Category Archives: News from Oikosnet

Welcome to the  official site of Oikosnet Europe!
Each year more than 200.000 people from all walks of life participate in about 2.000 conferences and other gatherings in our about 60 member centres in 14 European countries The OIKOSNET Europe member centres seek in their work to understand and actualise the significance of the gospel for the renewal and unity of the churches as a whole. They work at empowering the laity and they collaborate in dealing with actual social problems by dialogue. They endeavour to assist in giving guidance for necessary changes in living conditions with a commitment to social justice and integrity of creation. They contribute to making it possible for individuals and groups to share in a mature way in the organisation of society and in a peaceful order among the nations.   

Civil Society and Democracy in Central Europe

By Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary of Oikosnet Europe
The project on strengthening civil society and deliberative democracy in Central Europe enters into its final planning stage. It is a joint project of Oikosnet Europe, the Association of Protestant Academies in Germany and the Protestant Academy in Rostock and invites academies and church-related stakeholders from Central Europe to participate.

A first stakeholder meeting took place in April 2018 in Berlin with participants from the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Sweden. The meeting reviewed the latest project description and agreed with the aims, the general direction and the set-up of the project. The potential of the project to make a difference was recognised in increasingly difficult times for democracy and peoples´ participation in Europe. Most important, however, was a reality check: which concrete steps can be taken, when civil society is discredited in some countries and the relation between church-related organisations and civil society partners is not evident (from both sides). Therefore, the discussion on target groups and driving forces in the project was crucial. The results of the stakeholder meeting will be captured in a revised project description, which will be available from A first funding request for the project needs to be in place by June.”

Board meeting in Strasbourg

The board of Oikosnet Europe met March 19 in the beautiful city of Strasbourg (see the picture that I took as we were walking through the city for lunch). We were hosted by Union des Eglises protestantes d’Alsace et de Lorraine (UEPAL). One of the most important items on the agenda was of course to discuss various dimensions of the Annual Conference that will take place in the Orthodox Academy of Crete.

The board that was elected in Flehingen, with Walter Lüssi as the new president, is now working on several issues related to how Oikosnet Europe can be significant and fruitful for all its members. How can we inspire more collaboration projects with the community? What themes should be advanced at this point in time? We, as members, are of course of great importance for the development of the association. If you have creative ideas, please prepare to present them at the Annual Conference in Crete!

Alf Linderman, Director of the Sigtuna Foundation

Religious communities should realize their peace potential

Dear Colleagues, dear Members of Oikosnet Europe

In different contexts, our members, academies and educational institutions convince with their expertise. They take position in important social discourses and present their own argumentation. At the same time, they provide a platform for encounters and controversial discussions. That the latter can be important and exciting, we recently learned at an event in Zurich.

Religious communities should realize their peace potential and actively engage in peace as important actors. For this attitude, the podium guests recently voted in a debate on religious peace-keeping in Zurich. Plusbildung, the Swiss association of church educational organizations, had invited for the event.

“Religion can make conflict more difficult – religion is a successful peacemaker.” This ambiguity was presented by Silke Lechner, the deputy head of the working group on Peace Responsibility of Religions at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, in her keynote address with pointed theses. Wars usually have several causes, and little is said about the peace potential of churches, she said. Her team is therefore focusing on the peace policy potential of religious communities worldwide and strives to build a network of suitable religious representatives who actively promote peace. Because these are strongly networked, trustworthy key persons. And especially the participation of internationally networked religious actors is increasingly in demand from the political side, according to the former study director of the German Protestant Kirchentag.

For the first time in Switzerland representatives from politics and religious communities met and discussed on this topic. Among them were Jean-Nicolas Bitter, Senior Advisor to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and Rev. Thomas Wipf, President of the European Interreligious Council of Religious Leaders ECRL. On the one hand, the churches and religious communities have been encouraged to see themselves as “key players” in society, keeping an eye on the international perspective and networking. On the other hand, they were self-critical, since they still have to do their homework, that is, to break away from the ideological-embossing influence of religion and to discover the peace potential of the religions themselves.

