Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Sibiu - super or superfluous

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.

1 comment:

Judith said...

I am a Methodist in Settle, North Yorkshire.

Ten years ago I went to Graz (Austria) by bus, to the Second European Ecumenical Assembly and ran a stall and some workshops for Christian Ecology Link (CEL). I was impressed by that event, but disappointed then that such a big European event was not taken up by the British Press.

There has been even less mention of Sibiu – so I was pleased to read of your account, and to hear your high and low lights.

Two CEL members who went to Sibiu and who took part in the Care of Creation forum have written accounts. They also travelled there overland, by bus instead of plane, to reduce their carbon footprints.. Ruth Conway’s account is a summary of the Creation Forum’s points. Isabel Carter’s covers the whole event , but especially the epic journey getting there.

At Graz ten years ago: It was good for me to meet and see the Orthodox church. I got more out of the smaller meetings and workshops than the large Plenary sessions.

Christian Ecology Link is co-running a conference called “Keeping the Ark Afloat: All Hands on deck – a Conference on Environmental Justice” on 3 November at Lancaster (It will be held at the University Chaplaincy) to which all are invited. I will be running a workshop on “Biodiversity - Saving our Wildlife”. I am concerned that species are becoming extinct in our generation at a greater rate than ever before – e.g a quarter of the world’s mammals are under threat. I will be posing the question “Should Christians and the Church be more active in protecting wildlife and habitats that are in danger of becoming extinct – and if so, how?”

Any suggestions?