Arab-European Citizens’ Dialogue: the continuation

OACThe Arab-European Citizens’ Dialogue continues. The 5th Consultation, under the title “Societies in Transition: Active Citizenship – Where can it make a difference?” took place in the Orthodox Academy of Crete, Wednesday to Saturday 9- 12 March 2016. The conference was organized jointly by the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), Oikosnet Europe, the Sigtuna Foundation and the Orthodox Academy of Crete. Close to forty participants took part in this event.

After the previous series of Dialogue Conferences, the Arab-European Citizens’ Dialogue has gone through a period of reflection and restructuring. Recent events, both in Europe and in the Arab world, vividly illustrate the need to continue this dialogue.

It is now Oikosnet Europe that has become the European partner that work together with CEOSS in Egypt. In this dialogue effort, CEOSS and Oikosnet Europe also work together with a number of other partners in Europe and in the MENA region.

A concept note for the Dialogue is presently under discussion. In addition, a new International Steering Committee has been established. It is in the name of the parent organizations as well as on behalf of the International Steering Committee that we are inviting for the conference in Crete.

For more information, please contact Rüdiger Noll ( or Alf Linderman (

Preparing for the Reformation Jubilee 2017

Academy of Tutzing 15-17 September 2016
For three years now the German Protestant Academies have engaged together in a network project on the resonance of the reformation for present societies. The project focused on the economy (work life), culture and media. This project comes to an end in 2016 with a summarizing consultation in the Academy of Tutzing from 15-17 September 2016. Speakers include the Chairperson of the EKD Council, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the Chaiperson of the German roman-catholic Bishops’ Conference, Kardinal Marx, Archbishop Tabo Makgoba as well as representatives from other religions and from politics and society. The Conference will provide simultaneous translation in German and English. Further information can be obtained soon from the website of the Academy of Tutzing ( or from


2016 – an “annus horribilies” for the EU

ruediger_noll1Europe and especially the European Union are in turmoil more than ever before. Already some years ago the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, spoke about the biggest crisis of the Union in its history. And signs got worse.

The economic, financial or dept crisis in Europe (however one might want to call it) is far from being over. There might be fewer emergency meetings of the European Council than in the last years, but the austerity measures still lead to widening gap between rich and the poor within many societies and an unprecedented unemployment in many countries, especially effecting young people. And due to the austerity measures it is almost impossible for countries like Spain and Greece to move towards a sustainable economic growth.

The waves of refugees coming or wanting to come to Europe just shows how little Europe contributes with a coherent approach to the root causes of migration and how little there is of a Common European Foreign and Security Policy as well as of a coherent action plan in the area of a global and sustainable development. In the Arab-European Citizens’ Dialogue, which had its last meeting in March at the Orthodox Academy in Crete, our Arab partners indicted very clearly that they do expected more of a common European response and support for their situation. And in addition: the way, the refugee crisis is handled within Europe also shows that “solidarity” is not the guiding principle within the continent.

And then there is the possibility of a “Brexit”, of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. Whatever the result of the British referendum will be, it will change the European Union. The “ever closer Union” mentioned as one commitments of the EU Member States in the Preamble of the Lisbon Treaty is no longer a common aim. I am surprised to how easily certain circles have adjusted to a Europe of different speeds.

2016 an “annus horribilies” for the EU and, even more important, for the European project of peace, reconciliation, prosperity and justice? – No wonder that the trust of many people in the institutions like the EU and in European leaders is diminishing. Thus far, the EU has not been a row model for an inclusive decision-making, but now even more decisions are taken behind closed doors between member states, rather than strengthening the democratically legitimized institutions such as the European Parliament. The impact has shifted from the community institutions to the member states again, from transparency and participation to mere crisis management.

“What shall’s,” many people might say. The EU is not to be identified with the European integration project itself and wasn’t it that the European project grew and got new impulses through crisis situations? Yes, this was true. But do such mechanisms out of necessity contribute to a positive vision for the European project with which the people can identify themselves? And in addition, the accumulation of present challenges for the European project seems to also indicate that the “old” mechanisms do not work anymore. The European project itself is at stake. The self-interests of EU member states seem to win over and against a common vision and common interests. The management and administration of challenges wins over and against forward-looking solutions, based on the values of a common European home.

