Finally together again!

The General Assembly of Oikosnet Europe in Sigtuna Sweden was no doubt affected by the travelling restrictions caused by Covid-19. But nevertheless we had a representation from 11 members on site and four members taking part in the business session digitally. Some additional members were represented by proxy.

It was such a joy to finally see one another again. Work together, learn together, share ideas and simply spend time together in person. 

Digitalization as a humanistic and existential issue 

The theme of the study day this year was Digitalization as a humanistic and existential issue. Speakers on this topic was Lisbeth Gustafsson, journalist and Dr. Honoris Causa in Theology, Amanda Lagerqvist, Professor Media and Communication and Mia Lövheim, Professor Sociology of Religion. Their academic perspectives gave a valuable insight to this field of research and their reflections also fueled a discussion on how digital life affect us, both as individuals and the work that we are engaged in at our academies.

Excursion day in the first town in Sweden

The excursion day is something one always look forward to at the General Assembly. As the venue this year was Sigtuna, Swedens first town, we had the opportunity to explore the Christian roots of Sweden on site. As Karin Sallander at the office of Oikosnet Europe in Sigtuna also has a background as archeologist we were given a guided tour of old town Sigtuna including runic stones, a visit to the local museum and the old Monastery church of St Marys. 

Keep building relations and hang in there…

On the last day of the conference, the General Assembly had Jonas Jonsson, bishop emeritus in the Church of Sweden and former assistant General Secretary at the World Council of Churches, as our special guest. Jonas Jonsson shared some memories from his lifelong experience of ecumenical work. Some words that probably stayed with many of us was “keep building relations and hang in there”. With that said we hope that we will be able to gather again at the General assembly of 2022!

Sofia af Geijerstam, Sigtunastiftelsen

Kjell Riise new member of the board

Kjell Riise, representing the Norweigian Church Academies, was elected as a new member of the board at the General Assembly of Oikosnet Europe. Kjell is a parish priest in the cathedral of Tromsø in Norway and also a board member of the Norwegian Church Academies. 

Welcome aboard!

Dear members of Oikosnet Europe, dear friends!
After two years we dared to invite again to a General Assembly almost like in old times in Sigtuna, Sweden. The physical reunionwas good and important. Only the Business Session was held in hybrid form for the first time. The Vice-President Kristin Gunleiksrud and the Treasurer Karolína Silná were given a warm farewell from the Board and their commitment was thanked.

In their place, Katerina Karkala from Crete, already a member of the Board, was elected as Vice-President and Kjell Riise from Norway as a new Board member. Welcome aboard! Unfortunately, one seat on the Board remained vacant and thus no Treasurer could be elected. The Assembly gave the Executive Board the mandate to invite a delegate running for the Executive Board as a guest to the Board Meetings already before the next General Assembly. The responsibility of a Treasurer will be taken over by me as President on an interim basis for one year.

Okay, people, let’s move it along!
A significant part of the meeting was dedicated to discussing the three strategic priorities set by the Board: Education, Green Deal and Digitalisation. A strong will was expressed, perhaps unlike in previous years, to follow words with action. Three “theme guardians” were appointed for the three priorities: Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary of the Board, for Education, Jörg Hübner, Director Academy Bad Boll, for Green Deal, and Alf Linderman, Director Sigtunastiftelsen, for Digitalisation. A working group has been formed for each of the Green Deal and Education, which will meet online for the first time in the coming weeks. The aim is to develop action plans, involve further experts and design a process to which all members of Oikosnet Europe will be invited again for further participation. I also gratefully mention that for “Education” we already had as a guest at the GA in Sigtuna Bianca Kappelhoff, Educational Researcher of the Comenius Institute Münster: “Protestant responsibility in education in Europe”. Alf Linderman, in turn, will invite Oikosnet members to participate in a special topic on ethical aspects of digitalisation.In the coming period, a compilation of study leaders of our members and their activities will also be compiled that deal with one of the three focal points. In this way it should be possible to network thematically across countries and academies.

