THE European Union has been “the greatest dream realised for human beings since the fall of the Western Roman Empire”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Sunday.
In an address delivered to the General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) in Serbia, he described how it had “brought peace, prosperity, compassion for the poor and weak, purpose for the aspirational, and hope for all its people”.
While offering reassurance that Brexit would not “bring about the downfall of Europe”, he cautioned against complacency: “The fact that Christianity survived in Europe does not indicate that it is indestructible, but that God protects the Church that he created and loves.” The Church must “speak truth to the societies that it sees around it, and act in a way that is consistent with the truth it speaks”.
Brexit was just one of a series of challenges outlined by the Conference president, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, a former Bishop of Guildford, in a report that diagnosed disenchantment with “the idea of Europe”.
“Some analysis of this emerging disenchantment is called for before the Churches can effectively contribute to a wider vision to counteract neo-nationalisms and populist politics,” he suggested. He drew attention to the financial crisis in Greece, and to the “inadequate support” offered to countries on the frontline of migration.
“Then there is the rise of Euroscepticism, the flames of which are fanned by ‘scare stories’ about migration and refugees, most dramatically in the UK (especially England) but also elsewhere.”
It was “precisely this crisis of identity” that the Assembly sought to address: “How do we witness in Europe today; how do we witness to economic justice; how do we witness to the hospitality of God?”
The theme of the conference, held this year in Novi Sad and attended by 500 church representatives, was: “You shall be my witnesses — exploring the Christian values of justice, witness and hospitality”.
Writing for Church Times in the wake of the referendum, Bishop Hill called for “penitential analysis”, but suggested that concerned Christians “do not have the vocation or the luxury of simply wringing our hands. We have now to make the best Brexit we are able (Comment, 26 May, 2017).
In his address, Archbishop Welby suggested that Churches should counteract “fear of the other” by “demonstrating the hospitality, the humility, the service, and the love in a disciplined and virtuous life”.
Brexit was “only one of a number of challenges that Europe is facing, and may well not be the most serious”, he said. “A Church that is confident in Christ, that hears the call of the Holy Spirit of God to presence and engagement across Europe, and that lives in the virtues of service, humility, and hospitality, will be a Church whose presence is assured, and whose witness challenges human beings to higher standards of behaviour and calls them to faith in Christ — faith that is the route to salvation.”
Europe was “not in danger of falling”, he said. “There is no sense in which I suggest that Brexit or other crises currently around will derail the European Union or bring about the downfall of Europe.”
In 2016, the Archbishop voted in favour of remaining in the EU. He has expressed concern that Brexit may become “a catalyst of British introspection, xenophobia, and self-pity” (News, 2 March). But he has also criticised the EU, citing “centralisation, corruption, and bureaucracy”, and describing Greece as “the biggest debtors’ prison in European history” (News, 26 December 2016).
The CEC is a fellowship of 116 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, and Old Catholic Churches from across Europe, and has recently relocated its offices to Brussels. Writing before the Assembly, the moderator of the planning committee, Canon Leslie Nathaniel, Chaplain of St Thomas Becket’s, Hamburg, sought to draw attention to the Conference’s success in lobbying the EU, including a guarantee of “the exclusive competence of member states for determining the legal framework for state-church-relations”.
A unified body was vital, he argued: “If CEC did not exist, it would have to be invented, since Churches will need to be in ecumenical dialogue and speak with a united voice in order to shape European policies and legislation.”
Read more in UK news in brief