20 years of Together for Europe
By Conleth Burns.
Christian Churches and Movements unite to be ‘Together4Europe’
Earlier last month, I had the chance to travel to Ottmaring and Augsburg in Southern Germany to attend a 3-day meeting of a network of Christian Churches and Movements called Together4Europe. 180 people from 55 different movements, communities and churches shared three days together. Everything simultaneously translated in 5 languages as the network celebrated its 20th birthday. I represented the United World Project and was there to try and understand how faith communities are really working together for unity and for uniting the continent of Europe.
We listened to presentations about the 20-year journey where a group of people from across the continent of Europe came together, in their shared Christian identity, to be together for the whole continent. We crisscrossed the continent with experiences of encounter, prayer and hope being shared from Scotland to Ukraine, from France to the Czech Republic. Over those days, as we travelled around the continent, I toyed with two main question; what does togetherness actually look like? What does it mean to be together ‘for something’?
What does togetherness look like?
I learned about togetherness; when I heard them challenge each other to be living border crossers, ambassadors for reconciliation, and “prophetic signs for credible togetherness in Europe”.
I learned about togetherness; when we gathered in a square in Augsburg and held candles and said prayers for a more united people of Europe.
I learned about togetherness; when we listened to a diverse group of Christians talk about a journey, they had travelled over 20 years bringing together thousands of people.
I learned about togetherness; when each day at breakfast, lunch and dinner, as every new person sat down to eat, someone would check first if they needed translation, or what language was best to use at the table. People there wanted people to be able to understand and be understood, to hear and be heard.
Togetherness for this network is about embracing the diversity between them. Togetherness for them is not always easy; the challenges are geographical, theological and cultural. Yet, 20 years on, this network remains together. For them, their structure is one of network, not hierarchy. Theirs is a real togetherness, one curated over 20 years. 20 years of honest and hard-working relationship building.
The mission of Together4Europe is not only to be together for the sake of it, they really want to be positive messengers for a more united Europe in all its diversity. They aim to give a soul to the continent; they emphasise its historically Christian roots. Over the days, they principally told the story of their meetings together over the last 20 years. The untold story is often the most interesting one. Over lunch or coffee, you’d learn about the moments where people attending Together4Europe had been inspired to encounter new people, embrace new ideas and reconcile diversity as a result of the meetings. In some ways, Together4Europe begins when you leave one of the intra-continental or national meetings.
Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel Laurate, finishes a famous poem of his ‘Scaffolding’ with the following line:
We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
Together4Europe is about building bridges, not walls. As the 20-year-old scaffolding is dismantled, this network can be sure that bridges have been built, people have been connected, and they are going to continue.