Now is the time!
Okay, people, let’s move it along! This slogan is not meant superficially and in the sense of mere activism. It is about commitment and also about the realisation that it is high time for some thorough debates and for concrete action in Europe. And as a pastor, I say: “Now is the kairos. Now is the time!” – Just the week after our General Assembly, the Presidial Assembly of the German Protestant Kirchentag decided on the slogan for the 2023 Kirchentag in Nuremberg: “Now is the time”! Exactly! Now is the time to act, but now is also the time to live and celebrate, and now is also the time to change. Be there!

With best wishes,
Rev. Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

3rd Ecumenical Kircchentag „schaut hin“

Frankfurt am Main May 13 -16

The motto „schaut hin“ (take a look) (Mark 6:38) is at the centre of the 3rd Ecumenical Kirchentag. In terms of content, it is the common thread running through the programme of the major digital event in Frankfurt am Main.

The 3rd Ecumenical Kirchentag will be digital and decentralised. The programme will thus be focussed, but as usual a colourful mix of topics, culture and spiritual content. The Ecumenical Kirchentag offers some events with English subtitles or in English for the international friends. See: https://www.oekt.de/en/

Education as an Issue for Oikosnet Europe

Education emerged as one of the three priority issues for Oikosnet Europe after a poll among Oikosnet members. As a start of a longer process, Oikosnet Europe organized a first Zoomconference  on 24 March 2021. About 40 participants from many European, from Armenia to Spain, from Norway to Greece discussed different understandings of education. We are grateful for partners such as the Comeniusinstitute in Münster/Germany and the Strasbourg office of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), who stimulated the discussion through their presentations. The meeting also learnt about CONTOC (contoc.org) a research project on digital practices in the Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany, Switzerland, further European countries during Corona times.

The results of the meeting listing different understandings of education as well as different challenges for Christian Academies will be issued soon for further discussion in the Oikosnet Board and its General Assembly.

The Zoomconference in May was meant as a starting point for further discussion among Oikosnet members and friends about which sectors of education need further promotion and support on a European level and what understanding of education helps Christian Academies to even improve their efforts.

General Assembly 2021 of The European Christian Environmental Network


ECEN 31 May – 1 June

The European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) is an independent network of churches, church-related organization and individuals which works in close relationship with the Conference of European Churches (CEC). It aims at promoting sharing, cooperation, action and theological reflection across different countries and traditions in caring for creation.

ECEN will hold its 2021 Assembly under the theme: “Reconciled with Creation: A Call for urgent Action on Climate and Biodiversity” from 31 May to 1 June. On the agenda will be presentations, panels and discussions on issues such as European Green Deal, climate justice, theological reflections and reflections on the role of the churches. The Assembly, which due to the Corona Pandemic will take the form of a digital webinar, is also an excellent opportunity to network with other like-minded church and non-church organisations.

Invited to participate in the Assembl y are members of ECEN and friends. The full programme as well as the registration form can be found on the ECEN website: ecen.org.

Issues discussed at the ECEN Assembly correspond very much with one of the Oikosnet priorities: the European Green Deal. It would, therefore be most welcome, if many Oikosnet members would participate in the ECEN Assembly.

Long awaited – Now to get started:

The EU Conference on the Future of Europe

By Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary Oikosnet Europe

On 10 March, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Europe signed a Joint Declaration on the parameters for the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), which is to be launched on Europe Day in Strasbourg (9 May).

What sounds like yet another conference, is indeed a one year process, in which the citizens and the people of Europe are to have their say on issues such as health, climate change, an economy for the people, social fairness, intergenerational solidarity, digitalization, European rights and values, migration, security, the EU in the world, strengthening democracy. These are just the topics selected by the European Institutions, on which they want the opinion of the people and of civil society. Other topics can be added.

“Today marks a new start for the European Union and for all European citizens”, the President of the European Union, David Sassoli, said, when the Joint Declaration was signed. “The Conference on the Future of Europe will be unique opportunity for all European citizens and our civil society to shape Europe’s future, a common project for a functioning European democracy.” Now, whether the CoFoE will be indeed such a participatory process and such a genuine voice of the people, and whether it will finally impact European policy, remains to be seen. It depends on how people can be activated and motivated to participate and on which methodologies are used. In any case, until spring 2022 many countries and regions will see a multitude of events, which are to contribute from a people’s perspective as to how the European Union is to be shaped in the future. What are the priority issues and how are they to be addressed?

