FAITH IN EUROPE AGM 12 JULY 2018
General Secretary's Report
Briefing MeetingsRegular Briefing Meetings continue to form the central part of the programme of Faith in Europe (FiE). We usually meet in the Library in Archbishop's House behind St George's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Southwark. We are grateful to Fr Ashley Beck for arranging this facility for us.
The 2017 AGM took place in London on Thursday 20 July in the Monnet Room at Europe House, 32 Smith Square. There were 14 members present at the business part of the AGM, in the morning, and some 30 people at the Briefing Meeting in the afternoon.
At the Briefing Meeting our topic was Germany. Our first speaker was Professor Charles Lees of Bath University, who focused on the current political situation in Germany in the context of the Brexit vote and the forthcoming German elections, and considered the future of Germany in the EU. Our second speaker was Professor Margaret Littler of Manchester University, who focused specifically on perspectives on Islam among the Turkish community in Germany.
Our meeting on 19 October was at the Michaelhouse Centre in Cambridge, which is affiliated to Great St Mary's Church. The topic was the heritage of the Reformation: 2017 was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and our meeting officially formed part of the Great St Mary's Reformation Programme.
Our first speaker was Revd Professor John Morrill, Emeritus Professor of History and Fellow of Selwyn College Cambridge, who spoke on the topic 'What Remains of the Reformation Today'. Our second speaker was Revd Dr Keith Clements, former General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, who spoke on the topic 'The Continuing Hope of the Reformation'.
In recent years we have been holding our October meeting somewhere other than London, but generally we have found that attendance has been comparatively low, the one exception being the meeting held at the Quaker Meeting House in Oxford in October 2016.
At our Meeting on 18 January our topic was 'Whither Brexit? The Prospects for Britain and Europe'. By 'Europe' we had in mind Europe as a whole, including non-EU countries. Unfortunately the main speaker who had agreed to come had to cancel at a late stage, so we decided that the Meeting should take the form of a round-table discussion. We invited contributions of about 5 to 10 minutes from FiE members and people in related organisations about their own experiences and thoughts since the time of the Referendum; at the Meeting we had presentations from five members of the FiE Committee and from three others: Win Burton (the Coordinator of the 'Soul for Europe' initiative of the European Commission at the Ecumenical Centre in Brussels from 1999 to 2005 and then the Executive Secretary of the Wyndham Place Charlemagne Trust), Keith Best (the Secretary of the European Movement) and Brendan Donnelly (the Director of the Federal Trust and a former Member of the European Parliament). We all found the pooling of thoughts and experiences to be a very rewarding experience and decided to publish the presentations in the next issue of Faith in Europe Briefings (see below).
April / May 2018
As a consequence of developments in connection with the 2018 Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (see section below) we did not have a Briefing Meeting in April. The Committee Meeting which would have preceded the April Briefing Meeting took place in the morning before the 2018 Europe Day Service (see section below).
2018 Assembly of the Conference of European Churches, Novi Sad, 30 May - 6 JuneBriefing Meeting for UK Delegates to the CEC Assembly
At various of our Meetings in 2017 and 2018 we had thought about how FiE could be represented and its concerns discussed either at the forthcoming CEC Assembly itself or at gatherings of UK delegates before the Assembly.
Keith Jenkins pointed out that the 2018 Assembly would be the first under the new CEC Constitution, introduced in 2013 at the previous Assembly in Budapest, which had made CEC smaller. Associated organisations as opposed to member-churches had been pretty well eliminated; and FiE, although a Body in Association with CTBI, was in any case not officially associated with CEC; so it was very unlikely that FiE could be officially represented at the Assembly.
At our Committee Meeting in October 2017 we therefore decided to ask CTBI if they could provide a list of delegates to the Assembly from the UK churches and to offer to arrange a Briefing Day for them on behalf of CTBI, which would take the place of our usual April FiE Briefing Meeting. Such a meeting could to some extent cover a theme for a Briefing Meeting suggested at the 2017 FiE AGM: an interfaith theological perspective on the vision and values of the European project. Our provisional idea was that the Briefing would be for the delegates themselves rather than for the FiE membership; but that FiE members would offer input in discussion, including information about what FiE, and individual members, had been doing. Alternatively, or as well, FiE might identify and invite one or more outside speakers to give input.
In the event it was CTBI which arranged a briefing meeting under its own auspices, on 23 April; 15 people were present, including delegates from various UK churches, Bishop Christopher Hill (the President of CEC), and Philip Walters, representing FiE. Philip distributed material about FiE activities, including the Editorial for issue 26 of Faith in Europe Briefings (see section below).
