By Jane Stranz*
More than 220 church leaders representing over 20 churches from Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland are meeting from 27-31 October in the French city of Lyon for the first Francophone Christian Forum.
The meeting is a regional expression of the Global Christian Forum (GCF), which seeks to bring Christians together from as wide a spectrum of churches as possible.
The theme of the Francophone Christian Forum is “Fewer walls – more bridges” and the meeting has been planned by an interdenominational local committee, some of whom had taken part in international meetings of the GCF.
Participants received encouragement and greetings from GCF secretary Rev. Dr Casely Essamuah, from Ghana and the United States. “The world outside is yearning, suffering dying … it is waiting for our witness,” he said.
In a video message, Pope Francis encouraged participants “to dialogue, listen and, despite differences, to continue to walk together”.
Lyon today has a strong ecumenical life and has played a significant role in ecumenical history, in part through the life and witness of Fr Paul Couturier, a local Roman Catholic priest who in the 1930s popularized the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in France and set up the ecumenical “Groupe des Dombes” bringing together Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians.
The cover of the programme for this first Francophone forum has a picture of a Lyon footbridge named after Couturier which spans the River Saone running through the city.
“To choose to live together between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox is to choose non-violence and reconciliation” said Rev. Anne-Cathy Graber, a member of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission and a sister in the Chemin Neuf Community (Community of the New Way). She added that this is about learning to “love the church as your own body, and to pray that you will love another Christian’s church just as you love your own.”
Delegates and church leaders at the forum will meet at the Roman Catholic University of Lyon on 30 October for an encounter with local Christians, ending with a time of ecumenical prayers, at which Brother Aloïs, prior of the ecumenical Taizé community will preach.
Those participating in the event include Lyon’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin; president of the United Protestant Church of France, Rev. Emmanuelle Seyboldt; president of the Conference of European Churches, Rev. Christian Krieger; director of the WCC Bossey Ecumenical Institute, Fr Ioan Sauca; Bishop Anba Thomas, of the Coptic Church and leaders from Baptist, free, evangelical and Pentecostal churches from Francophone countries, as well as representatives of the Anglican diocese in Europe.
The idea of organizing a “forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations” spanning the breadth of global Christianity beyond WCC membership goes back to a consultation organized shortly before the WCC assembly in Harare in 1998.
The first international meeting of the Global Christian Forum took place in Limuru Kenya in 2007, followed by meetings in Manado, Indonesia in 2011 and Bogotá, Colombia in 2018.
* Rev. Jane Stranz is a communications consultant and a minister of the United Protestant Church of France.