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

Oikosnet Europe General Assembly

The Sigtuna Foundation , Sweden 6 – 10 October

The General Assembly will this year take place at the Sigtuna Foundation in Sweden. Sigtuna is a very small and picturesque city just north of Stockholm and only 17 minutes by car from the Stockholm Arlanda International Airport. As you know, the Sigtuna Foundation is also the home of the office of our association. We really look forward to welcome all of you to our beautiful academy and to the Oikosnet Europe Office!

The theme of this year’s conference will be Digitalization. We will however primarily deal with digitalization as a humanistic and existential issue – not so much a technical one. Digital communication has altered the social context in which human beings develop their understanding of themselves. It has altered the context for the development of identity and the structures for human interaction. Digital “places” and “groups” become significant “spaces and arenas” where human life today is lived, and this has various implications on all social levels. What does all this mean for us as individuals, and what does it mean for our academies and the work that we engage in? Such broad questions will be the focus of the Study Day.

Arab Europe Citizen´s Dialogue – October 2021

The Arab-Europe Citizens’ Dialogue on religion and society was initiated owing to a conference at the Orthodox Academy of Crete in 2010. Last year, we were planning to celebrate the centennial at the same beautiful place. This however was not possible due to corona-related restrictions, and we rescheduled for the spring of this year. Some time ago, we realized that the ongoing pandemic made also this impossible.

Now, we are planning for having the next dialogue symposium at the Orthodox Academy of Crete in October this year, in the week beginning with Oct. 25. Given the present emphasis on vaccinations, we sincerely hope that this will be possible. Make a note on this in your calendar, and we will then come back with more information later in the spring.

Re-discovering diversity in Europe: Housing, Identities and Believes.”

Project idea: Agape Centro Ecumenico Summer 2021

The Agape Centro Ecumenico in Italy are happy to invite the Academies of Oikosnet Europe to their new Erasmus plus Project Proposal. Deadlines are not out yet, so take your time to read through and get in touch if you are interested or if you have any questions or proposals!

“Re-discovering diversity in Europe: Housing, Identities and Believes”
We live in complex communities and common places, houses where we have to find the best strategies for shared living and co-existence, where we want to feel free to express and experiment who we are and where we want and need to find the space to meet the spiritual dimension of life. The three elements of economy, gender and spirituality are strictly correlated and create a path of reflection, self- discovery, discussion and debate. This is a chance of growth and learning on how to live with awareness in a responsible and respectful way through various kind of activities.

We are currently finalising a KA1 project draft proposing a Training for Youth Workers to boost European encounters during this challenging time and to disseminate the outcomes within the participating organisations in order to start a virtuous process leading to more activities and joint projects in the next years. Project partners are European Networks that involve a wide range of participants from many different backgrounds and contexts.

LOGISTIC ASPECTS (TBC):

Activity: Training for Youth Workers
Date: 30/07 – 14/08 2021
Venue: Agape Centro Ecumenico, Prali, Italy.

PARTNERS: WSCF Europe, Phiren Amenca, Oikosnet, Dare Network.

PARTICIPANTS: People of all ages are welcome, possibly Youth Workers or people  interested in reporting the contents and activities of the project to groups of young people within the sending organisation. The number of participants will be 25/30. Participants can come from any country in Europe.

PARTNER’S TASKS:

  • Every partner involves 5/6 participants. It is useful to know, if possible, from which countries they are more likely to come from, in order to indicate these countries in the project form.
  • Select some participants that could/should be involved in taking an active part in the organization of the programme by:
    – organising training activities to provide tools and methods to report one or more of the topic of the project to young people
    – getting involved in the general practical organisation of the whole program (welcoming activities, daily evaluation, evenings, ice-breaking games) together with other 3 or 4 people from Agape Centro Ecumenico that will compose the Hosting Committee for the Training.
    – getting involved in the planning of the activities referring to one of the 3 specific topics (spiritual/theological, economies of care or gender), which would mean be part of a staff group with other 3 people from Agape Centro Ecumenico.
    Contact: Sara Marta Rostagno vicedirezione@agapecentroecumenico.org

Like the Virgin get the child

Do you understand the figure of speech in the above title? It is an idiom in the German language that means that something actually impossible has happened to someone. In English maybe: «It just fell into someone’s lap». But that is not the same, because so the reference to the Christmas story is completely lost.
I’ll come back to that. But first I will write what everyone is writing these days: We are at the end of a very special year. I don’t remember since I can think and observe that an experience like the pandemic of Covid-19 has ever moved the whole world, kept everyone on their toes and confronted humanity with problems that have not yet been solved.