I wish our members good luck with their efforts, be it as a “forum” or as a “factor”. And I am looking forward to meeting many delegates at our Annual Conference in September!

Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

Walter Lüssi

Church-Related Academies support Civil Society and Deliberative Democracy


By Rüdiger Noll,
Executive secretary of Oikosnet Europe

On the day that this Editorial is written, the 27 Heads of State and Government of the European Union meet in Brussels for an Informal Leaders’ Meeting. On the agenda are institutional reforms in view of the forthcoming elections of the European Parliament in 2019. The contribution of the European Commission to this meeting is entitled: “A Europe that delivers: Institutional options for making the European Union´s work more efficient.” The text starts very promising by stating: “The European Union is both a Union of States and a Union of citizens.” One would have expected, therefore, the text not only to address as to how the EU Member States and the European Institutions are involved in the European agenda, but also how the citizens can make their voice heard and thereby shape European politics. But the next sentence of the European Commission´s paper already destroys this illusion: “Citizens are represented directly through the European Parliament and indirectly through their own governments, working together in the Council and in the European Council.” As transparent as the European Parliament might work and as accessible Members of the European Parliament might be, the representation of citizens is first and foremost seen as an indirect one, through a representative more or less democratically legitimized institutions.
And, therefore, the 27 “Leaders” will talk mainly about how to raise the interest of citizens in the European elections. The discussed measures, e.g. European lead candidates and partially European-wide lists of political parties, are important and a step forward, but they are not enough.

We need spaces for appropriate debate
As the Belgian author and writer together with many other intellectuals across Europe stated:” We need to urgently develop spaces in which citizens despite of their different convictions can come together online and offline, where they have appropriate information in order to debate appropriately, in which direction our society should develop.” And one might add, it needs ways by which these citizen´s deliberations can actually shape policies.

Civil society needs to be facilitated – not highjacked
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, in his recent speech at the Sorbonne on the future of Europe, suggested “national conventions” as a way forward. He proposed a stronger network of European Universities. In an article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Jeremy Adler opted for a European network of academies. It is evident: European issues need a European public and a European discourse. It needs formats for citizens’ discourses which go way beyond usual pseudo-dialogues. And it needs intermediate organisations, which facilitate, but do not attempt to highjack the civil society discourse.

Joint project in stregthening civil society – pilot projects in the months to come
It is in this sense, that Oikosnet Europe together with the Association of German Protestant Academies (EAD) and the Protestant Academy of Rostock are engaging in a joint project on strengthening civil society and deliberative democracy, especially designed for Central Europe. The implementation period will be 2019/20, but stakeholders are coming together already now in order to decide on the parameters of the projects. Three pilot projects are foreseen for the months to come on the relationship between national and European narratives (and Christian elements therein), on the role of political education and on the role of citizens in European energy politics.
But there are many more points of entry for a European network of church-related academies, like Oikosnet Europe. Just to mention two examples, which are already under discussion:

  • Oikosnet Europe just welcomed PlusBildung Schweiz as member of the Oikosnet family. May be the Swiss church-related educational institutions can help us to sharpen our understanding of peoples’ participation in democratic processes.
  • The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, suggested in his latest “State of the Union” speech at the European Parliament to hold a next Summit meeting in 2019, just after the “Brexit” and prior to the European elections. The Summit is supposed to take place in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Romania, where the churches held the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in 2007. A democratic Europe will be a key topic. How about organizing with the help of the Protestant Academy in Sibiu a congress just prior to the Summit with an emphasis on peoples’ participation in democracy?

All these ideas and issues are supposed to come together at the next Annual Conference of Oikosnet Europe, which will take place at the Orthodox Academy in Crete, 6 to 9 September this year. Crete, Greece, Athens – a birthplace of European democracy. Walter Lüssi, the new President of Oikosnet Europe, is very keen on a more thematic orientation of Annual Conferences. May be democracy, peoples’ participation in the European project is one of the themes that should be highlighted at future Oikosnet Annual Assemblies. But input from Oikosnet members and friends as well as from other civil society actors is already sought before!