Oikosnet Europe has a long-standing  commitment to observe Europe as its framework for reflection and action and to contribute to a vivid civil society and making the people’s voice heard in church and society. Just recently, Oikosnet Europe selected three priority issues for the near future: the “Green Deal”, digitalisation and education. The EU Conference on the Future of Europe is certainly one vehicle of making our voice heard to network with other civil society organisations. Therefore, Oikosnet Europe and its members should participate very actively in the process.

It will be the task of the Oikosnet Board and its General Assembly to inform its members on the different stages of the development and to pave the way for an easy access for Oikosnet members. There are many possibilities for members to get involved, e.g. to participate in national, regional and local events, to organize own events, to put resources together in order organize transnational events, to offer truly participatory methodologies …

The Oikosnet Board will have the CoFoE on the agenda of its next meeting in June. It  will inform members and friends afterwards about the next steps. In the meantime, we would appreciate any information on national and regional events and about the involvement of Oikosnet members in the process. Please send your information to the Oikosnet Executive Secretary:  rudiger@rudigernoll.eu.

Further information about the CoFoE you will find on the respective EU websites. The Conference of European Churches, of which Oikosnet Europe is an organization in partnership, has also launched its own process. As start, it has issued a fact sheet, which can be found here.

We shall see us in Sigtuna!

Dear members of Oikosnet Europe, dear friends!

As I write this editorial, I have just had my first appointment for the Covid19 vaccination. In Switzerland, it is now the turn of people over 65 (and sometimes age does have its advantages). I sincerely hope that we in Europe will soon succeed in allowing more freedoms, restoring proven fundamental rights and allowing cultural and social life again with manageable restrictions. I hope and am convinced that we will – finally – succeed in this in the coming months!

We shall see us in Sigtuna! In October. We will gather there for this year’s General Assembly. I am convinced of it. You will find more information in this newsletter and also how to register. Please do not hesitate. We shall see us in Sigtuna – and if it is still not possible then, we will inform again.

And before that, there are opportunities to meet us in different places and on important issues and debates. This newsletter also informs about such virtual opportunities and thus invites us not to lose sight of the bigger picture, what must occupy us in Europe and what we can only bear together in terms of responsibility in our time.

We will certainly see each other in Sigtuna. Until then, weeks and months will pass. In some places, hard work is called for, it is also necessary to fight against despair, impatience and existential fears. Perhaps there will still be a little time for other, very personal things, and hopefully always for a change of perspective, as the Swiss theologian and writer Jacqueline Keune has captured in a poem:

Cancelled

Haydn, Mozart and Schubert

conducted by Marek Janowski

Not canceled

the cello on the 3rd floor

the song of the blackbird

Cancelled

the reading of the literary man

Not canceled

the reading

of the evening poem

story for children

Cancelled

the meeting for the 40th anniversary

of the assassination of Bishop Oscar Romero

Not canceled

the memory

the resistance

Cancelled

the dream of the Maldives

Not canceled

the dreaming of

the new earth

the new heaven

Cancelled

the worship

Not canceled

the whispering

with God

Cancelled

the bouquet of flowers

on the kitchen table

Not canceled

the blossoming and bursting

the germination and budding

Canceled

the wedding

Not canceled

the love

Cancelled

abdication

Not canceled

Resurrection

Once again: Please, don’t forget: We shall see us in Sigtuna!

Best wishes,

Rev. Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

“systemrelevant“?

Academies during the Covid-19 Crisis

In German-speaking countries „systemrelevant“ is probably the most popular word in political circles during the Covid-19 crisis. It is best translated into English as “relevant for the system” or “indispensable for the system to function”.  Whatever is relevant to the system needs to be kept functioning even during the hardest lockdown. It needs to be sufficiently financed, resourced and supported. But what is with “the rest”? 

And what is meant by “system”? During the 2007-2009 financial and economic crisis, the term was also used. At that time it was clear: “system” meant the financial and prevailing economic system. Some banks were regarded as “too big to fail” and had to be heavily supported by public, tax-payer’s money in order not to get bankrupt. “System” stands for critical infrastructure.

