Free for the Future – Opening of the General Assembly of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe

At the opening of the 7th General Assembly of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), currently convening in Florence until 26th September under the banner “Free for the Future”, its President Thomas Wipf, General Secretary Michael Bünker, and hosts Fulvio Ferrario and Holger Milkau from the host churches of Italy presented their personal visions for the Protestant churches of Europe.

“Free for the future” is interpreted by Thomas Wipf as signifying the freedom of responsibility that is granted to us by God. “The Protestant churches are minority churches in many of Europe’s countries. Nonetheless they are clearly characterised by a strong commitment towards a humane society that offers solidarity and a sense of common responsibility”, the President of the CPCE explained. In the face of the current crisis of identity that is taking hold throughout Europe the Protestant churches view this General Assembly as another means of promoting peaceful co-existence throughout the continent by embodying the values of hope and justice for all as we seek to face the future with strength and courage.

The theology of the religions will also be a key consideration at the Florence Assembly. It has presented a considerable challenge to develop a core identity for all Protestants, and in this context Thomas Wipf pointed out that “only those who are conscious and confident of their own roots can be open in their approach towards other religions.” The General Assembly is set to pass a resolution outlining the efforts which the CPCE will undertake in the coming years to address the co-existence of different religions in Europe.

General Secretary Bünker made the observation that the ecumenical movement now means more than communication and understanding amongst the Christian churches. The CPCE has been thoroughly committed to ecumenical understanding from the very outset, but migratory forces have nonetheless now started to present previously unknown challenges to the Protestant communities of Europe, ones that can only be met on the basis of mutual respect and in the absolute interest of a genuinely inclusive society. In this pluralist continent of Europe, religious diversity should certainly be viewed as a form of enrichment and not grounds for division.

Fulvio Ferrario, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Waldensian Faculty in Rome and member of the Council of the CPCE, defined the role of the minority churches in Italy as both a chance and a challenge. Any shared vision of unity within the Church must be genuinely enacted, he said, and not stop at optimistic rhetoric alone. The unity of Word and Sacrament embodied at the General Assembly exemplified the true experience of unity in reconciled diversity, he explained.

This theme was expanded by Holger Milkau, Dean of the Protestant Lutheran Church in Italy, who stressed that care to uphold the spirit of co-operation is an imperative not only for the minority churches. He views one of the main benefits of successful ecumenical diversity to be the dialogue and interaction that foster the confidence to freely express one’s own opinion. He promised many opportunities to do just that over the coming days at this General Assembly.

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