At this stage, I am reminded of a moment at the last Annual Conference of Oikosnet Europe in Corrymeela, when friends and experts from Northern Ireland explained their approach to the present state of affairs in what is or was known as the Northern Irish conflict or troubles. “We know exactly what the conflict is about. The stakeholders and their respective interests are clearly identified? We know what we ought to do. But still there is no sustainable solution to the conflict between the different communities in our country. Unless we manage to change the overall narrative towards a positive common vision, there will be no sustainable solution”, one of the speakers said.

Despite a considerable resistance against the discourse about a new narrative for the European project in some quarters, I still take it that the Northern Irish experience is also true for Europe. As long as there is no vision for the European project, it will remain difficult to overcome a selfish attitude of European states and a business-as-usual mentality. And a vision, people can identify with, must be a positive one. Being afraid of other emerging economic powers, such as the BRIC states, will not create positive energy. What the people are looking forward is a just, participatory and sustainable Europe in a global context (quoting the terminology of a former programme of the World Council of Churches). This is what needs to be translated into an inspiring narrative and real politics for the sake of the European project as well as for the sake of the European Union. To this the members of Oikosnet Europe have a contribution to make.

Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary of Oikosnet Europe


Patriarchs prepare for The Great and Holy Council in Crete

Academy of CreteThe Orthodox Academy of Crete will have a busy time this spring preparing for the historical meeting in June when The Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church will take place. The last time a Pan -Orthodox council of this scale was convened was in Constantinopel well over a thousand years ago in 879 – 880, where they had a representation of over 380 bishops from the Eastern Christian Churches.

Moved from Istanbul to Crete
The heads of the church decided at a meeting in Geneva in January to relocate this synod from Istanbul, which is the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarche of Constantinople,  to Crete due to the geopolitical circumstances. Those who are expected to attend to Crete the 16th of June – 27th are the heads of representatives of 14 autocephalous churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Georgia, Cyprus, Bulgarie, Serbia, Russia, Greece, Poland, Romania, Albania, Czech and Slovakia.

A great honour and a great responsibility
Konstantinos Zormpas, director of the Orthodox Academy of Crete sees the event as great responsibility, and at the same time a great honor for the Academy. All Primates of the Orthodox Churches will meet, together with their Delegations, including Metropolitans and advisors. Journalists from all over the world are also expected to be there and inform about the developments of the deliberations.
What effects do  this Synod expect to have related to Oikosnet?

–  To start with our Academy, the upcoming Synod is already affecting our work and the discussions we have with participants at our activities. The more so, it will have effects on our work in the future, especially regarding the conferences and seminars related to theological or religious questions. All issues that are going to be discussed during the Synod are important to the orthodox world and locals as well as people attending courses will be interested to hear about the outcome. The same, participants at seminars about Orthodoxy, mostly non-orthodox themselves and coming from different countries, will want our Academy to include the latest developments in the lectures, especially regarding those issues that affect them, too, says Konstantinos Zorbas, director of the Orthodox Academy of Crete.

The items officially approved for referral to and adoption by the Holy and Great Council are:

  1. The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Contemporary World,
  2. The Orthodox Diaspora,
  3. Autonomy and its Manner of Proclamation,
  4. The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments,
  5. The Significance of Fasting and its Application Today,
  6. Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.

Kirchentag this year and next

kerze-und-handOikosnet Europe is part of preparing a European Christian Convention (cf. previous newsletters). The next step in the process is a second consultation with about 100 stakeholders or interested organisations in Kappel near Zürich from 9-11 June 2016.
The Preparatory Team of the European Christian Convention is also issuing an occasional electronic Newsletter. Those who are interested in the meeting in Kappel or those who want to remain up-dated on developments via the Newsletter are invited to get in touch with the Secretariat:

German Kirchentag 2017 starting shot for the Reformation Jubilee
The next German Kirchentag will be in Berlin from 24-28 May 2017. It will be the starting shot for the Reformation Jubilee, which will last until 31 October. The Academy in Wittenberg will be a part of the world exhibition and will be transformed in a sort of Café, presenting the academies in Germany. OE is invited to present itself in this setting. A good opportunity to bring forward our unique European network and maybe give some ideas for new partnerships. So if you got ideas, please contact the board. The OE activities will be organized in cooperation with Friedrich Kramer, director of the Wittenberg Academy.