Most of the discussion at the meeting was about the mechanics of the Assembly under the rules of the new CEC Constitution, including matters such as participation in workshops. Bishop Christopher noted the significance of the four regional meetings that had been preparatory to the Assembly, in Iceland, Scotland, Greece and Czech Republic. 85 member-churches had participated in these as opposed to about 20 in centralised meetings, and he pointed to such regional meetings as a possible model for the future. As I mentioned in my Secretary's Report at the 2017 FiE AGM, the conference 'Europe - Where Now?' in Edinburgh, 6-7 April 2017, which David Thomas and Keith Archer had attended, was one of these four regional meetings (the North-West Europe preparation for the Assembly). FiE Open Letter to the CEC Assembly At our Committee Meeting in January 2018 we noted that Peter Pavlovic, the Study Secretary of CEC, had produced a paper, available at https://www.ceceurope.org/open-letter/, summarising the responses received to the CEC Open Letter sent out just before the 2016 Referendum, which was designed to launch 'a broad process of consultation between CEC and its membership leading to the next CEC General Assembly in 2018'. Up to May 2017 CEC had received 19 official reactions from CEC Member-Churches, National Councils of Churches and Partner Organisations; these included the response by FiE in autumn 2016.
Keith Jenkins suggested that FiE write an Open Letter to CEC for its 2018 Assembly challenging it to explain what its strategy is towards Brexit and its consequences. We asked Keith to draft such a letter; we then incorporated suggestions from other FiE Committee Members. The letter highlighted important issues in the context of the main theme of the Assembly: "You shall be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8) - exploring the Christian values of justice, witness and hospitality'. We sent the letter in May 2018.
Developments since the 2016 Referendum on UK Membership of the European UnionAs I noted in my 2017 Secretary's Report, on 22 March 2016 CTBI had convened a meeting at which CTBI member-churches and national ecumenical instruments had shared information about plans they had for the forthcoming Referendum. There had been about 20 people at the March meeting; but only 9 at the follow-up meeting on 6 July, shortly after the Referendum, three of whom had been from Faith in Europe. Bob Fyffe, the General Secretary of CTBI and convenor of the meeting, invited each participant to send to him suggested guidelines for churches and church-related bodies for a code of conduct in discussing the post-Brexit situation, identifying the principles which should guide public discourse. At our 2017 AGM nobody had heard of any such responses.
In August 2017 we received information from CTBI about a residential two-day consultation it was holding in November at which member-churches would discuss the CTBI programme. The proposed 'areas or work' did not include Brexit specifically or indeed Europe at all. We asked CTBI whether FiE could attend the consultation to update participants on its activities. In view of the reply, explaining the purpose of the consultation and saying that Brexit/Europe would come up incidentally under various headings, we decided that we would not be able to commit FiE resources to attending the consultation.
Day conference for Church of England European Church Links OfficersMatthias Grebe raised the subject of a proposed conference for Church of England European Church Links Officers (ECLOs) when he accepted our invitation to come to our Committee Meeting in January 2018 to discuss further communication between the Council of Christian Unity at the Church of England and FiE (see section 'The Faith in Europe Committee' below).
Keith Archer, himself an ECLO and a coordinator of communications with the network, said that this would be a timely opportunity to find out the state of health of the network. He reminded us that the last such meeting had run concurrently with the FiE AGM in 2015. Some 20 ECLOs had been present, and they had joined the FiE Briefing Meeting in the afternoon at which Rowan Williams had been the main speaker. Matthias agreed that the proposed conference would be an opportunity to challenge and galvanise the dioceses.
The conference took place at Lambeth Palace on 30 April 2018. David Thomas and Andrew Bowden (as an ECLO) were there on behalf of FiE. About half of the 40 dioceses with ECLOs had sent representatives. Different understandings of the role of ECLOs were evident: some think that it relates to links between specific parishes in the UK and other European countries; others think it should mean discussing wider issues of Brexit. There were several excellent individual presentations.
At our May Committee Meeting we discussed the problems highlighted by the ECLOs meeting. At that meeting there had been an inward-looking concern with divisions within communities in the UK. We identified the need to widen the discussion to include the implications for British communities in the rest of Europe when the UK leaves the EU and the implications for the rest of Europe more generally. We agreed that we need to establish a forum in which important discussion on such issues can take place from a wide faith-community perspective; and our view was that at the moment FiE itself is the best such potential forum.
Work with Other OrganisationsWe continue to discuss closer cooperation with a range of organisations with a view to avoiding duplication of effort, making the best use of resources and pooling ideas. In this context we hold some of our meetings at the premises of organisations with similar aims to our own, of churches of different denominations and of ecumenical, para-church and interfaith organisations.
