The Networking Zone managed the balancing act between being a cozy living room and a space for discussion – from cheerful music-making to theological challenges. Nearly 80 interested people spontaneously showed up for one of our first podium discussions; SwissHub had nowhere near enough cardboard stools for this event, which was hosted by HEKS, our relief agency. But the people stayed and listened spellbound to the Ukrainian Reformed bishop Sándor Zán Fábián, who is as concerned about mundane things like having enough fertilizer, tractors, and diesel for his parishioners and those seeking help as he is about the success of diplomacy and ecumenical work for peace. At the “red mountain” of SwissHub, we were particularly moved by testimonies of acceptance and change. Whether it was female church leaders (Rita Famos, Annette Kurschus, and Emmanuelle Seyboldt held discussions on an equal footing), Rainbow Pilgrims, secularization, the churches’ struggle against climate change, minority churches, contemporary mission (represented by Mission 21 and DM), or interreligious dialogue, those who spoke sincerely about themselves and their convictions on the sofa in front of the “mountain” were listened to. Under the leadership of Heinz Fäh, our delegates reported straight from the debates. Switzerland was represented by the young, diverse, and outstandingly professional Emma van Dorp, Suzanne Schild, and Sarah Bach. Ecology, creating peace, and living unity – they broke down the main elements of the Business Plenary for the Swiss at the parish level. When our head of External Relations, Serge Fornerod, was re-elected to the central committee, spontaneous jubilation broke out at SwissHub.
We always felt a hunger for contacts, an openness for encounters and honest exchanges about denominational and thematic differences at SwissHub. A glance through the hall was like a grab bag: was that an archbishop at the high table, is the church president standing in the line for coffee, is a jet-lagged activist taking a nap on one of the huge cushions? Isn’t that an old acquaintance from Canada playing at the EKD’s foosball table?
Some came to our desk from an island that was so exotic that we first had to Google the country. Others brought roses, were looking for delicious chocolate, or just wanted to charge their cell phones. The “red mountain” proved to be a fisher of people who understood every language. With Swiss people we overcame the Röstigraben [cultural boundaries between the German and French-speaking Swiss], and we overcame cultural prejudices with people from the Middle East. With Africa, we found our joyful unity, and met acquaintances once again after many years. There was much joy at seeing each other again at the Bossey alumni reunion, which we helped organize.
In addition to our enthusiastic volunteers, the “wooden lady” made by far the most contacts: the Gutenberg printing press. Day in and day out, participants printed hundreds of assembly posters on this piece from the Middle Ages in the middle of the Networking Zone. Inserting paper, applying ink, pressing gently – this haptic experience enthralled the people, whose heads were often overflowing from the assembly. We didn’t see anyone who wasn’t smiling there. Often a nice chat ensued thereafter, along the lines of "Tell me who you are and what your church is concerned about.” For example, our council member Pierre-Philippe Blaser had dozens of pastoral conversations in the Networking Zone, celebrating what this area was all about: genuine person-to-person encounters.