In the Covid-19 pandemic, we discover anew that it is the people in the service-sector which are equally as relevant to the system; people that during the crisis often work beyond their limits and which are thus far not sufficiently honored and usually underpaid in our societies. They cannot  work in homeoffice, while most people are asked to reduce their contacts to a minimum. They keep the infrastructure alive, especially for those effected by the virus and the most vulnerable in our societies. I am thinking of nurses in hospitals or in homes for elderly people, those who provide food, stand at the cashier in the supermarket , teachers, doctors.

It is a difficult balance to strike between fighting the pandemic and keeping the critical infrastructure alive. It is difficult to decide between necessary measurements fighting the pandemic  and in securing the survival of the most vulnerable affected by shutdowns. Should schools and kindergarden be open? How do we secure the survival of restaurants and hairdressers, of people in the cultural and tourist sector?

In this context, it is also discussed whether churches or church-related institutions, as for instance, Christian academies are relevant for the system. For many it is evident that the diaconal work and counselling are indispensable. But what about the churches’ spiritual and educational work? For Wolfgang Huber, the former Chairperson of the Council of the Protestant Churches in Germany, this is not at all the right question. Churches and their institutions are not there to serve the system, their task is to give witness to the liberating message of gospel and thereby responding to the existential questions of humankind.

Therefore, religious freedom is a highly protected good, also in times of a pandemic. Article 9 of the European Human Rights Convention stipulates, the right to exercise one’s religion, alone or together with others, can only be limited by very special circumstances. One of these special circumstances, according to Art 9, is a threat to public health. Again a difficult balance to strike!

In most countries worship services, funerals and individual counselling were permitted, though under strong hygienic rules. And churches and their institutions did abide to the general rule to keep physical distance between people, but they continued to work for social proximity.

Academies offered spiritual events as well as orientation in new and creative forms, in times in which many people feel to be lonely, in stress or in despair. They cared for the people, gave witness and invented new electronic and participatory formats and methodologies in order to keep in touch with people who usually would meet face-to face in conferences. They initiated virtual debates on issues related to the pandemic as well on issues which needed more attention at a time where the pandemic seemed to be the one and only real topic. A key question still is: what will be the future beyond the pandemic. Which are the experience and learning effect during the crisis, to which “the system” needs to be adjusted or changed. In this sense, the Academies are “relevant to the system” and faithful to their calling.

But despite all these efforts, Academies together with the whole of society are looking forward to the time, where encounters and discourses are possible again as real events, where conference halls, dining halls and chapels are filled again with friendly and reflective people from all walks of life. As Martin Buber said: “All real living is meeting”, meeting face-to face, not just in the virtual cloud. Also this is indispensable for human beings.

Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary Oikosnet Europe

Oikosnet Europe virtual conference on Education

24 March 2021, 15h00 to 18h00. ( Zoomconference)
Oikosnet Europe invites its members and friends to a Zoomconference on Education. Education is an indispensable prerequisite for all European societies. Without a good education, young people lack skills for their future careers. But education equally promotes habits and responsible citizens. It offers orientation and an important basis for just, participatory and sustainable societies and a just, participatory and sustainable Europe. Therefore, education for skills as well as for responsible citizenship are at the center of programmes by the European Institutions, such as the European Union and the Council of Europe.

In addition, churches offer religious education as a resource for orientation.

What is the role of Christian Academies, which often work at the crossroad between church and society? What is their understanding of education? Debates during the Covid-19 Pandemic made it evident like in a nutshell, that the role of churches and church-related institutions such as Academies is seen different from country to country. Even among Christian academies there are different approaches to education.

Therefore, the Zoomconference on 24 March will offer an opportunity to share among Academies and partners on their respective concepts of education. It will ask as to how Christian Academies and their partners can join forces in order to offer orientation for responsible citizens. It will inform as to how EU and Council of Europe programmes can be useful as well as a challenge for Christian Academies.

The Zoomconference will be organized in plenaries and smaller workshops. It will be conducted in English. Its results will be considered by the Board and at future General Assemblies of Oikosnet Europe for further action.

Individual invitations and Registration Forms will be issued soon. If you are interested to participate, you may want to contact the Oikosnet office already now: office@oikosnet.eu