We continue to publicise our Briefing Meetings through the Wyndham Place Charlemagne Trust, the European Bulletin of the C of E, the Anglican-Lutheran Society, the Religion or Belief network and other networks and social media as appropriate to the subject-matter. Over the last few years this has been reflected in an upward trend in attendance figures at some of our Briefing Meetings.
At our October 2016 Committee Meeting we discussed communications we had received from a number of organisations and movements interested in continuing and furthering UK involvement with the rest of Europe in the post-Referendum situation. We decided that FiE was open in principle to cooperation in appropriate ways with all such types of organisation.
Europe Day Service, 9 May 2018This year's service focusing on Europe Day took place on Europe Day itself, and was the regular Mass at St George's Roman Catholic Cathedral Southwark at 12.30 on Wednesday 9 May, coordinated by Faith in Europe in collaboration with the Cathedral. The celebrant and preacher was the Right Reverend Patrick Lynch, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Southwark, and there were bidding prayers in several European languages. After the Mass we hosted a Reception in the neighbouring Amigo Hall. About 30 people attended. We had invited a range of Embassies of European countries in London to send representatives to the Mass and Reception, but in the end only one or two were able to do so, one reason being the number of invitations the Embassies had received to other Europe Day events.
The Newsletter Faith in Europe BriefingsWe continue to produce our newsletter Faith in Europe Briefings, with summaries of presentations and discussions at Briefing Meetings, reports from events in which FiE members have been involved and other information, bringing the valuable contributions and discussions at FiE meetings to a much wider audience.
The most recent issue, No, 26, called 'Whither (Whether) Brexit?', comprises the presentations at our January 2018 Committee Meeting (see section above), preceded by the text of a talk by Jim Memory in Gloucester Cathedral given a few days before the Referendum in June 2016 which gives a concise history of the European Union and highlights key issues which in his view needed to be considered by those intending to vote. In my Editorial in the issue, 'Faith in Europe, the Referendum and the Implications of Brexit', I summarise the involvement of FiE in relation to Brexit-related issues since 2014. Like all other issues of Faith in Europe Briefings, this issue is available on our website.
As usual I would like to remind members of FiE, and indeed anyone who reads Faith in Europe Briefings, that it is a resource for all to use. Please send details to me of news of events and activities in the field of FiE's concern and anything you would like to publicise. Faith in Europe Briefings is widely regarded as a high-quality resource and we continue to consider ways of getting it more widely known, for instance by distributing it through academic electronic networks.
The Faith in Europe Website and Facebook PageThe FiE website http://www.faithineurope.org.uk contains a large quantity of useful material accumulated over the years, including the contents of Faith in Europe Briefings, and has links to websites of other related organisations. Please send direct to Robin Blount any FiE-related documents or news of your own activities and events which you would like to publicise there. FiE also has a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/faithineurope) where a wide range of material is being posted.
MembershipThere is a continuing slow attrition of longstanding individual members, largely because of age. General awareness of FiE and its activities is growing, however, and new people are joining.
The Faith in Europe CommitteeWe were shocked and distressed at the unexpected death in November 2017 of our valued Committee Member Francis Bassett, Assistant Secretary for the Council for Christian Unity at the Church of England.
Our Committee Member David Tatem has retired as Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the URC, and we are looking for someone to succeed him.
Meanwhile we are delighted to welcome three new members to our Committee. Andrew Openshaw is Minister at New Mill Baptist Church in Tring, Hertfordshire. Sr Margaret Shepherd is the Secretary of the Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations at the Catholic Bishops' Conference, and Director of the Sion Centre for Dialogue and Encounter: 'A place to listen, learn, reflect, respect. A setting for study and growth in mutual understanding between Christians and Jews, between other faiths and cultures'. Edie Friedman is Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality.
Prospects for the FutureThe financial situation of FiE continues stable, which means that we can continue with our current programme of Briefing Meetings and continue to circulate Faith in Europe Briefings, now almost exclusively in electronic form, although hard copy is available on request. Most members now also receive their mailings by email. Electronic communication does of course save us money. The 'CAFE Legacy' of just over £800 is being kept aside in the budget, to be used for specific purposes when appropriate. FiE envisages publishing one-off brochures and special studies, and donations earmarked for publications will be reserved for that purpose. We are always glad to hear suggestions of ways in which the FiE resources could be usefully used. Similarly we are always glad to receive ideas on how the work of FiE can be more widely publicised.
ThanksI would like to thank our Moderator, David Thomas, all members of the Committee and all members of FiE for your continuing support, involvement and enthusiasm.