On the way to Sibiu

“For us as Protestants, it is vital to participate in the public community.” With sentences like these, the theologian Adrian Schleifenbaum from Giessen opened the second Digital Academy of the Forum Young Theology in Europe. Only by participating in church and other social networks Protestants can share what they have, learn new things, celebrate life and ultimately put their theological insights into practice.

Volkmar Ortmann also says: “Participation is part of the DNA of Protestantism”. He is the head of the Forum Young Theology in Europe and the Digital Academy – seven digital lectures that took place from November to February under the theme of “Participation and Protestantism”. Ortmann is a private lecturer at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen and a member of the board of the Protestant League of Hesse. Every fortnight, 20 mainly young theologians from different European countries and churches met via Zoom vor the digital lectures.

What participation can mean

Following the lecture of theologian Adrian Schleifenbaum, the Young Church Giessen presented how participation as a characteristic of Protestant church life can be experienced in specific contexts of everyday life in society and congregation.. According to this, lively congregational life proves to be a formative participation in the life of people in the immediate social environment. Theologian Elfriede Dörr from Sibiu (a city also known under its Transsylvanian name Hermannstadt), explained that this participation also includes responsibility for nature, i.e. care for plants and animals.

Participation can also mean that the church acts as a lobbyist for those who are otherwise easily overlooked in everyday political and social life. Anne-Sophie Wislocki is referring to people in poverty or with disabilities. She works at Eurodiaconia, the European umbrella organisation of diaconal agencies in Brussels. How queer people can be drawn into church work areas as well as church and social life, and how tense the struggle for their participation often is, was discussed by Thorsten Dietz, who teaches as a university lecturer in Marburg and Zurich, and pastor Irène Schwyn from Zug.

Diaspora and peace ethics

These controversial, sometimes seemingly contradictory points of view can be brought together well on a theologically determined point: that of the diaspora, said the Austrian pastor Marcus Hütter. He sees church not only as a place or as a clearly defined group, even under certain circumstances in the situation of a minority. For Hütter, the church, even if it is not small in numbers, is always scattered in society, interspersed in the respective living and working conditions of the individual believers. This is a great opportunity and task.

How the topic of “Participation and Protestantism” can be presented specifically using the example of a Christian peace ethic was the topic of the last lecture of the Digital Academy, where the private lecturer Christine Schliesser and the theologian Dieter Baumann, who is also a member of the general staff of the Swiss army, discussed the question using the example of the current war in Ukraine. According to Baumann, there is no such thing as a just war, but there are legitimate reasons. Therefore, it is necessary to refute the arguments that present the war as just or even religiously legitimised.

Participants of the Forum Young Theology in Europe will meet in Sibiu/Hermannstadt,  from 12 to 15 April.

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