Esteemed Church leaders,
Dear interfaith representatives,
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Before I share with you my reflections on the response of the Church to a situation of war, I would like to extend my gratitude to the WCC and in particular to Acting General Secretary Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca for allocating time and efforts at this European Plenary of the WCC Assembly to substantially address the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Global food crisis. Global inflation. Global fuel deficit. As we are gathered here, Ukraine is a concern not only for Europe but for the world.
Due to our recent European past, war on European soil brings connotations that transcends their actual time and place in history. It evokes long gone memories. And it challenges a strong European trust that this part of the world has – or had - developed into a post-war continent of lasting peace.
Since February 24, I hear genuinely concerned voices asking “How can this happen in Europe in 2022…?”
This is a question reflecting a belief that we as Europeans live in what we refer to as “the developed part of the world”.
To many European citizens, what we have created is “a secular world” where religion plays little or no role and consequently all wars – thus goes the argument - all wars will have to come to an end.
As Europeans, we find comfort in believing in human progress. Therefore, that question: “How can this happen in Europe in 2022…?”.
The Christian, theological response is simple and straight forward: because we are fallen human beings. As Christians we realise and accept that we live by and from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For that reason St Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans on our human nature are still appropriate - and deeply relevant:
“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing”.
St Paul teaches us - as he taught the early Roman congregations – what our human nature is like. Taking as starting point his own life experience of deficiency and failure, St Paul teaches us why war is still a reality in 2022. Why we have failed.
However, at the same time, we are reminded what the Church is.
The Church is not a fellowship of particularly good people. Neither is it a fellowship of particularly bad people.
The Church is a fellowship of humans beings who recognise our need to be “moved by the love of Christ”.
The Church is a fellowship centred around Christ because we recognise our need for his grace, for his love and for his forgiveness.
One of my most loved definitions of the Church goes like this: “The Church is a world-wide fellowship of mutual encouragement”.
This definition was fundamental, when The Conference of European Churches organised a European pre-assembly to the current WCC Assembly. It was long planned for February 25 – 26. Literally a matter of hours after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Still, we managed to set up a programme over night that accommodated the fears, uncertainty and chock that characterised Europe at the time. We listened to voices. We analysed. We prayed together.
We activated our fellowship of mutual encouragement.
Similarly, first and foremost we are gathered here in Karlsruhe to mutually encourage one another.
As I stand here, watching you as representatives from our world-wide fellowship, I encourage you to see our gathering as a concrete response to the war-inflicted suffering we witness in Europe today. Indeed to the war-inflicted suffering we see all over the world as we speak.
If the Church should not gather in times of war when should it gather? The history of both the WCC and The Conference of European Churches witness to this.
Gather to focus on Christ. Gather to cry out our vulnerability together. Gather to be silent together. Pray together. Sing together. Gather to hope together.
We come together, as Bundespräsident Steinmeier expressed it in his opening address: “by insight into what has to be done but also by hope”.
The hope that “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”.
We are gathered to be moved by the love of Christ.
Let’s go out from here, moved by the love of Christ with dedication to “what has to be done”.
Let that be our response to the war in Ukraine. Indeed our response to any war.
Now and in the future.
Thank you for your attention.