Let´s keep in touch!










“The Digital Revolution and its Children”


Report from the Annual Conference of Oikosnet Europe
Flehingen (Germany), September 6 – 10, 2017

The Annual Conference (AC) of Oikosnet Europe brought together colleagues who work in academies and laity centers from all over Europe. This year, the meeting was scheduled in Flehingen, a cosy place of about 3,600 inhabitants close to Karlsruhe (Germany), not far from the borders to both France and Switzerland. The event was organized by Uta Engelmann and Dr Gernot Meier of the Protestant Academy Baden that in 2017 is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

The AC consisted of two parts: one dedicated to one of the key social issues of our time transforming lives, digitalization; and one business meeting focusing on administrative and organizational matters of Oikosnet Europe. Under the theme “The Digital Revolution and its Children”, members of Oikosnet Europe reflected on the impact of digitalization in peoples‘ everyday lifes, new ways of communication, changing opportunities, and challenges. After an intriguing visit to the Center of Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, the group of colleagues refleced on virtual realities and digital self-defence with IT-expert Wolfgang Schwach, and on living in a “digital society“ with Professor Axel Sikora. The political impact of digitalization was analyzed looking at “fake news“.

One of the outcomes of the business meeting was the election of a new president and a new board. After many meritorious  years in office, Jaap van der Sar passed the leadership over to Walter Lüssi, General Secretary of the Reformed Church Canton of Zürich and President of Plusbildung. In addition to Walter Lüssi, the Annual Conference elected Sören Lenz (Liebfrauenberg, France) as deputy chairman and Dr Julia Gerlach (Protestant Academy Meissen) as a new member of the Board. Nicola Murray (Corrymeela, Northern Ireland) and Dr Konstantinos Zormpas (Orthodox Academy of Crete) remained as members of the board according to the election in 2016.

The next Annual Conference will take place in the Orthodox Academy of Crete in September 2018, focusing on the nexus of crisis and innovation.

Jaap van der Sar passed the leadership over to Walter Lussi at the Annual Conference in Flehingen.

OEAC17Jaap and Walter

Report from the board meeting in Tützingen

EAT_restau_aussenOnce upon a time… So starts every fairy tale and the plot is often situated in an enchanted castle. The protestant academy of the Bavarian Lutheran church is situated in a castle, the surroundings are enchanted, and the lake of Starnberg is open to the marvellous scenery of the Bavarian Alps. But that was not the reason why the new board held its first meeting in this place. This strategic meeting allowed us to have a first contact with the new vice-director Judith Stumptner   of the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing and to present our European network.

This meeting showed that the Bavarian Academy is not only situated in a beautiful landscape but is as well an important place for seminaries and conferences concerning Church and society issues. ( It would be a great asset if the academy of Tutzing would joint our network in the near future.

Our board meeting took place in a very friendly and efficient atmosphere. Additionally to the board members, Walter Lüssi (president), Sören Lenz (vice-president), Nicola Murray (treasurer), Konstantinos Zormpas and Julia Gerlach, the director of the Sigtuna foundation Alf Linderman and Karin Sallander representing our secretariat, take part in our first board meeting after the AC in Flehingen. Following issues were discussed:

  • Evaluation of the AC in Flehingen

The number and the content of the returned evaluation sheets were encouraging. Maybe we could give more time to discussions and looking for more interactive forms of conferences.

  • The Gender and Justice Network

In the last years we realized difficulties to organise the preconference of the Gender and Justice Network when there is no person who coordinates the whole. Julia Gerlach from the Academy of Meissen proposed to draft a mission statement on this issue. She will as well work on a proposal how to implement gender and justice issues in OIKOSNET ACs in behalf of the annual theme. The board acknowledges the work of the Gender and Justice network over the last years and we are glad that Julia wants to continue working on the gender and justice topics with a broader approach concerning all sorts of diversity in our society.

