Focal points for Protestant education in Europe

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Focal points for Protestant education in Europe

Conference with actual subtitle „How Protestant Churches can contribute towards a European Civil Society“ was held from 26 to 28 October, 2015, at Tutzing Academy. Organisation grown form cooperation between The Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Bayern and „bildung evangelisch in Europa“ (beE). The aim of the conference was to provide a place where education experts and managers from the Protestant churches in Europe could share their experiences, ideas and form networks and based on them they may express common interests and develop perspectives for educational activities in Europe.

More than fifty participants and around thirty speakers and organizers we welcomed at beautiful Tutzing Academy (near München). Official program was provided in meeting room. The seats were formed into a round so as people could see each other’s face, main language of the conference was German and simultaneous interpretation into English was insure. Open speech was given by President of Evangelische Akademie Tutzing Udo Hahn and President of CPCE Dr. Klára Tarr Cselovszky. Then thru technic „market place“ participants had a pace to discuss specific topics and got to know other participants a little bit better. The evening speech was lead by Professor of practical theology Dr. Thomas Schlag from University of Zürich. He opened questions about role and responsibility churches in Europe educational system into his contribution named „Focal points and perspectives of common educational action in the Protestant churches in Europe“. Pointed that the way how we know our history is based on interpretation and paraphrased thought about identity from Julia Kristeva and thoughts about needs to support positive talents of people and support living together as humans from „Orbis pictus“ by Jan Amos Komenský. He highlighted that to be a Protestant means to think about education holistically in terms of humanity and dignity. And at the end of the lesson he mentioned words from Pope Francis where he says that „way of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures, so that they can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world, rather than for self-preservation“1. So, how to give spiritual soul to the Europe? The way is sometimes getting out of our comfort zone – he finished and informal talks continued in small groups.

Second day of the conference began in the castle´s chapel where a short morning service was held. Consultations focused on four topics and each of them had someone who was giving impulse presentation, someone who responded and one moderator. First focus was on Protestant school. Moderator Dr. Gerhard Pfeiffer emphasized that we have to create specific surroundings for education which have to include hope and witness in us. He saw principle in building democracy and understandable offering good protestants specific. Impulse presentation got Rev. Dr. Eszter Kordácsy-Simon from Hungary. She is head of the expert group for religious education of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church and member of European Forum for Teachers of Religious Education. She reminded that the question how to bring in religious education into schools is gone. Now we are in situation to explain why bring in religious education into schools – we have to explain why it has the purpose. She presented Lutheran´s concept of duty and summarized that church isn´t responsible for parents duty (which they often delegate into state or church), but that church is appointed as a watchman (Ezekiel 3:17) who can watch over self-criticism, honesty, courage, humility etc. We don´t have to fight with secularisms for example but the way is to build community around school (students, teachers, parents), around local church and around Church. Good community is connected into world. In school in Hungary they have to teach by the same curriculum, most often is class with 1/3 Lutheran, 1/3 children from other denominations and 1/3 unbelievers. The Christian teacher could influence class by informal curriculum – through values and behaviour which children can see. She appealed for developing conscience and responsibility in children. This was followed by response of Oberkirchenrätin Brigit Sendler-Koschel head of the Department for Education of the EKD from Germany. She admitted that Europe is much more influenced by secularization process than for example United States of America or African states. East Germany wanted in nineties help with building protestant schools but now is the situation more about ceremonies, concrete people and living faith. She described situation in neighbourhood states as Italy (about 20% foreigners and schools not specialized due according to denomination but according to needs concrete people there) and United Kingdom (effort to ecumenical dialog).

Second focus was into voluntary service between church-internal training and commitment in civil society. Impulse for this part gave Professor Diakonhjemmet University College Dr. Stephanie Dietrich from Norway. She explained actual situation in her country with refugees and pointed out that volunteer in this time and in wide meaning is everyone who is baptized. Followed by response from Professor of Protestant Theological Faculty Dr. Stefan Cosoroabă from Romania. Vocation, school education and long life learning he saw as main factors for voluntary service. As volunteers we need to know our motivation for a service (Christianity) and our limits to avoid a burnout syndrome, which threats. Question was, how to do voluntary service as a professional? And answer wasn´t said, but encouragement, that „Nobody can do everything, but each of us can do something“.

Interim comments were made by the director of studies „bildung evangelisch in Europa“ Dr. Jürgen Belz from Germany. He prepared for this conference reading papers which shows Europeans situation and brings Protestant opinions for it. He pointed out that „education has been a key aspect of the Protestant Church´s identity ever since the Reformation“2 and now we need to reflect our pedagogy and education work adequately to decision-making processes in churches´ leadership. You can read more in the Appendix.

Religious education in local churches in the face of discontinued traditions and a new religious diversity was the third focus. Professor Facoltà Valdese Dr. Fulvio Ferrario from Italy introduced situation in his area. Socialization refugees from other countries (mostly from Africa) are open process. It could happen, he said, that 70% of people in service are African all service could adapt liturgy for need all. Evangelization has support into adult catechism (they are naturally motivated) and support from local politics (matters on context and discussion) and that education could be carry on for example in confirmation and biblical classes. Response in this focus had a member of the managing team of the regional group South East Europe of the CPCE reverend Pál Erdélyi from Slovakia. He explained the situation into Hungarian minority in Slovakia and asked questions about how and when people with spiritual needs are looking for us, and how and when we are active and search for them. Short moderated discussion was after this topic which leads Barbara Easton. There was some tension between interaction and tradition. Some impulse could be to have more pedagogical competences, clear main Christianity topics (as resurrection) out, learn more about each other, share experiences and so on.

