A growing ecumenism of the heart is clearly one of the signs of hope in Europe today. This was demonstrated most tangibly among the 2000 leaders from 240 European movements and communities who gathered in Stuttgart at Miteinander für Europa (Together for Europe) over the past few days.
This was no search for a 'lowest common denominator' by theologians and church officials. Rather it was the fruit of growing personal friendship and trust among leaders of very diverse movements and organisations from Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal traditions.
They affirmed that their 'highest' common denominator – the Lordship of Jesus Christ – bound them together in a new communion embracing a rich diversity. "In this communion we see more clearly our responsibility in facing Europe's challenges today: to be a strong social cohesive force in its cultural pluralism," declared the closing statement of the gathering.
On Saturday, the 2000 leaders were joined by some 8000 other members of the movements and communities from all across Europe in a lively, colourful and culturally diverse programme. A stage orchestra, several rock bands, a Romanian monks' choir, and a Greek dance troupe all contributed to an event summed up by the catchy theme song Together: 'We say yes, si, ja, oui, stand together, stand for Europe.'
Three years ago, the first Together for Europe event took place at the initiative of a core group of movements including the YMCA of Germany and the Lutheran Christus-bruderschaft on the Protestant side, and the Focolare and St Egidio movements from the Italian Catholic tradition. With the discovery that each of these movements emphasised living according to the Word of God, and in obedience to the Great Commandment to love one another, came a deeper realisation of brotherhood in the same family. Unity did not mean conformity or loss of identity, they realised. Rather, as they worked to create a climate of goodwill and dialogue, their distinctiveness was affirmed within the overall unity.
Since this first initiative embracing 160 movements, the 'Friends of Stuttgart' planning group has expanded to include many European nationalities, as well as Anglicans, Orthodox, Pentecostal and non-denominational representatives.
Evangelists Nicky Gumbel, of the Alpha movement, and Ulrich Parzany, of ProChrist, affirmed from the platform on Saturday that the basis of unity was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "What unites us is greater than what separates us," said Gumbel to the applause of the crowd. Parzany implied that many Europeans today fitted the description used by Sundu Sardu Singh 80 years ago of 'Christians without Christ'. They needed to see and hear this Good News afresh, both through words, deeds and the demonstration of unity among the followers of Jesus.
Cardinal Kasper, of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, had earlier greeted the congress of leaders on behalf of the pope. He had urged them as leaders of spiritual movements to be both 'spiritual' and 'movement'. The church, he said, was the People of God on the Way. The church was movement, and always needed to be movement-towards unity, vision, hope and a new way of being church. The movements needed to remain young and on the move. "The church needs you," he declared, "and you need the church."
Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have always had room in their ecclesiology for movements and communities. Orders and monastic movements have always existed alongside dioceses and parish churches. These traditions have recognised the dynamic power of such movements to bring renewal through the ages and to transfer new life across national borders. In recent years, both Pope Benedict XIV and John Paul II expressed their expectation for renewal to come into the mainstream church via such movements or charisms.
But by stressing the local church and rejecting the monastic structures, Protestant traditions and the more recent Pentecostal streams have given less attention to the role of movements and communities as renewal structures. Often referred to as 'para-church organisations', and sometimes tolerated as 'God's plan B', such movements have tended to be 'off the radar' for post-Reformation churches.
Nevertheless, Ingolf Ellssel, chairman of the Pentecostal European Fellowshiip, (PEF), told Saturday's gathering that his 100-year-old movement was watching the Together for Europe development with great interest. "Never before was it more important for Christians to pray with each other and to find the way to inspire new life into the Christian roots of Europe."
Messages from other church leaders including the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and the president of the Council of European Churches revealed a growing awareness that something significant was emerging with these events. Neither was this significance lost on Europe's politicians, represented in person by the Italian premier, Romano Prodi, and by a special video message from José Barroso, President of the European Commission. The current president of the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, wrote: "Europe is grounded in common values and in spiritual roots. The religious roots, our Judaeo-Christian heritage, are a defining part of our society. It is with a high degree of love for your neighbour that you, together, dedicate yourselves to many aspects of life such as family and school, work and economy, politics and the media, in the work for peace, in art and culture. I hope that your Christian message will reach many people!"
Personally I experienced the event as a great confirmation that our Ancient Churches Consultation to be held in two week's time in Herrnhut, exploring YWAM's relationship with pre-Reformation churches, is right in tune with what God is doing in Europe today. Till next week, Jeff Fountain
Till next week,