  • Priorities of OIKOSNET

During the last years the mission and vision of OIKOSNET was a main issue in our ACs . We are aware that the outcome is important for our members. During the discussion in the board about aims and priorities of OIKOSNET, the idea emerged that the board could set a theme for a year and invite academies to contribute or to join in. The board could collect ideas and priorities of academies and try to find a common topic for the AC. That could be a first step to foster new common projects among our members.

Besides the awareness of the actual political situation in Europe, which concerns especially OIKOSNET as an European network we need bearing in mind the spiritual dimension of our ecumenical organisation.

After one day intense but fruitful work the agenda for the next year was fixed. We, the five board members and the staff of the OIKOSNET secretariat in Sigtuna? will meet again in march in Strasbourg to work on the details of the next Annual conference in the Orthodox academy Crete in September.

The enchanted atmosphere of Tutzing at the lake of Starnberg showed us that we need places which are enchanted and which propose the right distance to everyday life and to widen the horizon in many ways. The view on the distant mountains across the lake were a good reminder that there is a life beyond the walls of our own academies or better castles. Therefore, we need the exchange and the personal contact in our network? We do need OIKOSNET.

Sören Lenz


Preinvitation to the Arab-Europe Citizens´ dialogue


Gender, Media and Religion: Contemporary Challenges to Society and Democracy
1 to 4 May 2018 Sigtuna, Sweden

In recent years, we have seen the rise of many cultural tensions and conflicts, even violent terror and war, in many parts of the world. This has not least been the case in Europe and in the Arab region. Religion has been at the core in many of these contemporary conflicts.

If we wish is to see the development of healthy and well-functioning democracies in Europe and in the Arab region, we need to discuss the relation between religion and society. In doing so, we must, among other things, specifically focus on gender issues.

We hereby invite You to take part in this Arab-Europe Citizens’ Dialogue on religion and society! Whether you have been participating in any of the previous dialogue consultations or not, you are most welcome to take part in the next event. This is a pre-invitation. A more detailed invitation will follow.

The Sigtuna Consultation will start in the early evening of May 1st, 2018, and end in the morning of Friday 4 May. We will have speakers representing Politics, Faith-based Organizations and Civil Society Institutions from both the Arab and the European region. The Consultation will be open for interested participants from both regions. The process to seek appropriate speakers has just started, but we already know that two prominent individuals from Sweden, representing Europe and Sweden, will speak at the Consultation.

  • Anders Wejryd, World Council of Churches President for Europe, former Archbishop for Church of Sweden
  • Karin Wiborn, General Secretary, Christian Council of Sweden

A full program will be presented early February 2018. Preinvitation as PDF

The Arab-Europe Citizens’ Dialogue Consultation on Religion and Society in Sigtuna 2018 is organized jointly by the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), Oikosnet Europe, Church of Sweden and the Sigtuna Foundation. Feel free to contact any of the following persons if you have further questions:

For the Arab side: Samira Luka 
For the European side: Alf Linderman



A new board and a new president

Walter Lüssi, General Secretary of the Reformed Church Canton of Zürich and President of Plusbildung, ökumenische Bildunglandschaft Schweiz, has been elected as the new President of Oikosnet Europe. Walter Lüssi is the successor of Jaap van der Sar who has had the position of President for Oikosnet Europe the last six years, and stepped down according to the statues. Walter Lüssi was elected at the Annual Conference in Flehingen, Germany in the beginning of September.

– Modern societies and the churches themselves are dependent on places of encounter, on expertise and public debates. To this Oikosnet Europe is committed, says Walter Lüssi in a comment to his new role as President.

Walter Lüssi has a long term experience within Oikosnet Europe. Partly as former director of the academy of Boldern, one of Oikosnet Europes member organisations and partly as the former Treasurer of the Board of Oikosnet Europe 2010 – 2014.

