bulletin 2/2013

A federation of churches grows into a community of churches

By Felix Frey.

The FSPC member churches want to strengthen their bond and their commitment to common goals and values.

The churches associated in the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches have decided to redefine their shared idea of the church. For several years now, they have been engaged in intense discussions about bringing more commitment to their joint works and actions. The locus of reflection is the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, which to date is an association under private law incorporating all Protestant cantonal churches, the Methodist church and the Protestant free church of Geneva. The goal the churches have set for their talks is to give their federation a new constitution: they aim to create and adopt the constitution that best prepares them for embarking into a shared future together.

Times are changing

The current constitution dates from 1950, not long after the end of World War II. Since then, society has changed tremendously: with the diversification of lifestyles, the trend towards individualization and a stronger drive towards self-actualization, the church no longer commands the position and attention it used to have back then. The mass media, too, paint a different picture of the church today; its moral authority is no longer taken at face value. What counts is the new, the sensational, the thrill.

value. What counts is the new, the sensational, the thrill. So far, the church has been prevailing. But the signs of the times are clear, and it is high time for the member churches to find an answer to the question of how to deal with the consequences of social flux in a changed world.

Drafting a constitution for the Protestant Church in Switzerland

In late May of 2013, the draft for a new constitution entered the consultation process. A new Synod is being proposed to strengthen the unity among the Protestant churches and religious communities. Another goal is to improve the efficacy of the Protestant Church in Switzerland. This has been the responsibility of the Council representing it on a national level. Now, the Council President will also add his or her personal responsibility: to improve the visibility of the Protestant Church in Switzerland. All three bodies together – the Synod, the Council and the Council President – will form the leadership of the Protestant Church of Switzerland (PCS).

Church and association

According to the current “constitution,” the FSPC is an association under private law. Therefore, the provisions of this constitution are those of an association, with two main purposes: first, to safeguard the interests of the member churches, and second, to strengthen Protestantism in Switzerland. Likewise, all aspects of cooperation and community among the churches are currently set down in these provisions.

Now, the Protestant cantonal churches are asked to adopt a constitution that goes beyond the current association. They will decide upon this new constitution on the basis of church law and commit themselves to a community of churches.

For the first time ever, the Protestant Church thus will receive a nation-wide church constitution that is deserving of the name. And for the first time as well, the governing bodies of the Protestant Church in Switzerland are defined in an ecclesiological way: the Synod is responsible for the unity of the church, the Council for its efficacy, and the Council President for its visibility.

The current association will continue to exist – but it will change its name to “Association of the Protestant Church in Switzerland» (PCS Association). Its responsibilities are limited to church financing and determining membership fees.

The church and the PCS Association remain linked through a shared organ: the church Council (PCS) is the governing body of the Association (PCS Association). Thus, the church and the association are governed by the same body.

Self-concept of the Protestant Church in Switzerland

The PCS wants to be more than the smallest common denominator of the Protestant cantonal churches. However, the PCS neither intends to be the spearhead of Protestantism nor its exact average.

On the cantonal level, the PCS aims for the center of the Protestant cantonal churches: the stronger the Synod, and the livelier the dialogue, the closer the PCS moves to the center. What is more: the PCS is a church, a church on a national level. Different from the cantonal church, which has grown and keeps growing in its own territory with its specific political and cultural climate, and which in the course of history has found its own answers and must continue to find its own answers in the present. But as a national church, the PCS still is a church, one without a regional territory, but just as bound by a specific climate. On the national level, “the weather” is made by the expectations of society, the attention of the media, the peculiarities of political processes and the dynamics of events across the globe. A church on the national level must react quickly if it wants to be seen, it must speak with one voice if it wants to be taken seriously, and it must take up clear positions if it wants to be considered reliable. In addition, a church on a national level must pay close attention to events and keep sight of the big picture if it aims to fulfill its duty as a guardian.

Thus, the PCS wants to be both a national church in itself an also a place of intersection for its member churches. In the ideal case, this place of intersection is exactly at the center of all Protestant churches, religious communities and parishes. We hope that this new constitution for the Protestant Church in Switzerland will help to make the Protestant voice be heard more clearly. We wish the Protestant churches, religious communities and parishes all the best for a great start into a common future.