Friday 17. September 2021
#216 - June 2018

“You shall be my witnesses”

This is the main topic of the General Assembly hold by the Conference of European Churches (CEC) from 31 May to 6 June in Novi Sad (Serbia). Interview with its General Secretary Fr Heikki Huttunen.

What is the role and mission of CEC?


The Conference of European Churches (CEC) is an ecumenical organisation, which means that the basis of our membership is ecumenical. Our members are churches who can identify with the faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour according to the scripture, and are willing to work for the glory of God, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, which are the basic tenants of Christian faith. This is the common denominator of our membership.


The aim and the goal of our organisation is the visible unity of the Church of Christ. We are convinced that with our common faith rooted in the Gospel (ecumenical vision), in pursuing our common goal of achieving the unity of the Church of Christ, we can effectively and credibly witness and serve all humanity.


We believe that our Christian witness and service becomes more credible, relevant, helpful and effective when it is carried out in an ecumenical way. We believe that Christian churches belong together, despite their differences. And we believe that all of us have something to learn from each other.


How does CEC manage balance and diversity between East - West, Protestant-Orthodox, Anglican members?


We have 115 member churches in 40 countries belonging to the Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox traditions, among others. It is a wide variety of churches. Our network also includes National Councils of Churches in almost 20 countries, among the Catholic Church is member.


The balances we consider are related to our church traditions as well as the representation of women and men, young people and older people. In our work it is very essential that we keep these balances. We try not to speak for only one kind of church and Christian experience.


While we try to create balances, in our region, often the dominant narrative is the Western European narrative. We have observed that Eastern and Southern Europeans often feel ignored and marginalised. Even in the North where I come from it is not the same as the West. But one can ask, if not in the ecumenical movement, then where should there be a balance in the voices of everyone? It’s really a crucial task for us to be inclusive. We have it on our mind all the time.


What outcome do you expect from the General Assembly in Novi Sad?


We expect the 2018 Novi Sad General Assembly to pronounce and express the future of Europe. The theme of the General Assembly “You shall be my witnesses” will be explored in-depth in Serbia from 31 May to 6 June, focusing on the subthemes: Justice, Witness and Hospitality.


I personally hope that the high level speakers at the event will be able to inspire and engage the delegates and participants in the discussion about the essence of the Christian presence in Europe. These discussions will have a value of their own and will influence and inform the decisions that we need to make about the future of CEC. This process will produce priorities for CEC’s work for the next five years. There will also be elections for the Governing Board and the Presidents but even more important will be the direction provided by the Novi Sad Assembly for CEC’s work.


What are the main challenges for CEC in the upcoming period ?


As an ecumenical organisation we have to redefine our role vis-à-vis the churches, and to convince our Member Churches of our usefulness. We are not a self-evident entity so we need to be relevant, and keep producing something they feel involved with. We are a service organisation, which is different in structure from churches that exist by themselves. That’s our own internal challenge.


The European elections will bring our region into focus, especially with the UK leaving the European Union and some other countries seeking to join. Are the values and goals of the EU Project still clear? We see some signs that there is a conviction about staying together and building a future for Europe in a responsible way as a part of the world. The return of nationalism and extremism of different kinds is a critical concern. I hope our Member Churches can play a prominent role in addressing these issues in their countries. We should work against nationalism, racism and the phenomena nurtured by demagogue populism. Churches must represent an alternative view to this reality.


Our policies in Europe influence our neighbours, which is why the inability of Europe to bring peace or stability to areas like Libya, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine is very alarming. One important question for us as churches to deliberate is if there will be more global awareness in European politics. If not the next station is perdition. Also from the environmental point of view we must play our part bearing our responsibility to the whole world.



The interview was conducted by Johanna Touzel



The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.