In addition to Walter Lüssi, the Annual General Meeting in Flehingen also elected Sören Lenz (Liebfrauenberg, France) as Deputy Chairman and Dr. Julia Gerlach (Academy Meissen) as new members of the Board. Nicola Murray (Corrymeela, Northern Ireland) and Dr. Konstantinos Zormpas (Orthodox Academy of Crete) remained as members of the board according to the election in 2016.


Welcome to the Annual Conference 2018

The Orthodox Academy of Crete 5 – 9 September 2018
Book your flights, pack your summer clothes and bring along your enthusiasm and your ideas to the next Annual Conference of Oikosnet Europe. Save the date September 5 until September 9 . The rest will be taken care of by the Orthodox Academy of Crete.

“Anyone who moves on this island feels a mysterious power, warm, good, branched into his veins and his soul grows,” Nikos Kazantzakis, the great Cretan writer, writes in his book “Report to Greco”. Crete: the cradle of civilization in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was inhabited by the Minoans 9.000 years ago, and the visitor can still see the whole history of the island in a scattered mosaic of living ancient ruins!

Within this frame of history, the Orthodox Academy of Crete (OAC) began its work, celebrating next year fifty (50) years of work since the day of its inauguration (1968-2018). Inspired by the Platonic tradition of symphilosophein, the OAC aspires to be a place for dialogue and spiritual exchange in the diaconia of God and human beings. A continuous dialogue between faith, science and culture.

The scheduled Annual Conference 2018 at the OAC constitutes a chance to meet and look with respect at the past and with confidence towards the future. The status quo in Greece and Europe is not the best one in History. The manifold faces of the crisis, on an economic as well as cultural level, do not allow us to proceed with new ideas for the future. We must find answers to essential questions with regard to what the crisis has taught us during the last years, how we are going to make the vision of Europe a realistic one and how we are going to take the hurdles and “reach what we cannot” (Nikos Kazantzakis).

Book your flights, pack your summer clothes and bring along your enthusiasm and your ideas. Save the date. The rest will be taken care of by us.  Welcome to Crete, welcome to the OAC!


Dr Kostas Zormpas

General Director of the OAC


Together, above all together…

Dear Colleagues, dear Members of Oikosnet Europe
European contexts pose many challenges. Longer-term transformation processes are superimposed by rapid changes in many areas of social life. The list of key words that try to rewrite this situation is long: secularization, traditional demise and “the end of grand narratives”, digitization and its impact on the workplace, the cult of health, institutional disenchantment, demographic change, gender and diversity, religious and inter-Christian pluralism, terrorism and counter-terrorism efforts, climate change, the tendency to “useful truths”, the changing media landscape, the endangerment of the heritage of the Enlightenment, the growing right-wing populism and increasing nationalism, migratory pressures and the phenomenon of stateless people etc.

Humans and the environment, living together and the cohesion of societies are affected. And we know that people behave differently in the face of their “Fear of Falling”. In a public survey conducted in late 2016 and early 2017 Chatham House researchers identified in collaboration with Kantar Public six ‘tribes’ across Europe that transcend national boundaries and whose members share similar opinions and life experiences:

Everyone is not doing everyting
With all these topics and their social, religious, political and spiritual implications, the members of Oikosnet Europe are working in their own specific ways. Not everyone is doing everything. The expertise is naturally limited to certain fields of research that are related to the history, tradition and strategic orientation of each organization. But what unites us in the Association of Oikosnet Europe is to preserve and promote a common Europe, the tireless remembrance of the dignity of each individual, the careful handling of other lives, care in using the limited resources in God’s creation. In this endeavor, we provide our services to the churches and a broader public and seek cooperation with other civil society actors.

Modern societies and the churches themselves within the European contexts are dependent on places of encounter, on expertise and public debates. To this Oikosnet Europe is committed. I cordially invite you to renew this commitment and share it with others within our association. Together, above all together, we are able to play a significant role and contribute to current discourses.

With best wishes,

Walter Lüssi, president of Oikosnet Europe

Walter Lüssi