I spoke to, I was the first Anglican, or even the first English person they had ever really talked to.
Inspired by this and by the example of H.E. Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, who started as a steward himself, we have each set out on our own ecumenical pathways. This is what being a steward is about: it is not just about working hard and going unnoticed, but about building bridges between ordinary Christians. We’ve each returned to our own churches and communities now, and the future will send us in many directions, but we know that amongst us many will go on to further work in Christian communities around Europe, and we hope that the friendships we have made will continue to be examples of those bridges.
Our facilitators made a series of t-shirts over the week. Amongst them, one read “St. Benedict was a steward. Later, a whole order followed him.” another, “H.E. Metropolitan Gennadios started as a steward” and a third advertised Mary and Martha’s own roles as stewards. I leave you with a copy of the assembly’s official recommendations in the hope that you too might become stewards in helping to build on these within your own communities.
May the light of Christ shine within us all, and until we meet again may God hold us in the palm of his hand.
RECOMMENDATIONS of the EEA3:
We recommend renewing our mission as individual believers and as Churches to proclaim Christ as the Light and the Saviour of the world;
We recommend continuing the discussion on mutual recognition of baptism, being aware that the question is deeply linked to an understanding of Eucharist, ministry and ecclesiology in general;
We recommend finding ways of experiencing the activities which can unite us: prayer for each other and for unity, ecumenical pilgrimages, theological formation ….
We recommend the full participation of the whole people of God and, at this Assembly in particular, note the appeal of young people, the elderly, ethnic minorities, and disabled people.
We recommend that our Churches should recognise that Christian immigrants are not just the recipients of religious care but that they can play a full and active role in the life of the Church and of society; offer better pastoral care for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; and promote the rights of ethnic minorities in Europe, particularly the Roma people.
We recommend developing the "Charta Oecumenica" as a stimulating guideline for our ecumenical journey in Europe.
We urge all European Christians to give strong support to the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations as an urgent practical step toward the alleviation of poverty.
We recommend that a consultative process, addressing European responsibility for ecological justice, facing the threat of climate change; European responsibility for the just shaping of globalisation; the rights of Roma people and other European ethnic minorities, be initiated by CCEE and CEC.
We recommend backing initiatives for debt cancellation and the promotion of fair trade.
We recommend that the period from the 1st September to the 4th October be dedicated to prayer for the protection of Creation and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles that reverse our contribution to climate change.