Facing issues that are both painful and complex, the group explored how people and churches in Europe are really feeling. “What is it like to be alive in Europe right now?” asked Steven Edwards, a representative of the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe.
“Just now, if Europe was a person, she would be a rather anxious person… there is war now within our borders, and there are fears of escalation, as we wonder how it will end or where it will lead. Europe has been humbled by COVID-19,” said Edwards. “There is mistrust and anxiety almost everywhere about political and public life, about the very survival of the voice of faith in the midst of an increasingly aggressive and confident secularism.”
There is also anxiety about resources, Edwards added. “There is anxiety because many are lonely, depressed, fearing old age, experiencing what some have called climate anxiety,” he said “And there is sadness among the churches as some see cherished traditions disappearing.”
Europe is beginning to face up to some aspects of past history and to wonder what the future will be, Edwards said. “The bright optimism of some days – expressed in Beethoven’s wonderful Ode to Joy – is harder to sing in such times,” he reflected. “And Europe has to find a new way to be in the world.”
Prof. Dr Fernando Enns spoke of the war in Ukraine, conflicts elsewhere, and the climate emergency. “We are all deeply affected by the war in Ukraine, and we long for an end to it—for a just peace,” he said. “There is the blockade of Artsakh and the continued threat to the Armenian people, and we remain concerned about possible conflict in Kosovo and Serbia, and about continuing tensions in Cyprus.”
Climate change is no longer about Europe’s future or about those far away, Enns added “Climate change is a palpable threat now,” he said. “It is a profound concern, in the place where the Industrial Revolution began.”
The group also expressed concerns over increasing political polarisation, with populist and nationalist parties and individuals becoming louder and more powerful. In many places, people fear threats to democracy. There is a loss of trust in institutions and in the integrity of politicians.
Yet the group also drew a measure of hope from the Conference of European Churches General Assembly message, read by Katerina Pekridou, executive secretary for Theological Dialogue with the Conference of European Churches.
The assembly, held in June in Tallinn, Estonia, convened under the theme “Under God’s Blessing – Shaping the Future.”
This message reminded the regional group that theology is public, that Christians must embrace the challenge of contributing to an increasingly secularised political discourse.
“Churches engaged in shaping the future of Europe must be imaginative and brave, confident not arrogant, listening not just speaking, trusting not anxious, hopeful not merely optimistic,” the message reads. “The assembly was reminded that to be blessed is to be freed from anxiety about our own security or control – liberated from imprisonment within our own history or narrative.”