Meeting of the CPCE Regional Group South-East Europe
There was great joy when we – the delegates of various CPCE (Community of Protestant Churches in Europe) member churches – were finally able to meet again in a common place on May 9th. Already in 2019 the Lutheran Church in Poland had invited the regional group to meet the following year in Wrocław/Breslau. Due to the Corona pandemic, we could accept the invitation only belatedly.
Poland was an excellent meeting place for several reasons: First, the hospitality was great. Second, Bishop Jerzy Samiec and others gave us a good insight not only into their church, but also into social and political changes in Poland. A special joy: last Saturday for the first time 9 women were ordained as pastors – until now only the office of deacon was open to women. In the fall of 2021, the Synod voted by a large majority for full equality of women and men in ordained ministry.
Furthermore, in Poland the war in Ukraine was experienced as something very close. To perceive the horror of war within reach was helpful for our work. The regional group is currently working on the topic "Church and Democracy" – the situation in Ukraine makes us painfully aware that democratic systems can be severely damaged by external influences. Bishop Pavlo Shvarts of DELKU (German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ukraine) and two young women gave us touching insights into the current situation in their hometown of Харків/Charkiv and beyond. In the occupied Donbas, Protestant church services have been banned since 2014. Wherever possible, however, churches try to maintain congregational life.
A trip to Krzyżowa/Kreisau gave us the opportunity to learn something about the Kreisau Circle. This decidedly pro-European resistance group against the National Socialist dictatorship consisted of members from very different backgrounds and milieus. In their vision, the totalitarian dictatorship should have been followed by a rebuilding of society "from below“. However, the work of the circle was thwarted by the Nazis and several members paid for their commitment to a free and peaceful Europe with their lives. After the fall of communism, Kreisau became an important center for promoting relations between Poland and Germany. To this day, hundreds of young people come to this place every year and experience formative encounters here.
A communion service in the Peace Church in Świdnica/Schweidnitz and the reception afterwards gave us a wonderful evening with Polish food, Polish music and plenty of opportunity for conversation. Also the Roman Catholic Bishop and the Mayor spent this evening with us, making clear the good relations between the churches and with the city.
For the first time two young women from the CPCE network Young Theologians in Communion took part in the meeting of the regional group. On the one hand they enriched the meeting simply by their presence and cooperation, but on the last day they also gave us their "view from outside". Their observations also coincide with my perception: the delegates are particularly cordial, open, trusting and considerate in their dealings with one another. Critically, the young theologians – a student and a prospective vicar – noted that the work of the group is dominated significantly by the members with German mother tongue. We tried to counteract this fact already during the conference: In a working phase, topics were discussed in language groups. This way, the majority of the delegates could contribute in a mother tongue.
The next meeting is scheduled to take place from May 8th to 11th, 2023. The location still depends on which church extends an invitation. Until then, the group will also continue to work in small groups. As a working aid, we already had a paper in Wrocław that gave impulses for the exchange of experiences and that we can continue to use. We want to share experiences around church and democracy. One of the small groups will consider how to document and process the reports of experience so that as many people as possible can benefit from them.
Pastor Novica Brankov (UMC in Serbia) could not attend this time due to a scheduling conflict: His presence was required at the Annual Conference in Albania.