Christian women from 27 countries came together in Tinos, Greece, for the General Assembly of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women (efecw.net). Tinos is special because it is a place of pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary. This location inspired the theme, ' Born of a woman. Christian women as a creative energy in Europe'. The Assembly was made very special by the generous hospitality of our Greek sisters and the people of Tinos.
The Forum is very diverse with women from all the Christian traditions throughout Europe and of all ages. In coming together as Christian women we hope to live the European values of reconciliation and understanding. By sharing our different experience, we reflected that each woman and man is born equal. We believe that we are created in God’s image.
We therefore bring our perspective as women of faith, our collective voice and our belief in the power of prayer to the following challenges.
We are mindful that it is 100 years since the start of the First World War and 75 years since the Second World War began. We acknowledge that women played many different roles in these wars both promoting nationalist values as well as working for peace. These devastating wars profoundly changed the lives and roles of women.
Today we continue to live in a world where there are many places of conflict including Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Palestine/Israel. The civilian population, especially women and children, is suffering greatly. These conflicts touch all our lives and it is difficult to discern what is right. We condemn the fact that for many of our nations the business of weapons manufacture is a driving economic force.
Women and women's organisations must be instruments of peace. We encourage women to come together to pray and work towards peace. The women of the Forum will continue to work within their churches to inspire them to advocate for peace within the public and private sphere.
Current conflicts heighten societal issues of racism, refugees and migrants that are already present in our European context. We believe all people are created in the image of God and this makes us deeply concerned at the dehumanising experience of refugees and migrants within our communities. We will work within our churches to ensure their dignity and support their voice.
Our presence in Greece reminds us of the severe impact of the 2008 financial crisis. We still have a financial system that causes poverty, disadvantage and environmental problems. As Christian women we will respond to the call to be a creative power by working to discover new solutions that will provide a sustainable life for future generations.
The basis of our hope for the future is nurtured by our faith and our experience that prayer works. We take as our inspiration the prayer of Hildegard of Bingen (1098 -1179 a.D.).
You are the breath, give us life,
You are the salve, heal our wounds,
You are the fire, warm our hearts,
You are the light, guide our feet.
Let all the world praise you,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
According to the Message of the GA, our main goals for the next 4 years are the following:
"Justice and Equality: Justice and equality belong together. No justice without gender equality! Equality is not fulfilled as yet in the countries of Europe, even though the EU and other European institutions have provided and continue to provide many decisive impulses (we refer to the work of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality).
In spite of these there is still no equal pay for equal work; there is still no common European law concerning violence against women; women still have a higher risk of becoming poor, especially when they are single parents; women still are working in precarious jobs, with little security, low pay and fewer career opportunities than men, and unemployment is still higher among women.
Modern market economies are still being defined around the concept of human beings as independent male adults. But we come into the world, and often go out of it as helpless creatures, dependent on the care and solidarity of others. A new effort is necessary to overcome still persisting dualisms; to put human needs into the centre of economic activity; and to redefine economy in light of the question how to meet the human needs of all. The market is useful as a tool, but not in the centre of the economy!
Taking Responsibility: Standing up for women's/human rights and furthering justice for all can be a costly decision. The Assembly honoured the memory of
six Russian women, among them Anna Politkovskaja, who were punished or even paid with their lives because they stood up for the human rights of others out of conviction that this was their responsibility as citizens. Taking responsibility is also the Christian way of "being here for others", as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Maria Skobtsova showed, and it is possible in every situation.
