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Greetings to the CPCE General Assembly

WCC General Secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit Greetings to the CPCE General Assembly, 21 September 2012, Florence, Italy

22 September 2012

21 September 2012, Florence, Italy

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Colleagues and Friends,

It is a special joy to bring greetings to you from the World Council of Churches – a worldwide fellowship of churches to which many of your churches belong.  As a member of the Executive Committee of the Leuenberg Church Fellowship from 1994 to 2001, I got to know many of you, your churches, your challenges and your – and our - shared mission.  The solid, theologically based community between European Protestant churches – united in sharing of the word and sacrament, has been and is an important contribution to the wider, global ecumenical fellowship which I am here to represent.

Crisis and reconciliation – a call to the churches of Europe

You emphasize reconciliation in your concept of unity. Europe today calls the churches to signs of reconciliation. Less than a month ago, some of us met at the Orthodox Academy of Crete near Chania for the last WCC Central Committee meeting before our 2013 assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea. The assembly theme, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”, guided our prayers, Bible studies, reflections and deliberations. This theme leads us to reconciliation in prayer and witness, based on a theological focus and reflections.  This corresponds very well to the vision of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe.

It was, of course, not possible to meet on the island of Crete without addressing the current financial and economic crisis which affects Greece severely, pushing up unemployment rates, particularly among young people, and pushing down people into poverty and despair. The Central Committee pointed to its consequences not only for Greece, but also for Italy and Spain; and it warned that if the Euro falters there could be another global panic and crisis, most likely even graver than that in 2008. We might have reasons to fear a south-north division in Europe, and that this could be reinforced by the lines of confessional divisions in the continent. This comes in addition to the growing tensions related to migration and the growing religious pluralism in many countries.

The present crisis also has very deep political and moral dimensions which threaten to undermine the progress made in Europe regarding reconciliation and the greater integration of the continent.  Old patterns of enmity and stereotypes are surfacing again, poisoning the minds of people and paralyzing public discourse.

The WCC Central Committee urged “the Churches in Europe to stand together and to advocate for common European solutions to the financial and social crisis that help to deepen the project of European unity as a project of just peace on the continent”.

A week ago I had a chance for brief conversations with the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, and others, where I could raise the question of the role of the churches in times like these in Europe. What can the churches contribute in terms of alternative discourses in reconciled relationships? Where are the churches that have contributed significantly to reconciliation and peace in Europe when new tensions feed the re-emergence of enemy images now based on the financial crisis?  Where are the churches that have shown capacity to shift public discourse and open doors for politicians and societies in calling for reconciliation and the building of new relationships after World War II and across the Iron Curtain?

These European leaders responded and promised to support what the churches could do to promote another discourse and another development in this crisis.

Christ frees, reconciles and unites

This General Assembly of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe meets here in Florence under the theme: Free for the Future! It indeed characterizes the spirit which is necessary to grasp the opportunity at this moment of history.

The depth of Christian freedom is expressed most significantly in Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who is against us?”

We are called to another future without being dominated by fear. Without fear, we can overcome the past of enmity and despair.  We were reconciled to God by the death of Christ. Everything, even hatred and death, looks different through the love of Christ, even if these powers do not disappear. The grace of God, the justification of sinners, drives us to repentance, frees us to give up our concept of the enemy, and enables us to look for another future of life together. God also loves those who might call us enemies. We are liberated to carry the cross of Christ under any circumstances, with faith, hope and love. Not for crusades, but in solidarity with the suffering world.

Justified by God through the cross of Christ, we are free, free for a future of solidarity and life together for both the societies and the churches in Europe. So let the theme of this general assembly inspire you:

-  to make your voice heard in solidarity with the vulnerable and suffering people in Europe - and those coming to Europe - together with the churches of other traditions in Europe;

-  and to renew the good news that Christ frees, reconciles and unites both people and churches!

Christ, frees, reconciles and unites! We are called to renew our common witness, our mission and our commitment to the visible unity of the Church to offer the best we have for the common future of people and nations in Europe!

Ready for a decisive, visible and ambitious step towards a common future

I am glad that the new Mission Statement of the WCC, approved at the last central committee, defines mission from the margins – not from some centre of mission like in the past centuries.  It points towards a life affirming mission taking seriously the experience of the marginalized, their joy and suffering, wherever they are.  We are all called to share the gospel with the other, carrying the cross of Christ in Christian solidarity with the world.  The churches are moving forward to offer a vision of solidarity and life together, sharing an understanding of a holistic mission, urgently needed in Europe as well.  The churches are called to share the liberating faith in Jesus Christ, which is unknown to so many, in a Europe where so many struggle to find hope and meaning. Our mission is also to establish proper relations as good neighbours to Muslims, and to Jews, and other groups that might feel unsecure here.

A new Faith and Order convergence text on “The Church: Towards a common vision”, holds closely together the search for the visible unity and the churches common witness in their mission to the world.  We have been building, amongst other contributions, on the work done by the texts on ecclesiology from the Leuenberg theological studies, particularly the study on the Church of Jesus Christ from the 1990s.

We are remembering this year the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council as a significant inspiration to the ecumenical, theological dialogues between several churches in Europe. We are on our way to celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of the re-discovery of the gospel and the critical examination of the life and teaching of the church by Martin Luther and others that led to what was later called the Reformation.  It is your and our common responsibility to make this a real ecumenical, global, event in 2017 by making this a joint, humble and joyful celebration of the gospel.

We have begun to work on a new unity statement for the Busan assembly which spells out that the search for the unity of the church responds to God’s purpose not only for humankind, but for all of creation.  God creates life in unity and for unity. Unity is intrinsic to the churches work for life, justice and peace. All what we do here in Europe needs to be fully accountable to people in this and other continents, whether they are Christian sisters and brothers or people of other religions and faith. They all will benefit when they see the churches in Europe renewing their mission towards life in justice and peace in response to their own calls and as a contribution to the worldwide fellowship of churches expressed in the WCC.

The churches in Europe have had a strong commitment throughout the past century to the ecumenical movement and fellowship in Europe and with churches of other continents.  It has changed the realities of Europe. It has borne much fruit on other continents. That can, and should, happen again.

This general assembly of the CPCE can be a dynamic actor for the future of Europe if you discern the times and the context we live in, and if you ask what the contribution of the gospel is for unity, justice and peace in Europe today.  We all need your witness and your work for the real freedom to serve all.  May God bless you and the fruits of your deliberations!

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches