bulletin 2/2013

Closer to everyday church realities

Commentary by Serge Fornerod.

The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC) welcomes the results of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) Assembly in Budapest: The new constitution is the crowning achievement of years of intensive efforts.

For a number of years, the Conference of European Churches (CEC) has been troubled by internal logjams and coordination problems. The organization was, structurally speaking, more of the sum of independently working substructures than a centrally organized and run body. Several attempts at inner reform either failed or were simply gridlocked. In the end, the way forward that was recommended by the 2009 Lyon Assembly emerged as successful: It was the direct decision of the Assembly as the highest CEC body that provided the dynamics necessary to implement the desired changes. This year’s Budapest Assembly recognized the activities of the Revision Working Group (RWG) and generally complied with its recommendations. The two most important changes diverging from the RWG’s Uppsala Report, involving the number of council members (20 instead of 15) and the representation of the Orthodox churches (guaranteed at 25 percent by the constitution), do not contradict this new approach. The text is streamlined and strategic. Operational details, which are only mentioned briefly in the main body of the text, are delegated to the by-laws, such as in the case of the appropriate representation of the various minorities. Recommendations on mission and vision were made more specific, but not changed significantly. Concrete thematic goals were limited to what was absolutely necessary. The transition from Swiss to Belgian law was planned carefully to meet future legal requirements in Belgium, while also reconfirming the importance of the Strasbourg office.

The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches expressly supported the motion introduced in Lyon to revise the constitution and subsequently participated actively in the Revision Working Group. In its work on the Central Committee and in the various CEC commissions, the Federation carefully sought agreement with its individual bodies as a means of shaping the entire process in accord with the other main actors, both within and outside of CEC. The FSPC delegation played an active role at the Budapest Assembly in the drafting of important motions for amendments and contributed to having the text legally cleared. The delegation also led the reflective work of the guideline committee towards determining framework agreements for the new council to steer CEC through more tranquil waters in the years to come.

The FSPC particularly welcomes the fact that the newly elected presidium is made up of representatives who have played a part in the project. The presidium will now ensure that the revision will be carried out under the best of conditions.

Europe’s churches were able to come to terms with a real challenge in Budapest. The task was difficult, the topics and current ecumenical relations complex, and there was much at stake for many churches and interest groups. The agenda, brimming with motions for amendments and motions for consequential amendments, often cast doubt on the entire process. In the end, however, the will and the necessity won out to reach a solution under the current circumstances and in the time available.

Much of course still needs to be done. A transitional process of this kind leads to frustrations, misunderstandings and tensions. The new constitution in no way guarantees that the CEC will transform into a splendid butterfly overnight, but only provides for the basis needed to clearly define and simplify the goals and mechanisms for cooperation. The constitution does however demand more active participation on the part of the churches, more interaction and more respect for commitments – including those of a financial nature.

The new CEC is now characterized by a more realistic view of what can be attained and implement, and looks back with a more healthy level of modesty upon the grand ecumenical goals of the 1970s and 1980s, which were characteristic the organization for so long. CEC has thus come more closely in line with everyday church realities and will be an instrument of endeavor that is better suited to the current conditions prevailing in the churches of Europe. CEC provides us with the opportunity to make the common witness of the churches of Europe more visible and tangible in the 21st century.