I’ll come back to that. But first I will write what everyone is writing these days: We are at the end of a very special year. I don’t remember since I can think and observe that an experience like the pandemic of Covid-19 has ever moved the whole world, kept everyone on their toes and confronted humanity with problems that have not yet been solved. At the same time, we know that this one experience could distract us from so much that has also taken place – in our personal lives, in our institution, in Belarus, in the USA, in … We still see the many young people who have taken action against climate change under the name “Friday for Future”. We still see the masses who have let themselves be called onto the streets by the “Black Live Matters” movement.

«How may this be …?»

Educational events have become difficult. A lot of things, if we didn’t want to cancel everything, had to be converted into virtual formats, at least temporarily. Yet education needs encounters. And when it becomes essential, we have to be able to look each other in the eyes. This year, too, it became clear how fake news and conspiracy theories can proliferate virtually and on social media to an unprecedented extent. What does this mean for our educational efforts? And how do we have to shape our commitment to peace, justice and the integrity of creation, to solidarity and well-being for all in the future? How may this be, that something changes for the better?

In Luke’s Christmas story, Mary asks the angel who comes to her this very question: «And Mary said tot he angel, How may this be, because I have had no knowledge of a man?» (Luke 1,34). «And the Angel in answer said to her, The Holy Spirit will come on you …» (Luke 1,35).

«The Holy Spirit will come on you …»

The changes to the better will not come «like the virgin get the child». But just our own efforts will not be enough either. We cannot all always do more. Cooperation, consistent cooperation across borders will be necessary. Confidence in our own abilities and experience certainly too. And then still this hope that a good spirit will come to our aid. The Holy Spirit will come on you …» I wish this Christmas hope for all of us. Now. In the everyday of our lives. And when we start our projects again in the coming year with renewed energy.

“The Holy Spirit will come on you …” I wish this Christmas hope for all of us. Now. In the everyday of our lives. And when we start our projects again in the coming year with renewed energy.

In this senseand on behalf of the Board of Oikosnet Europe: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Rev. Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

Moscow Summer Theological Institute during the Pandemic

One of the most successful and important projects of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute is our annual Summer Theological Institute. We started it in 1999 in Belarus as a project to upgrade level of theological education of priests and future priests. Later we organised it in Kiev, Armenia and St. Petersburg, but the biggest event was always in Moscow (since 2002) and in Moscow the focus has shifted from upgrading clerical education to interdisciplinary and ecumenical education. MSTI is two weeks of very intensive studies with our best professors and students coming from all over Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other FSU countries including Central Asia. Every year we have two groups – one for those who already have basic theological education and another is more interdisciplinary with a stress on dialogue.

Normally we have 40-50 students and 8 professors. This year due the COVID-19 pandemic we were not sure how to manage it, postponed it several times and then decided to have both groups in the end of August but with reduced number of students – only 20 this year. The enthusiasm of the students was great and it was fit with even greater enthusiasm of the professors – all of them confessed that these were the first real students they saw since March when the pandemic started. The courses included theology of culture, political theology, theology in the postmodern era, Islam in contemporary world, religion and society, Eastern religions in contemporary world and many others. Next year in addition to our two groups in Moscow we hope to organise a summer institute in Grodno, Belarus.

This autumn St. Andrew’s celebrates its 30th anniversary and despite of the pandemic we plan too jubilee conferences – Theology of Openness on 6 November and The Person in a Post-Religious Society on 10-13 December, both in Moscow.

New normal or new fragile?

«For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.» (2 Timothy 1,7)

Dear members of Oikosnet Europe, dear friends!

First of all I look back gratefully on our Study day and Business Meeting. I am grateful that the General Assembly has confirmed me as President of Oikosnet Europe for another three years.

Then I say that we had to have our GA as a virtual meeting. That was a big limitation. I hope that another time we can meet again directly and discuss and meet each other in a lively way. This is indispensable, even though we have discovered new possibilities with zoom meetings to exchange ideas at short notice.

Covid19 triggers a whole range of feelings: sad, insecure, alone, lonely, confident, relieved, busy, sceptical, fatalistic, calm or over-anxious. However we react, there is one thing we have in common: we become aware of how fragile and precious life, living together, our society and the global economic system are.

Deep is the Hunger: Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness

In a newsletter from the Retreat and Study Center Kirkridge in Pensylvania, I found a quote from Howard Thurman. Howard Thurman, the Pastor of The Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples, was one of San Francisco’s most sought-after preachers at college chapels. His contribution to the large audiences he addressed each year across the country and to his own inter-racial congregation consisted not only of prophetic quality, but also of an ability to lead a group into an atmosphere of devotion.

«Everybody knows that something has happened. Just when it happened, no one knows. But there is complete agreement that somewhere, something very important has given away and all sorts of things are pulled out of shape, or are sagging or falling apart. The results? Nerves. There is a sense of fear as of some impending doom around the next turning in the road. …. Some say we are caught in the open independence of the sea, far away from any port, and a storm of world revolution is upon us. They point to breaking up of century-old social patterns all over the world …. This meant and continues to mean, that no one may claim detachment. The result is deep strains and stresses in the soul of a people, for which they had no preparation and from which there seems to be no sure basis for recovery.» («Deep is the Hunger: Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness», 1950).

