Come Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit moves us towards Unity and Reconiliation
The prayer “Come Holy Spirit!” was at the heart of the Study Centre for Faith and Society's fourth conference. 600 Christians came together in Fribourg on 19-21 June 2017. These included theology students, pastors and priests from Switzerland and abroad. Many held that it was extraordinary for Christians from so many different backgrounds to meet and pray together.
“The Holy Spirit is the reformer who renews and transforms the Church and society.” these were the opening words of Walter Dürr, the director of the Study Centre for Faith and Society. Important representatives of many different Christian traditions were present: Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury), Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP, Metropolitan Serafim Joanta, Christina aus der Au (President of the German ‘Kirchentag’), and Graham Tomlin (Bishop of Kensington). Many renowned professors from at home and abroad were also present.
The Work of the Spirit in and for the World
The conference began with a keynote address by N.T. Wright, Professor for New Testament Studies at St. Andrews. He emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in creation, in the re-creation which took place in Jesus Christ and in the consummation of the world. Human beings, created in God’s image, are empowered by the Holy Spirit to cooperate in the renewal of creation. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, identified three priorities for the Church today: the revitalisation of prayer, reconciliation among Christians and the witness of the Christian faith to the world, especially in ministry and love toward our neighbours. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn highlighted the importance of the varied renewal movements inspired by the Holy Spirit, which have vivified the Church in the past as well as the present as he himself has witnessed time and again. Welby and Schönborn agreed in an open dialogue that the common witness to Christ is what unites Christians: “like the spokes of a wheel, we get closer to each other the more we move towards the hub – towards Christ.”
Making room for the Holy Spirit
Keynote speakers contributed different Christian perspectives on the Holy Spirit: Amos Yong from Fuller Theological Seminary (Pentecostal), Christina aus der Au from the University of Zurich and Martin Sallmann from the University of Bern (Reformed) , Bishop Graham Tomlin from St. Mellitus College (Anglican), Barbara Hallensleben from Fribourg (Catholic) and Metropolitan Serafim Joanta (Orthodox). Graham Tomlin highlighted that a reform of any church structure is doomed to failure if not preceded by a yearning for the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Metropolitan Serafim deplored the Church's smothering of the Spirit for the sake of structures, instead of its making room for him. The Church is a Church of the Holy Spirit, and theology must be inspired by the same Spirit. The papal preacher Raniero Cantalamessa sent a message from Rome: “The body of Christ is only whole in the community and the unity of the faithful. In disunity, the body is broken.” Giovanni Traettino, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Caserta near Naples spoke about his meetings with Pope Francis: “The path towards unity passes through fraternity and friendship.” The Reformed theologian Matthias Zeindler and the Pentecostal theologian Jean-Daniel Plüss discussed the movement of the Spirit in their respective churches.
Praying for the Future Together
One of the highlights of the conference was the joint prayer service in the St. Nicholas Cathedral. Here the Holy Spirit was not only discussed, but invoked. More than 800 Christians filled the cathedral. Besides the above mentioned, other leading figures from Swiss churches and the academic world participated, for example, Claudia Haslebacher, the Vice-President of the Free Churches in Switzerland, Matthias Spiess, the Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance, Gottfried Locher, the President of the Swiss Reformed Church, Urban Federer, Abbot of the Benedictines in Einsiedeln, and Bishop Denis Theurillat, the President of Christians Together Switzerland,. Everyone present was deeply touched and enriched by the prayer which crossed confessional boundaries.
The synergy of academic theology and the Church as well as the synergy of faith and society were viewed as valuable and necessary for a joint future by all keynote speakers. Due to its focus on synergy, this conference may become a trendsetter for the future of theology and the Church – and may indeed be understood as a sign of the Spirit.
We were delighted by the broad coverage the conference received in the Swiss media. Reports appeared in many forums, including the Evangelical Idea Spektrum, the Catholic Cath.ch and the renowned Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger.
Ecumenical Worship Service
"This is the church of the future", said the former provost of the cathedral in Fribourg enthusiastically after the common prayer for the Holy Spirit at the ecumenical prayer service. This evening gave a preview of how the unity of the Church in diversity could be lived in the future. Worship and silence carried, readings, thanksgiving and intercession, in the sense of an ecumenism of prayer. Catholics and Reformed, Free Churchers and Orthodox gathered in worship and prayed together for the coming of the Spirit, for God's presence in the diversity of his gifts. With more than 800 worship participants, the church was overflowing.