Sunday, 16 September 2007

Taking the assembly home - what future for ecumenism

In some of the round up stories following EEA3 some frustration and impatience is being expressed with the way these sorts of meetings take place. Bishop Sturm from Austria speaking with epd Ö said that he wished discussions and debates in Sibiu could have been "clearer and more intensive". Sturm is the Chair of the Austrian Council of Churches and said he had become impatient "with the ecumenical caravan coming together in order to give greetings and mention earlier discussions". He added that whenever participants did actually manage to say something a great deal of impatience could be felt.
It's also clear though, both from what Sturm says later on in the same interview and from conversations I've had with some of the participants, that for many of the national delegations preparing for and experiencing the assembly together has really given a new depth, intensity and impetus to their ecumenical relations. Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic delegates from France all wrote their impressions in an ecumenical blog. Antoine Arjakovsky from France and Ukraine said in one of the articles sent by email he has written that there seemed to him to be a new and large measure of ecumenical consensus on social ethics. He wrote interesting articles from Sibiu which can be found on his blog and elsewhere if you can read in Ukrainian and French.
In the press room, in the press conferences and over beer in the evenings I repeatedly heard questions or rather statements about ecumenism not having a future. Maybe this was journalistic frustration about there not being a "big" story to go after. Perhaps the Sibiu meeting has proved that top-down ecumenism, with very little room for input from groups and campaigns, simply doesn't create the right kind of energy for Christians in Europe living in very diverse situations. Yet I sensed that the real work of the assembly took place in the afternoon hearings and in the regular prayer and worship that particpants joined in together.
For me the real questions are did the churches really want this assembly; are European Christians interested in ecumenism; what sort of ecumenism do we want? I suppose I wonder about a sort of hit-and-run ecumenism where everyone turns up and says their set piece, sets up their "profile" to use Bishop Wolfgang Huber's term - but do we listen to one another anymore, do we even feel able or willing to give ground, to learn, to change?