Re-Imagining the Church in the 21st Century
The “Re-Imagining the Church” conference drew more than 300 people to Fribourg on 15 – 17 June 2016. The conference has acquired a good reputation throughout Switzerland and among those present were leaders of free churches, Reformed pastors, and theology students of Evangelical, Reformed, Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds. This year’s keynote speakers were the Church of England's Rt Revd Graham Tomlin and Dr. Jane Williams. Those attending benefited greatly from the English church's experiences.
The 2016 conference brought academia and lived spirituality together in an exemplary way. Each day began with a time of devotion, providing a framework for the keynote addresses. In the afternoon, participants could choose from among ten break-out sessions which included deeper discussion as well as personal testimonies from churches. These break-out sessions were highly appreciated. A well-received, new element was the “Talk” at the end of the day, in which keynote speakers shared about some of their personal experiences with God, the Church and other topics.
The Daily Programme
The conference began with an joint worship service in the Cathedral. During the service, each of the conference's five key speakers shared their vision for the church. This set the tone for the next two days, in which the “Church re-imagined” was the topic of intense discussion during lectures, testimonies and informal chats: How can the Church grow in persuasiveness? Christians in Europe seem to have largely lost their “sense of the sacred”. For the Church to be re-imagined one must retain a regard for its painful history.
“People today are not seeking truth; they are expecting authenticity,” said Prof. Ralph Kunz (University of Zurich). Dr. Jane Williams (St. Mellitus College, London) emphasized the absolute need for faith and hope if the Church is to be renewed. Wherever God is central and people live lives based on his character – as a “faithful and reliable community”, the Holy Spirit is able to offer a new vision of and for the Church. The Church can be a “sign and foretaste” of God's coming Kingdom. For Prof. Michael Herbst (University of Greifswald), it is inevitable that the ”Volkskirche” (State Church) learn to be a open church in the minority centered around mission. Mission is necessary since there are those who attend church, yet remain unbelievers. These are unlikely to give their children a resilient, religious education. Hence it is paramount to invite people to Christ in Europe – reaching both those who have never heard the Gospel and those who “still belong to the Church but are alienated from faith.” Prof. Herbst expressed hope about new beginnings. Five hundred years after Luther, it is high time that we learn from his insights on authentic and genuine Christianity in small communities.
The conference ended Thursday evening with an enjoyable reception featuring the bands “Crescendo” and “The Wilberforce”.
All 2016 conference presentations will be published in a new volume of the series “Glaube und Gesellschaft” (“Faith and Community”) under the title: “Re-imagining God’s Church”.
“A compelling, inviting vision for the Church of the future creates anticipation, passion and new motivation – even to suffer, if need be.” – Prof. Michael Herbst
“God is glorious and exciting and many people do not know that, so confidence in what we believe is key. But this teaching always needs to be held within the practice of faith, within worship and prayer, so that it does not become separated from its Lord.” – Dr. Jane Williams
“Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Apple have visions and a mission – but the Church still believes in mergers and ends up resigning.” – Prof Ralph Kunz
“The Church should be provocative by finding the gestures, lifestyle choices and actions that will point to the different and radical order of the Kingdom of God.” – The Rt. Revd Graham Tomlin
“We need dreams and visions to find our way.” Frère Richard of Taizé
The conference was widely covered in Switzerland's Christian media, featured in the Evangelical Idea Spektrum, in the Reformed Ref.ch and the Catholic Cath.ch.
Especially the "sit & talk" at the end of the day was one of the new elements, which was very well received by the participants. During this talk the main speakers spoke about their own lives and talked about their own experiences with God, the Church and much more.