East European Consultation – Liebfrauenberg 23rd – 25th February 2016

East European Consultation (3) (005)The first East European Consultation took place at the Liebfrauenberg and gathered twelve directors, study leaders and lecturers from member centres of OE and others. According to our aim the exchange about common challenges, expectations towards OE and common projects and initiatives was given priority. The friendly ambiance allowed us to establish new contacts and to deepen already existing relations with long-time members of OE. It is one of the strength of OE that beside the intellectual discussions and common projects personal contact is one of the most important factors to foster exchange and mutual understanding.

Keynotes were given by Biljana Zašova, Senior Project Co-ordinator of the ALDA (Association of Local Democracy Agencies) at the Council of Europe and Stéphane de Tapia, expert in migration issues for the Council of Europe and director of Turkish studies at the university of Strasbourg. The latter conference and the following discussion showed that we need a controversial debate in Europe on this issue and not constantly repeated affirmations of positions.

It was clearly outlined in the consultation that for example the migration issue needs further discussions under a larger angle as there exists in East European countries like for example the Ukraine an inner migration due to the Russian Ukrainian Conflict. One very important point that was mentioned several times was the issue of human dignity, which is a major concern for our partners in Eastern Europe (social tourism, empirical research, bioethics, disabled persons etc.)

Religion in public space
Another topic was the place of religion in society which occurs to be differently seen from a Eastern point of view. Christianity has a vivid revival for example in Ukraine “based on living memory of martyrs of the 2Oth century” as it was expressed by one our Ukrainian partners. With other words: Christianity is declining in Western Europe, and growing in the Eastern part. Thus the question of education and ecumenism plays an important role when you get to the dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe.

Practical issues and grass root work
Almost all participants agreed that the common ground of our centres, it doesn’t matter what kind of institutions, is the interconnectedness of academic and grass root work, the local and regional embeddedness of questions of church, religion and society. From bottom to top could be the leitmotiv of future ACs of OE. Discussions as they took place at the Liebfrauenberg Consultation can help” to clarify the complex situations of each participant’s institution.”

The Liebfrauenberg was as well an ideal place to discover the bicultural dimension of Alsace and Strasbourg and to see how reconciliation after centuries of wars and conflicts between France and Germany is possible.  A participant from Eastern Europe described the French-German reconciliation a model for the East- and Central European countries which are still in the reflection on how to handle history.

In Strasbourg the group was welcomed by the president of the Union of protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine Christian Albecker who explained the particular status of Church in Alsace and Lorraine. A guided tour through the old town of Strasbourg and a wine degustation completed the program of the three days. We hope to see the participants again at our AC in Prague where we can continue the discussions we started at the Liebfrauenberg.

East European Consultation (2) (005)

The participants in front of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg. From left to right :

Alexej BODROV, Saint Andrews Biblical Institut Moscow, Oleh KINDIY, Ukrainian Catholic University, Jiři Silny, Ecumenical Academy Prague, Janos Molnar, Berekfürdor; Olga Breskaya, European Humanities University, Vilnius; Christos Filiotis, Greek-Orthodox Chaplaincy, Strasbourg; Enikö Regéczy-Nagy, Ráday Kollégium, Sviatoslav Rogalsky, Christian Educational Center, Minsk;  Giannis Mountogiannakis, Orthodox Academy of Crete; Marilena Bezierk, Ev. Akadmie, Wittenberg; Roman Zviyskyy Ukrainian Catholic University; Sören Lenz, Liebfrauenberg; Roman Juriga, Pravoslavna Akademie Vilemov; not on the picture, behind the camera : Rüdiger Noll, EAD, Berlin


News from the Board meeting in Prague  21st to the 22nd march 2016 

03 mars-20160322-002-Prag (003)The Oikosnet board met for two days in the wonderful city of Prague where our next Annual Conference will be held on invitation of the Ecumenical Academy of Prague. A huge amount of work was waiting for the six members of the board Jaap van der Sar, (President), Marielisa von Thadden (Vice-president), Nicola Murray, (Treasurer), Kostas Zorbas, Kirsten Beuth, Sören Lenz. They were assisted by Rüdiger Noll, our executive secretary and Hermann Düringer as meeting secretary. Jiri Silny from the Ecumenical Academy and Alf Linderman from the Sigtuna Foundation, where our secretariat is based, assisted the meetings temporarily.

