Well, after being away for what seems like an age - I arrive home again. Just as Ruby goes away for a couple of weeks - have a great time in Oz Ruby!
Most of last week was spent in Romania, in Sibiu. I'd never been there before but it is a cultural city situated in beautiful Transylvania - and hardly a sign of Dracula anywhere!
I was attending the third European Ecumenical Conference - with 2500 others. It was a grand affair but I return with some mixed feelings about it.
Many things were good. It was great to meet so many different Christian people, and I had some wonderful chats with Waldensians from Italy, Catholic reporters from France and Orthodox missionaries from Albania - to mention just a few. Some of the 'fringe' meetings were very helpful, and most of the acts of worship very moving. The Iona Community's 'Fencing In God's People' (about 3000 years of wall building in Israel and Palestine) was fantastic, taking place in a candlelit Lutheran cathedral.
The conference demonstrated to me again, in stark terms, just how varied European Christianity is. How, in different ways, Europe remains a challenging mission field - perhaps the hardest nut to crack of them all, in Christianization terms. The 'North/West' is very different to the 'East'. One is post Christian, the other post Communist. The adopted role of Christianity in (some) historically Orthodox and Catholic regions is very different to Protestantism in Britain.
Speaking personally, I return with questions, and it would be interesting to hear from anyone else who attended.
First, I was left with the impression (rightly or wrongly) that a major reason for the Conference was to provide a public forum for Catholics and Orthodox to speak to each other, and say generally affirming things - repeatedly. That is very important, I'm sure. But probably didn't need two and a haf thousand of us to be there to watch them do it!
Second, the hierarchical structure of both Catholics and Orthodox seemed to dominate the Conference. plenary sessions seemed stage managed to ensure that nobody's nose was put out of joint. Some of the vestments were fantastic - but I came away glad to be a Protestant, thankful for my jeans, and grateful that almost everyone refers to me as 'Martyn' and not 'Your All Holiness', 'Your Beatitude', 'Your Eminence' etc.
But third, and most significantly, there appeared to be a lack of real 'conferring'. Three and four hour sessions had mere minutes of opportunity for anyone other than prepared speaker numbers one to seventeen to contribute. This gave an overall impression that people were speaking 'at' or 'past' each other rather than 'to' or 'with' each other. I think for a number of Western European this modus operandi was particularly frustrating.
But hey, what do I know! I was glad to be there. And now glad to be back.
I'll post something on the TUC Congress on Friday.