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Porvoo Communion Theological Conference

Archbishop Michael Jackson and several other participants from the Church of Ireland recently participated in the Porvoo Communion Theological Conference, ‘A Vision for Communion’, which took place on 8th October with a Meeting of the Porvoo Contact Group on the next day.

The following report was issued after the conference.  The Porvoo Communion is a communion of Anglican and Lutheran Churches in Europe.  More information on its work and fellowship is available at www.porvoocommunion.org

Participants in the Porvoo Communion Theological Conference, ‘A Vision for Communion'.
Participants in the Porvoo Communion Theological Conference, ‘A Vision for Communion'.

Representatives of the Churches of the Porvoo Communion participated in an on–line theological conference on Thursday 8th October. The Porvoo Contact Group then met on–line meeting the next day.

The theological conference, with the title ‘A Vision for Communion’, was originally planned to take place at Sigtuna, Sweden, but it was agreed in the summer to make it an on–line event because of the continuing Covid–19 pandemic. Participants joined from four different time zones across Europe, while one early riser from the USA also joined. It was divided into four sessions, combining two presentations in each session with group discussions and plenary feedback.

‘A Vision for Communion’ looked back to the theological vision behind the signing of the Porvoo Declaration in 1996, reviewed how that vision had been lived out subsequently in the Porvoo Communion of Churches, and considered current challenges and resources for addressing them.

The Revd Dr Tiit Pädam (Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church) and Dame Mary Tanner (Church of England) offered reflections on the original vision for the Porvoo Communion, from the perspective of those who had been involved in laying its foundations. The lack of specification in the Porvoo Declaration on structures to embody the new relation of communion was noted: was this a weakness or a creative opportunity? While there were differences in thinking about ‘models’ of unity among those who drafted the Common Statement and Declaration, they had been able to come together in outlining a ‘portrait’ of the church’s unity that was recognizable to all. Breakthroughs in understanding had been possible because of the level of friendship and trust. A key dimension of the ‘portrait’ had been the integral relation between unity and mission. Conference participants were challenged on how the Porvoo Communion so far had contributed to fruitfulness in mission on the part of its member churches.

The next session focused on Porvoo as a living communion of churches since 1996. The Revd Anne Burghardt (Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church) explored the terminology of ‘full communion’ and ‘visible communion’. She emphasized the exchange of gifts between churches as indispensable for a living communion, giving examples of how belonging to the Porvoo Communion had contributed to change and growth in her church in Estonia and encouraging other participants to consider what they might be able to say about their churches in this regard. Pater Fredrik Emanuelson OMI (Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockholm) drew on Roman Catholic sources to indicate ways in which the theology of church as communion could be deepened and renewed. He affirmed the relationship between mission and unity as expressed for instance in the Catechism, and also the need for continual conversion, individual, ecclesial, and ecumenical, in seeking for the unity of the church to be made visible, noting this included the ‘purification of memory’ (in the phrase of Pope John Paul II) in reflecting on our histories.

Emerging challenges for the Communion were highlighted in the third session. The Revd Dr Paddy McGlinchey (Church of Ireland) identified the importance of holding together ‘vertical’ with ‘horizontal’ dimensions when responding to our situation, urging shared confidence in what C. S. Lewis called ‘mere Christianity’ as the best basis for this. He also highlighted the challenges of diversity, including the growing presence in Western Europe of Christians formed in other cultural contexts, and suggested that a focus on beauty might be fruitful in seeking to share the gospel with younger generations. Dr Henrietta Grönlund (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland) argued that both church and society are increasingly affected by ‘planetary urbanization’ that enables unprecedented levels of global connectedness, while also being associated with the power of global markets, social inequality, polarization, and the climate crisis. While she proposed that this situation highlighted the importance of the church’s message of justice, hope, meaning, and communion, she also acknowledged that various factors, including a pronounced individualism, had created a loss of religious memory that meant the church struggled to be heard and understood. An essential element of the response, she said, would need to be the weaving together of theological reflection with practical action and advocacy for justice.

In the final session, the Co–Chairs of the Porvoo Contact Group, Archbishop Michael Jackson and Bishop Matti Repo, led the participants in some reflection on what kind of proposals for the future of the Porvoo Communion might emerge from the theological thinking in which they had participated together. Themes that emerged from the discussion included:

– The continuing value of the rich ecclesiological vision underpinning the Porvoo Common Statement, and the need to keep filling in the ‘portrait’ of visible unity that it sketched out in such a way that the likeness of Christ is evident

– The possibility of developing further the structures or ‘instruments of communion’ that embody and enable the living out of the Commitments in the Porvoo Declaration

– The value of the image and of concrete practices of shared pilgrimage

– The place of diversity, difference, and disagreement within the communion of churches

– The need to find ways to engage a younger generation with the lived reality of the Porvoo Communion of Churches, including lay people, theologians and those preparing for ordained ministries

– The possibilities offered by on–line communication for addressing many of these points and extending and deepening relations between our churches.

The conference ended with an evening prayer where the Revd Jenny Sjögreen shared an experience of a new way of meeting each other in the era of Covid–19. She showed a picture of a gathering for children and adults in the Cathedral in Strängnäs where the exchange of gazes deepens encounter despite physical distance.

Participants

Church of England

Revd Canon Dr Jeremy Worthen

Revd Canon Dr Julie Gittoes

Revd Dr Anderson Jeremiah

Dame Mary Tanner

Revd Dr Callan Slipper

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

Rt Revd Dr Matti Repo

Professor Henrietta Grönlund

Revd Saara–Maria Jurva

Revd Dr Tomi Karttunen

Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Worldwide

Most Revd Lauma Zusevica

Revd Karlis Zols

Revd Zilgme Eglite

Church of Norway

Revd Einar Tjelle

Dr Sven Thore Kloster

Revd April M. Almaas

Very Revd Dr Gudmund Waaler

Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Revd Dr Tauno Teder

Revd Dr Tiit Pädam

Revd Anne Burghardt

Church of Sweden

Rt Revd Dr Johan Dalman

Revd Dr Erik Berggren

Revd Jenny Sjögreen

Revd Emma Jansson

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark

Revd Rikke Juul

Very Revd Thomas Reinholdt Rasmussen

Rev Dr Thorsten Rørbæk

Signe Randorff Larsen

Church of Ireland

Revd Suzanne Cousins

Canon Gillian Wharton

Revd Canon Helene Steed

Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson

Church in Wales

Revd Canon Dr Mark Clavier

Revd Maggie Thorne

Revd Dr Ainsley Griffiths

Angela Clarke 

Lutheran Church in Great Britain

Rt Revd Tor B Jørgensen

Scottish Episcopal Church

Ms Miriam Weibye

Rev Canon John McLuckie

Lusitanian Church

Rt Revd Jorge Pina Cabral

Revd Sérgio Alves

Revd Abilene Fischer

Dr António Manuel Silva

Spanish Episcopal Church

Revd Dr Juan María Tellería

Revd Dr Duane Alexander Miller

Rt Revd Dr Carlos López Lozano

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland

Revd Dr Sigurdur Arni Thordarson

Rev. Bjarni Thor Bjarnason

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania

No participants in the conference

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia

Revd Ainars Rendors

Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland

Rt Revd Prof Marcin Hintz 

Speakers (not part of other delegations)

OMI, Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockholm

Pater Fredrik Emanuelson

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

Revd Dr Patrick McGlinchey