The Annual Conference in Prague, 7-11 Sept 2016 “Transition or Mission Impossible”
Jiri Silny, director of the Ecumenical Academy Prague, presented the plans for the study day and the excursions which are planned for the AC of Oikosnet. After the fall of the Berlin wall and the disappearing of a communist state system the transition in the former Eastern bloc states has not only produced winners. How did the transformation to a neoliberal economical system happen and what is the outcome? What are the social constraints and what about social cohesion? Are there political consequences?

These are the questions we want to discuss during the study day which is always a central element of the annual meeting of OE. Furthermore, excursions are intended like meeting with a Roma social work project, a visit in the glass industry and an alternative city tour.

Gender and Justice Network. Preconference in Prague, 5-7 September 2017
“Escape, Migration, Gender”

Like it is already a tradition the Gender and Justice Network will hold its preconference focalizing on Gender and Justice in the field of migration and refugees. Renowned experts like Vigdis Vevstad from Norway or Ulrich Körtner (to be confirmed) will contribute as keynote speakers on the political and ethical problematic of the refugee crisis. The meeting will pay a special attention on discussion and exchange with a final Pool of ideas to share experiences and ideas for projects with refugees.

The legal entity of OE – From Germany to Sweden
The upcoming AC in Prague has to discuss and to prepare the transition of OE from a German legal entity to Swedish legal entity at full length which includes as well a modification of our constitution in adapted to Swedish law. According to the decision in Corrymeela the board has prepared the following steps:

  • Founding of a new association OE under Swedish Law, with a secretariat at the Sigtuna Foundation
  • Dissolution of the association under German law

The whole process of founding the new OE and the dissolution of the German association will be explained in detail and the modified constitution according to Swedish law send out to the members before the meeting in Prague. The board invite all members to send us their commentaries and suggestions before the meeting in Prague which will help us to have a constructive debate at the AC.

Nicola MurrayOur new treasurer Nicola Murray from Corrymeela
The the responsibility for financial operations were handed over to the secretariat in Sigtuna and to our new treasurer, Nicola Murray. The Board thanked Jaap for the accurate and careful job he did the last years.


By Sören Lenz, Liebfrauenberg

Congratulations Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum

Marielisa von Thadden and Kristin Gunleiksrud RaaumOn behalf of Oikosnet Europe we give our warmest congratulations to Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum from the Norwegian Church Academy who recently was elected as Chair of the Church of Norway. Many of us have met Kristin at the annual conferences of Oikosnet Europe and she was also elected as member of the board in 2015.

In December Kristin visited the Evangelische Akademie Bad Boll at the annual conference for Lesbian Women in Church and Society. Her speech was very well received by around 100 participants coming from all over Germany. We wish Kristin the very best in her new challenge as Chair of the Church of Norway and we are grateful that we have her permission to publish her speach from the conference.

Photo: Marielisa von Thadden,  Evangelische Akademie Bad Boll and Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum  the Norwegian Church Academy.

Key note speach by Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum at the annual conference for Lesbian Women in Church and Society

