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Three decades of action

01 March 2013

John Arnold considers the achievements of a forum for women


Sound of silence: Girl Interrupted at Her Music, c.1658-59, by Johannes Vermeer, from Vermeer's Women: Secrets and silenceby Marjorie E. Wiesemann, with contributions by H. Perry Chapman and Wayne E. Franits (Yale, £20(£18); 978-0-300-17899-9)

Sound of silence: Girl Interrupted at Her Music, c.1658-59, by Johannes Vermeer, from Vermeer's Women: Secrets and silenceby Marjorie E. Wiesemann, ...

Three Generations - with Energy and Vision: 30 years Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women 1982-2012
Cornelia Göksu, Martina Heinrichs, and Gabriele Kienesberger, editors Sheila Brain and Jill King, translators
Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women £7 (incl. p&p)

BY 1990, ecumenists like me realised that we had made a bad mis-take in assuming that the end of the Cold War would lead to a golden age of Christian unity. Exactly the opposite happened. The leaders of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches fell out; old ethnic and religious animosities re-emerged from under the sea of Communist misery; and hot war returned to Europe.

In conflict situations, women suffer most: they are also the first to pick up the pieces and clear up the mess made by men. So it was in the Balkans - one example among many of the pioneering work of women of faith in, for example, reconciliation, interfaith dialogue, the environment, and opposition to trafficking.

The story goes back to the struggle to have their willingness and ability to contribute fully to the life of the Churches recognised in the 1960s. We are painfully reminded how recent are attitudes in Christendom which we now condemn in Islam. Women have consistently supported the Churches more than the Churches have supported women.

The pioneers were mostly Protestant, Germanic, and Western European; but the focus has shifted to the East and South-East, and to Roman Catholic and Orthodox women, who speak of the importance of seeing the possibilities of a different life, sometimes through study abroad, but more often simply through friendship and fellowship, and the opportunities for consul- tation and action afforded by the Forum, founded in 1982. It was given that name precisely because men feared that any other word, such as "committee" or "council", might imply that it actually had any authority.

Luke tells us that Jesus was 30 years old when he began his work. Let us hope that, for his female followers in Europe, the best is yet to come.

The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is a former President of the European Conference of Churches.

*This title can be obtained from Mrs Dorothy Knights, 192 Brook Farm Drive, Malvern, WR14 3SL.

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