Jean Richardson, the head of the Center Kirkridge, quoted this excerpt from Howard Thurman’s book in late June of this year in connection with “Black live matters” and the new sensitivity to the still serious racism. Everybody knows that something has happened. And the sense of fear as of some impending doom around the next turning in the road, the sense of fear also links people to Covid19 and the unknown that has gripped our world with this virus – and remembering our Study Day – also with the seemingly unstoppable climate change.

I guess we should soon talk about a ‘new fragility’ instead of a ‘new normal’ and decide in Oikosnet Europe on concrete action. The next few years will show this. But that also means that we have a lot of work to do. By “us” I mean first of all the Board of Oikosnet Europe. But it will only succeed in taking concrete and further steps if Oikosnet gains a new importance among its members. One depends on the other. But the need to bring our efforts at European level decisively closer together again is obvious.

With best wishes,

Rev. Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

Up-date from the General Assembly 2020

There is a saying, which translated into English sounds something like this: “Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measurements and instruments”. In about 65 years of existence this year’s General Assembly was the first one, which took place as a virtual Assembly. For many of us this is the “new normal”, for Oikosnet Europe it was a novum. And it was clear for everyone: a virtual Assembly cannot replace a person to person encounter. It is, therefore, that we are looking forward to the next General Assembly in 2021 as a person to person meeting in Sigtuna or Malta and 2022 in Bad Boll. However, the General Assembly as a virtual Assembly also offered opportunities, for instance, in that more members participated due to the fact that they could save money and time for travelling. The 2020 General Assembly was the most representative since years. The Oikosnet Board will look carefully on which events are in the future useful as virtual and/or as person to person events.

Study Day on the Green Deal

The 2020 General Assembly took place in two parts, a Study Day and a Business Session. The theme of the Study Day was: “Climate Change and the European Green Deal – The role of Oikosnet Europe”. We listened to and exchanged with two impressive presentations from Anja Bakken Riise (Norway) and Sven Giegold (MEP, Germany). Anja Bakken Riise explained the impressive work of her NGO in Norway, which tries to engage grass-roots people and civil society in changing peope’s consciousness and behavior towards the sustainable development goals, Sven Giegold emphasized the common political work in order to reach the targets. The Green Deal is a major political step forward on the European Political level, which needs the involvement of the civil society. Now is the time to develop and review national action plans and the recovery plans for times during and after the Corona crisis. A new agricultural policy and green standards in trade agreements are key at this stage. The discussion centered on the complementary effects of engaging people in sustainable development issues and on setting legally binding frameworks on the European as well on the national level.

The Oikosnet Board is in the process of setting priority issues for its thematic work in a European framework for its future work. Issues which emerged from the Study Day certainly belong to the list of priorities. But also other issues were highlighted, such as: our understanding of education, the future of Europe, migration, racism … Inputs from Oikosnet members to this debate are welcome.

Elections

As part of the Business Session, the General Assembly re-elected Walter Lüssi (from Plusbildung Schweiz) as President for the next three years and Katerina Karkalla Zorbas from the Orthodox Academy of Crete as a new member of the Board, equally for three years. Congratulations! The next meeting of the Board is envisaged for 30 November 2020.

Staff Exchange

Several Oikosnet members asked as to how Oikosnet Europe could help facilitating an exchange of staff, may it be for a shorter or a longer period of time. Such an exchange is to be seen as a process of mutual learning and of bringing Academies close to each other. Board member Kristin Gudleiksrud Raaum developed a discussion paper on the issue, which needs to fed with the expectations and needs of potential participants. The paper can be obtained from the Oikosnet Office in Sigtuna or from Kristin herself. Again, contributions are welcome.

Budget

The General Assembly also adopted the accounts for 2019 and the Budget for 2021. It is clear, that many members of Oikosnet Europe are also suffering under financial constraints due to the Corona crisis. But is also clear, that the work of Oikosnet Europe at this stage largely, if not exclusively, depends on membership contributions. Extra financial support is only acquired for special projects.

Projects

The General Assembly also received reports from projects like the Arab-European Citizens Dialogue, Dialogue for a Peaceful Change and the Civil Society Project for Central Europe. These are summarised in the Annual Report to the Assembly. More extensive reports are available upon request.

Belarus

Much too little time was left at the end of the General Assembly for listening to the witnesses of our members in Belarus about the situation in their country and their own involvement after the elections. The short reports were impressive. Oikosnet members are involved in supporting victims, in documenting atrocities and in spreading the truth through social media. Oikosnet can be proud of their involvement. As time was too short there will be a special invitation for a longer Zoomconference in October.

Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary of Oikosnet Europe