“I am delighted to be here, and to be invited to tell you about an amazing process I have been part of the last year and a half. We are now changing the church of Norway, within a little bit more than a year it will be possible for same sex couples to be married in the church. But this is not really about an organization. It is not really about the church. It is really about human dignity and equality, and the members of the church being given an opportunity to speak their mind.
First a few facts:
In Norway, we used to have a State church until 2012. 75 % of the population are members, but the numbers are slowly decreasing. Our Constitution now uses the term «Peoples church» about the Church of Norway. We now discuss how we can prevent a similar increase in child christening and church wedding, as is the picture in many other north European countries.
In 1992 there was an act of Domestic partnership. The majority of church leaders were against this.
January 1st 2009 there was a new legislation of marriage in Norway. The Marriage Act states that two people of the same or different sex can get married. But not in the church. There is a section in the Marriage Act that prevents a priest from performing a marriage between two of same sex.
As in most churches, LGBTs have been the topic of debate also in the Church of Norway. Could they be employed as priest? Could they “be allowed” to marry? I have to say that I really do not recognize that we as a church should be discussing this for years and years. I understand that we have to, but I long for the day when this is no longer a topic: it is and should be self-evident that we are equal, also when it comes to the ability to love.
There are some who claim that homosexuality is a sin. And they are letting their voices be heard. In newspapers and social media they are active. They are of course few in numbers, but they organize well, and have been able to win disproportionally many seats in the church parliament, the synod.
We on the more liberal part of the church, traditionally lack the ability to organize or unify. We find it much more interesting to discuss or even fight one another. So, when it comes to seizing power in the church, we have been an east match!
In the Church of Norway we have been constantly discussing so called “gay issues” since 1995. And I mean constantly. It has been THE issue in 20 years, dividing the church, and creating a demarcation line in many other questions. But more importantly: in these 20 years those of us with LGBT-identity have been exposed to discrimination, being refused jobs in the church, and having their lives and love discussed in the open over and over again. The great paradox of it all – and this is impossible to understand – is that the church, THE CHURCH, has contributed to making people lie about who they are, hide who they are. The church, in this world to proclaim the truth about God and love. The church has made people bow their head in shame and hide their life. If the word sin ever was a
relevant one, it is in this sense: it is a sin to contribute to people hiding their face before God. It is a sin to make people feel ashamed of whom they love. And one day the church will apologize for it.
Well, in 2010 the Bishops Council appointed a group with the task to – once again – study the theological basis of love and marriage. It took three years, and ended in a divided bishops council. 8 were pro same sex marriage, and four were against. Then it was up to the synod to decide.
We were a small group. Four women. All member of the synod. One lesbian. Three straight allies. Three of them priests. And me, the deputy leader of the Church of Norway. We did our math. We knew where all 116 delegates stood in the issue. We wrote articles. We spend hundreds of hours on the phone. Investigating, mapping, persuading, arguing, fighting.
When the synod in 2014 approached, we knew that it would be a close race. And it certainly was. The debate was tough. I will try to forget some of the expressions used of LGBT’s. The night before the votes were to be given, we discovered – four o’clock in the morning – that we would not make it. We were a few votes short. But the upside of it was that the conservative side did not have a majority either. So it was not over.
We drove home. Four of us in my car. Crying. Swearing. Sleeping. My husband welcomed us with dinner and wine. We went on swearing and crying. The next morning I woke up to hundreds of messages in social media: «This is it! I’m leaving the church of Norway.»
I spend most of the day answering, and by the night it was obvious: We had to do something about it. Two months later a new organization was founded: Open People’s church. We were only a handful. But we knew that we had a year. September 14th 2015 was oar goal: a church referendum. The new synod, consisting of 11 diocesan council (116 members in all) should be elected. Only 10-13 % of the church members voted. We organized every diocese, and, for the first time in history
established lists, similar to party lists. We achieved lists in 9 out 11 dioceses.
We were in it together. Queer and straight. LGBT and heterosexuals. Not always easy. I find it sometimes hard, being straight and credible at the same time. It was sometimes hard, knowing that everything I said could be mistrusted because I happened to be straight. But through this frustration, I think I learned a lesson. I learned a little of what it is like to be mistrusted because you are who you are, ore more precise: because of whom you love. What it is like having to fight for a job or the right to love in dignity. I had never before have had to fight for respect because of who I was. I have met prejudice and harsh remarks because of my high heels and blond hair and passion for champagne. But that is nothing in comparisn, and I know it. I now had to try to understand when my heteronormativity made me blind or nearsighted. It was a valuable lesson.
We campaigned on. We had no money. Everything had to be done on a voluntarily basis. It was really an impossible project. To establish a nationwide organization within a year, and then have a campaign all over the country to win the referendum. We had groups on Facebook. Open groups, secret groups. There is I a lot of bad things to be said on Facebook, But without it we would never have won. We had secret strategy discussions, providing those new in our organization with support and arguments for local debates. We grew. Some of us worked in publicity, they made a visual program. Part of it you can see behind me. One contacted famous artists who supported us. They made a record: working for an open church. And a wonderful concert. Many of the best artists in Norway together on stage. It was magic. Then we went begging for money from a few of the richest people in Norway. One of them said yes. And gave us 200 000 euros. This is a very private man, who
seldom gives interviews. But now he gave three interviews on the news, telling the whole of Norway that he supported us because he was a Christian (no one knew in advance) and he felt obliged from the gospel of Jesus. Two month later he came out of the closet as bisexual, and what was really interesting is that this strengthened his credibility. Being LGBT made him popular. The fact that he supported us made him popular.
We toured the country with the campaign.
What I want to accentuate from the campaign is this: Travelling around and meeting people, it became clearer and clearer how important this was to many ordinary church member, LGBT or straight. There was a lot of people in many ways saying: FINALLY! The fact that you decided to run an Open Peoples Church list, made me breathe more freely.
This was markedly and most clear in the part of the country that traditionally was dominated by the conservative forces in the church, in the south and the west of Norway. In these regions people said: “Now I can state my mind more freely. I do not need to hide who I am anymore!” This was of course a strong message from LGBTs, but also from straight people. It was as we all grasped that a church that does not recognize some people, does not recognize anyone. A church that condemns love and marriage for some, does not does not really recognize love. A lot of people expressed what I would call lack of oxygen in their relation to the church.
What was on stake was partly the credibility of the church, but most importantly: It had to do with the image of God and the dignity of man. The shared dignity. If the church cannot be the place that this is self-evident, where can it? one said to me.
Because we have changed as people, as a society, as Christians. We want a church that enhances and promotes that we should support our children in finding their identity, living openly and honestly, rather than sorting them in rigid and limiting Categories. We do not want a church that make life difficult for people.
I think our campaign proved that there among the people is a stubborn faith that has survived the shallow preaching of human love.
And how did it all go? We won. Almost 65 percent of the votes. We won in ALL the dioceses. Even the most conservative. We now have the majority in the synod. And by January 2017 it will be possible for same sex couples to marry in the church. We have started developing a new liturgy. I am so proud to have been given the privilege to be a part of this. To change the church. To change the conditions for life and love. And faith.
There is opposition of course. The battle is not over, of course it is not. We are still fighting and arguing. But the majority has changed. The church has changed. Because the church members said: we cannot have a church who divides people, who discriminates people. We want a church that promotes the gospel, and therefore human dignity. We won because the members of the church of Norway gave a strong message of equality and dignity for all.”

