Meissen Commission in Brussels – A sobering but enlightening experience

The Meissen Commission (a joint Anglican-German Protestant ecumenical group) departed from its normal practice of alternating meetings in England and Germany to pay a visit to Brussels earlier this week. The delegation was jointly led by the Anglican Bishop of Huddersfield, Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs, and the German Protestant Bishop of Hannover, Rt Revd Ralf Meister. Delegates had particularly asked to learn more about Brexit and the future of Europe from EU experts. The visit was hosted in the EU Representation Office of the German Protestant Church. I had been invited to attend, but sent my Attaché instead due to a dates clash with the Governing Council of the World Council of Churches in Geneva of which I am a member.

The visit started with a Sunday evening visit to the German Protestant parish in Brussels to see the church building and discuss their situation with the Pastor and Church Council representatives. On Monday there was a full day of presentations. This included extended Q&As and debate from officials representing both jurisdictions in Ireland, the European Council Brexit Task Force, the European Commission Strategy Centre and a leading Brussels think tank. In the evening the delegation met with the EU representatives of ecumenical bodies and the Roman Catholic Church. Finally, on Tuesday morning there was an exchange with a representative of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee and the official responsible for the European Commission dialogue process with churches and other religions and philosophical associations.

Delegates greatly appreciated the chance to meet so many people with inside knowledge of the EU structures and decision-making processes. They found the reality-check with the actual state of play in both Brexit negotiations and planning for the future of the EU post-Brexit sobering but challenging towards a renewed commitment to promote reconciliation and mutual understanding between the peoples and nations of Europe.

An agreed communiqué was issued at the close of the visit by Bishop Jonathan Gibbs:

“Representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Church of England met in Brussels from 17th to 19th June 2018 to consider issues relating to our shared future in Europe, particularly in the light of Brexit. We are most grateful for the excellent and informative high level contributions that we received from members of the European Commission, Council and Parliament, as well as from ecumenical colleagues in Brussels.

Their presentations and the discussions in which we took part highlighted for us the seriousness of the situation we are all facing, and our experience led us to reflect deeply on our responsibility for shaping our common future. We commit ourselves to working in Christian hope for the welfare and reconciliation of all peoples, whatever may happen regarding Brexit in the months ahead.”

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