Recommendations: Understanding that all our efforts are aimed at building peace with justice, we recommend the Forum to focus especially on our responsibilities as European Christian women in the following areas:
Community building, networking and dialogue Interfaith/intercultural dialogue
Ecology and economy Gender equality in church and society
Younger women in the life and work of the Forum To that end the Forum should:
* Strengthen the Forum networks, especially amongst the Mediterranean countries
* Re-establish programme commissions/working groups that will work and reflect on specific issues:
1. theology and liturgy
2. ecology and economy
SUMMARY OF THE 8th GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE ECUMENICAL FORUM OF EUROPEAN CHRISTIAN WOMEN
“Participation and Responsibility – on the way of justice there is life” – the motto of the 8th General Assembly could not be more topical. It brought together 160 delegates, guests and speakers from 27 European countries, who met from 23rd to 29th August in the Evangelische Akademie (Protestant Academy) of Loccum, north-west of Hanover. Founded a year after the end of World War 2, the Academy has been receiving guests since 1952 as a facility for peace, reconciliation and ethicalpolitical discourse. One of its charms is its proximity to the Cistercian monastery of Loccum, founded in 1163, today a training college for preachers. With inviting meeting rooms and guest houses in a country setting, it lies on the pilgrimage route to the historic monastery of Volkenroda in Thuringia.
Martina Heinrichs began by greeting everyone on behalf of the three Copresidents of the Ecumenical Forum.
Following the welcome and introduction to the Academy by its Director, Dr Stephan Schaede, and Reverends Gabriele Arndt-Sandrock and Sophie Anca, we heard warm greetings from representatives of member associations, partner organisations, and the Protestant and Catholic Churches.
The keynote speakers shone a spotlight on justice, ecumenism and spirituality, with challenging keynote addresses.
Brigitte Triems presented the European Women’s Lobby, of which she is President. Ethical economics, or the possibilities of fair trading in the “world’s household” were introduced to us by the Swiss Protestant theologian and publicist Ina Praetorius. The Russian Orthodox theologian Marina Shishova from St Petersburg linked spirituality and justice as she recalled women human-rights activists of the 1990s. Reflecting the addresses – and the infectious Bible study by Klara Butting – were the many thematic and creative workshops.
Oasis groups, study groups with experts, plenary discussions, open space conversations, not forgetting the German Evening and a bazaar with national products – all these widened our horizons. The Forum introduced individual projects, like the international Egeria Pilgrimage 2005 -2010, and a first historical documentation– the book “Ökumene weiblich” (Female Ecumenism) shows three decades of European ecumenism amongst women.
Extracts are currently being translated into English. I was impressed by the zest with which women from different cultural and regional backgrounds engaged spontaneously in warm conversations!
The brilliantly prepared business sessions brought young women to the fore in the Presidium and the Coordinating Committee at the elections.
One of the founding mothers of the Forum, who was also present, was particularly pleased with the lively future of the Forum in the 21st century:
91-year-old Ruth Epting from Basle welcomed the emergence of the young people who, as delegates or ‘stewards’, demanded recognition of their roles.
A cultural conclusion was provided on the Saturday by an excursion to Hannover. In the closing worship in the Reformed Church the Hamburg theologian Antje Heider- Rottwilm gave a sermon on the Magnifi cat, framed by the sensitive and moving liturgy created by the worship group led by Reverend Johanna Friedlein. Afterwards there was a reception by the Council of Churches.
Back in Loccum our friendly kitchen team spoilt us with a great barbecue – held indoors on account of the incessant rain. There was a standing ovation for the culinary delights! The final morning prayers sent us with travel blessings from monastic seclusion back to reality.
Summary by Dr.Cornelia Göksu
Translation by Jill King
The Message of the 7th General Assembly mentioned old demands and new challenges. The theme was “We are citizens of Europe: overcoming frontiers and respecting differences”
From the Message:
“As Christian women and citizens of Europe we are deeply concerned about the many exhausted, impoverished and endangered people who land at the shores of Europe seeking a future. By doing this they often end up in conditions close to slavery. We recognise that women are particularly in danger and vulnerable in such situations.
Europeans tend to forget that their values, above all the very idea of human rights, were forged during long historic struggles to acknowledge diversity. There is no homogeneous European culture – in all countries of Europe the “we” has always been a conglomerate of diversity.
We don‟t own Europe. As Christian women we confess that the earth belongs to God and is only entrusted to us. Saying “we” leads us to saying “they” and thus to the exclusion of others who are also God‟s beloved creatures.
Peace is a long process of rebuilding relationships and creating just conditions for living together. Countless women are involved in it at many levels.