Visions for the countryside – Young Europeans in the periphery  

14 -16th November 2016 in Altenkirchen/Germany

unga i europaBeing young in the countryside is different from being young in the city: There is more space and more freedom yet at the same times fewer opportunities and fewer people of the same age. Due to demographic change and the growing attractiveness of big cities, the number of young people is likely to further decrease in the decades to come. These problems can be seen in different regions across Europe. Shouldn´t there be common European ideas and solutions? Therefore the Protestant Academies in Neudietendorf (Thuringia) and Altenkirchen (Rheinland)  invite adolescents and youth workers from all over Europe to talk about how life in the periphery can be changed for the better: young, creative and European! We would like to invite partners from the OIKOSNET Europe who are interested to cooperate in this project to get into contact. The conference will be held from Nov. 14-16, 2016. The working language is English.

Place of event:
Evangelische Landjugendakademie in Altenkirchen in cooperation with Evangelische Akademie Thüringen Dieperzbergweg 13-17 D-57610 Altenkirchen

Contact persons:
Annika Schreiter
Evangelische Akademie Thüringen
Studienleiterin Referat gesellschaftspolitische Jugendbildung
Zinzendorfplatz 3
99192 Neudietendorf
Tel.: 036202 / 984-12

Philipp Schlicht
Referent für jugendpolitische Bildung Evangelische Landjugendakademie Altenkirchen
Dieperzbergweg 13-17
D-57610 Altenkirchen
Tel.: +49 2681 9516 27