Fourth focus was on Society related education by example of the Protestant Academies. Moderator Dr. Jeannette Behringer member of Department for Society & Ethics of the Reformed Church, from Switzerland open questions about importance to have a nonformal area for adult education. We have reflect why people to our program came (what is the their interest) and try to find out why others didn´t. Impulse presentation open member of Ecumenical Association of Academies and Laity Centers OIKOSNET, Dr. Hermann Düringer from Germany. He asked „Why is education so important for Protestants?“ and answered 1) each of us is responsible for his/her faith, 2) reflection of faith is about learning and improving things (not about pain but joy). He saw inadequate place for discussion between Churches and society and this question opened to place were CPCE could work. Response to this focus had president of Protestant and Anglican Network for life-long learning in Europe, Joachim Stöver from Germany. People are bringing their needs, their topics and we have to react on these, he said. Our role could be to help people better understand and oriented their selves into word. He saw an importance to be connected as Churches, share and build networks together for adult education. Discussion was after this topic as well and let´s mention at least one voice from federal manager of Deutsche Evangelische Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Erwachsenenbildung Andreas Seiverth who´s recalled that adult education is not organized from inputs of politics but it is task for Church as a whole communion because in this lead the way into future.

Questions for discussion

  1. Which societal issues be addressed from church driven institution mentioned above? (Which kind of processes may help for decision making?)

  2. Where is the place for protestant institutions concerning societal issues between politics, civil society and other religious communities?

  3. How can the work of adult education evolve within the Framework of CPCE in the future?

  4. How can european cooperation of churches concerning education be supported?

Closing speech for Tuesdays conference time had Dr. Jürgen Belz. He opened question about perspectives in education and asked 1) what church education want?, and answered a) we want back to the reformation thoughts, b) back into Bible, that means the importance of Christian and Jewish background, the fact that Jesus Christ became a human, gives us The Greatest Commandment, and we could share hope, responsibility, humanity etc. The aim of adult education is be here for each of people, accepted people with different handicaps. He described three levels in which we can work and it is 1) region context of education, 2) theological and pedagogical reassurance, 3) European context of options in education. And he encouraged for discussion about misunderstanding topics also because it makes as stable and we could better look in the same direction.

Wednesday was the last day of conference. After morning prayer in castle´s chapel had been discussion about topic of transformation processes in Europe education. Professor and director of the German Institute for Adult Education Dr. Dr. Ekkehard Nuissl von Rein from Germany opened this focus. He recalled that life-long learning thought was grown from open common market need. He pointed out differences in curriculum in Europe and Bologna Process at the same time. European Union wants to have register of competence and also develop consequences these competences and their possible cooperation in Europe. Now we have for example European Qualification Framework, Accreditation of prior and experiential learning etc. Response into transformation processes said Bishop and secretary general of the CPCE Dr. Michael Bünker from Austria. Reminded that in Europe live 25.000.000 Protestants and more then half lives in Germany. It is important to know how is Protestantism living abroad our country and make the best from plurality, competences and organisation. For example CPCE has project „Migration and Church fellowship“ which learn about Christian life and tradition because it is not possible to just transplant someone into our background without learning and living the context of both subjects. He brings back the challenge to be more active in decision making process with our politic as it was usual in the past. We could learn holistic oriented attitude to personalities from Austria. European union is future plan based on Lisbon low and diversity, so let´s use diversity fruitfully and promotion unification rather that uniformity.

Future perspectives; prospect instead of retrospect: issues, fields of action, networks were topics for Round table discussion with Oberkirchenrat Michael Martin and Dr. Klára Tarr Cselovszky and other participants. Idea of involvement into decision making process was supported and recognition to not only money are important but even political effect is needed for Churches work and education. There were discussing „the missing generation“ in Churches and statement that it could be because European union is focusing on working place while we are losing public education. Some opinions said that CPCE should open place for communication on different levels and the concept and motivation have to be transparently seen. Participant support the idea improving cooperation with politic (information and cooperation). And the idea that we all are volunteers and have to behave in freedom not in pressure, be responsible for good functioning education. Church is more than organization, is our home and we have to listen more than speak and be humble and reflect our doing. Education is more that knowledge, it is experience, human competencies, soft skills and making people able to speak. At the end was discussion about continuing after Tutzing conference. CPCE is good place for creating project so let´s develop more activities for education topic and give direction for it. We have to find specific projects and finances for it. Connect other countries not only Germany into cooperation and people who are responsible for this areas.

All conference was organized in atmosphere of symmetric relationships. Time for discussions, lessons and place for individual sharing where balanced and comfortable for participants. I am very glad that I could be part of it. It is not an exhaustive description from my side but I hope you get an idea about what we experienced.

Thanks very much to organizers and let´s Gods work continue..


2 Dr. Jürgen Belz, Readr papers, 3rd page

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