We commend all initiatives of dialogue between people of different faiths and of no faith, and encourage all experiments to enhance good neighbourly living. We affirm the rights and responsibilities of religious minorities, including the right to have their own buildings.
As Christian women we deplore the fact that women and gender issues are no longer given the priority that they had during the Ecumenical Decade “Churches in Solidarity with Women”, and that progress that has already been achieved is being undermined. In many churches women‟s desks are disappearing.
We demand that our churches live up to their commitment in the Charta Ecumenica, „to strengthen the position and equal rights of women in all areas of life and to foster partnership in church and society between women and men‟ – not only in word but in deed.”
On our ecumenical journeys we need spiritual support and mutual solidarity.
I‟d like to say something about the preparation for the Budapest Assembly. We spent a long time looking for a theme for the General Assembly. We discussed the past, analysed the present and wondered about the future. Ruth Epting listened to us and reflected on our contributions. Then she got out her well-worn Bible, which accompanied her on all her European journeys, and looked for a text that fitted in with our conversations. That is how the theme for our 1994 General Assembly –“Be not afraid – remember the future” – came into being.
Europe was in a state of great change. For many the question was – what will happen next? The discussions and encounters helped us to name the problems and fears, and to believe that we would cope, as we had once overcome the divisions.
“Not a club, but a forum” was the opinion of the first President of the Forum, Nicole Fischer, of Geneva, Switzerland. In her report from the 2nd General Assembly, which took as its theme „Sharing Life, Building Hope‟, she makes it quite clear that building the European ecumenical network will mean a lot of work. And she emphasizes above all that we cannot avoid the difficult questions. We have to take up the burden of history, commit ourselves to the renewal of faith from woman‟s perspective, and, as „fellow workers with God‟ (1 Cor. 9), give new hope.
Nicole Fischer closes her report with the following words: “There is no way we can demand recognition, if we do not work towards recognition for marginalised groups. We must beware of becoming a women‟s club which is self-absorbed, and spreads beautiful ideas. We demand the right to be represented at all levels in church and society, and we must bring to this demand our perspectives as women, our abilities as women, our feelings and hopes as women. And we will only succeed in this, if we are in the world. For we must emphasize that we are all God‟s children, who are made completely in his image, just like everyone else. Because God has promised it, we long to be fully human”
One topic: "for a life lived in peace and justice". Nina Bobrova from Moscow, Russian Orthodox, writes in her report:
“It really is not easy to build a bridge of love and friendship, especially when we realise the prejudices which belong with different political systems in our world. We have to learn together to speak the language of the heart, and to let peaceful co-existence on earth become a constant concern in our lives. We can do it if we really want to. May God unite us in his love, and may we with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:6)”
Another topic: Women and work / Sharing – Utopian? “We want to point out that the Bible contains more role-models for women than those of mother and housewife. The bringing up of children, parental responsibility, unpaid work – these are all services to society which can be done by women and men, and which should be rewarded by the appropriate social benefits. All work serves to support life. Therefore we support the transformation of the arms industry into peaceful industry. Churches and church-based women‟s groups should set an example and begin to experiment with new ways of working – job sharing, recognition of voluntary work.”
In 1982 a committed group of women founded our Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women – EFECW. The official “birth” of EFECW takes place in Gwatt (Switzerland) at the founding (1st) General Assembly. During the meeting the delegates adopt the constitution, elect the first leaders and decide to set up commissions on the following topics to support the work priorities:
Justice and peace, reconciliation and responsibility for creation were the main themes. With the spiritual riches of all the participating denominations, supported by feminist approaches to theology, Forum women have debated these subjects, prayed about them, and encouraged each other to take responsible action.
The EFECW has three categories of membership:
How can you or your group become a member?
EFECW envisions to be a living Christian community of sisters by creating an open and safe space where all women – beyond their differences – are empowered to share their spirituality and to experience faith.
EFECW strives to be a recognised voice of Christian women in Church and public life in Europe.
Coordinating Committee Members
The CC met in its new composition in Vienna, 13-16 November 2014.
Content will be available soon