The Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) took place from 15-20 June in Tallinn, Estonia. Lydia Funck was there as an observer for Church and Peace (one of CEC’s Organisations in Partnership).

On the theme “Under God’s Blessing – Shaping the Future”, CEC invited delegates and guests from all over Europe to the Assembly. In common prayer, discussions and keynote speeches, not only from church-related backgrounds, various aspects of the role the churches can and must play in a future Europe were reflected upon. “The ecumenical vision that began after a world of division and conflict is as important today as ever,” the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I emphasised in his address. As an ecumenical task in a future Europe, he summed up: “We should hope for and work for a civil society in Europe in which the common good transcends all borders. We should work towards a Europe in which Christians – and all people of good will – strive for justice and welcome the stranger.”

Belarusian opposition leader stresses nonviolence

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, opposition leader in Belarus, spoke on “What can churches offer in European society?” As a leader of a nonviolent, women-led revolution for democracy in 2020, she stressed “love as a healing force for peace against toxic violence” and “prayer and faith as weapons against state violence”. Despite the complete suppression of the revolution by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Belarusians have not lost their faith and conviction in justice, law, morality and conscience. Opposition comes with extreme personal risks, and even church leaders are not spared from this. This for her is proof that dictatorship is afraid of people standing in their faith.

Nonviolence, she clearly stated, is still valid today, as the war cannot be won without peace. Victory, she said, needs to be a political and moral, i.e. nonviolent, one. She called churches to stick to, teach and witness to their core values and tasks: healing wounds, brotherly (& sisterly) love and nonviolence.

Hearings on Ukraine: “We are running out of spiritual resources”

In two hearings on the war in Ukraine with representatives of the churches and young people (from Ukraine and Belarus), discussants shared their perspectives on the role of churches in transforming violence and shaping a post-war society. In the presentations and hearings, which are available online and can be read in part (, the wish for an end to the war and peace was expressed very often, as expected with the wish for the military victory of Ukraine, but in surprisingly many places the necessity of nonviolence was also emphasised again and again.

A contribution by Bishop Sándor Zán Fábián of the Reformed Churches in Transcarpathia (Western Ukraine), a minority church with roots in Hungary, stuck with me, looking at the war from a different perspective. He said: “We are running out of resources! But I don’t mean material goods, I mean spiritual resources.” “I am convinced that peace can only come from love and reconciliation based on mutual respect for human dignity and human rights.”His address in German is available on YouTube from minute 19:40:

Pathways to Peace

CEC’s Pathways to Peace Initiative (P2P) was also presented and discussed during the Assembly. The initiative began in autumn 2022 with a series of consultations with experts from Ukraine and the wider region, as well as with CEC member churches, and is now in the process of developing ideas for concrete activities and projects. It aims to bring together and make visible the commitment of churches in Europe to peace and reconciliation in Ukraine. The aim of P2P is to strengthen the response of European churches to the war on Ukraine through synergies between churches and relevant partners.

“The assembly condemns unequivocally Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and the devastation of life, territory and international relationships – the violent breakdown of the post-war settlement in which the rule of law was paramount. The assembly heard powerful witness by those directly affected and a strong appeal for prayer and practical accompaniment into the future,” the Assembly message states.The P2P initiative is intended to continue and build on the Assembly’s approach of bringing together church leaders and other Christians from Ukraine and the region and providing opportunities for honest ecumenical exchange.

Public statements and new CEC leadership

Statements were drafted by the Public Issues Committee on three recurring themes at the Assembly: The war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, migration and deaths at European borders.

At this Assembly, the Conference of European Churches elected a new leadership: H.E. Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as President, and the Rt Rev Dr Dagmar Winter (Anglican Church) and Rev Frank Kopania (Evangelical Church in Germany) as Vice-Presidents.

Church and Peace General Secretary Lydia Funck (third from right) with participants from other organisations in partnership with the Conference of European Churches at the Assembly in Tallinn, Estonia, in June 2023.

Participants of the 2023 Assembly of the Conference of European Churches

Bishop Zán Fábián of the Reformed Churches in Transcarpathia (Western Ukraine) at the hearing on Ukraine.