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February 2021: recent events, news, and developments at the European Forum
 
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Dear Members, Friends and Supporters,


It's been a long time since our last edition... but the European Forum newsletter is back!

The last 12 months were not easy for us either, but we adapted to the pandemic and found ways to connect virtually. Read on for reports from some of our activities in the last few months as well as information about our plans for this spring, including our next Annual Conference in May which will take place online.

Thank you for your support. As always, you can like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more regular updates. 

Blessings, and in solidarity,
The EuroForum team
In this edition
  • Mark your calendars for the European Forum's Annual Conference 2021
  • Reports about the Forum's online events from the last several months
  • Analysis of the Synodal Path in the German Catholic Church
  • Sneak peek at an exciting new project coming soon

European Forum 40th Annual Conference: Strong Voices
 
May is coming closer: the Annual Conference will take place online on 6-9 May 2021. The preparation team is very busy building an attractive programme for you. You can find the overview on the European Forum's website. Please mark your calendars, but registration is not open yet. As soon as it opens we will inform you through the e-mail groups and the Forum website.

Pre-conferences
There will be space for pre-conferences on Sunday 2 May 2021. The preparation team will facilitate these pre-conferences, but not organise them. What we already have on offer:
  • a women's pre-conference for which a team has been formed
  • a Roman Catholic pre-conference organised by Michael Brinkschröder
There are of course much more possiblities as we have had in the past (men, trans/queer, youth). If there are people who want to organise any other pre-conference, please feel free to do that and let us know! It doesn't need to take the whole day, you can have a short zoom meeting or anything else you would like.

Then about the costs. To cover the costs we will need an average contribution of €25. If this is too much for you and/or you would apply for support from the Agapè Fund for an 'in real life' conference, you can pay less. Decide for yourself what you can afford. For everyone who is in a position to pay more, please do so! In case we receive more money than we need, we will save the surplus for the conference of 2023, that hopefully will take place in the wonderful location in Venlo that we booked for 2021 before the pandemic started.

Hope to see you you all online in May!
- the Dutch Preparation Team

A Look Back on the 39th European Forum – The Online Event

 
As many of you know, last October we had the first online annual meeting of the European Forum. It was a forced solution by the pandemic - and also an exciting challenge for us, the organisers. We tried to implement as much as possible of the usual programme parts, so we also had pre-conferences and morning prayers, not just the main programme. But the schedule had to be varied.
* * *
I can still sharply recall the excitement I felt, it was the first time for us organizing this conference and something new had to be accomplished right away. We cancelled the accommodation and the venues. The most painful was to accept that the participants cannot visit Budapest and the church where the worship was planned. On the other side there were many cheerful moments caused by the new situation, e.g. working in a great team where I felt the support of all members; or seeing the Forum people via Zoom instead of not seeing anyone because of the pandemic; and connecting in a virtual space like praying together in the morning (while I was sitting on a bus going to my workplace) and many-many, a little bit strange but still wonderful moments.
* * *
I think the European Forum has successfully adapted to the new situation and resumed its normal life virtually, not only the annual conference but also the AGM and the “Eastern” Forum took place. Thank you for everyone who contributed to the work on these. I am looking forward to the next online conference in May and hope that in 2022 we will be allowed to do personal gatherings.
- Anita, head of the Hungarian Prep Team
Letting Our Voices be Heard
 
               We each have a story to tell! Our stories are still unfolding, made up of joy and hurt, disappointments, achievements, courage, failure, activism, love, friendship, and whatever else our lives consist of. As queer people, we also have a story to tell as communities, about struggles we have faced, victories, fear, pride events, celebrations, ministry, etc. Each of our stories is unique, but we also share common experiences, and often we share similar dreams about equality and justice.
               At the Forum in Stockholm in 2004, Randi Solberg (editor) presented the book “Let Our Voices be Heard: Christian Lesbians in Europe telling their stories”. Finally, the Forum had their first collection of stories, and as times went on, we have continued to share our stories. We do it sometimes to make sense of our own lives, at other times to ask for support, empowerment, or just to have someone listen to us. We share our stories to inspire, teach, support, and build each other up through sharing our experiences. Now and then, we tell our stories to teach others about queer life, and we use our stories as one important venue to change and transform churches and faith organizations.
               In December 2020, the Forum invited us to “Meet the Authors,” giving three Forum people who have recently published books, a chance to talk about what they have written, and we were invited to listen, discuss, and reflect together with them on the topics they raised. The books were different: one was a collection of blog posts, another was about meditation and a spiritual journey, and the two final books were on issues for bisexual Christians in Europe, and about the damage the church has caused, and keeps causing young queers, and a passionate calling for working to stop the destruction of people’s lives that the churches create.
 
Carol, Arno and Kerstin

               Some of you might disagree with me, but in some ways, I thought all three books were about stories; The authors’ personal stories, capturing a moment and reflecting on it from a queer perspective, stories about the church and abuse, about survivals and those who did not make it. Carol, Arno, and Kerstin invited us into their lives in different ways, sharing what they are passionate about, how coming out and living as LGBTQ people within Christian contexts have formed them, and how they have been transformed, called, and empowered through the journeys they have travelled. All three meetings were inspiring, also because the Forum people who attended, brought their own questions, experiences, and struggles and shared them with the rest of us.
               We need to let our voices be heard! Thank you to Carol, Arno, and Kerstin, and to everyone else who share their stories in different ways. I hope there will be more meetings in the future where we can meet, listen, learn, share, and embrace each other’s stories, and I am looking forward to it!
    
The books (with links to get more information/buy):

Dr. Carol Shepherd:
“Blood on Their Hands” and “Bi the Way: Pastoring bisexual Christians in Europe”

Rev. Dr. Arno Steen Andreasen:
“Desiring God - Meditations for the Gay Man and other edgy people”

Rev. Dr. Kerstin Soederblom:
“Queer Theologische Notizen” (in German)
God bless, Hilde

For I am with you – The 12th Forum of LGBT Christian groups of Eastern Europe and Central Asia


“Even though this was only a digital meeting, I was happy it took place and gave me the chance to see and hear each other, learn new things and feel connected” – one of the participants shares their feelings.

On January 8-17, 2021 the LGBT Christian Groups of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) held their 12th annual Forum on an online platform, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking into consideration the newly emerged pandemic and other developments in different corners of the world, the Forum organizing committee decided to be guided by the slogan “For you are with me”, referring to when God said:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

This year’s forum included topics related to understanding what “For I am with you” means to everyone. Various plenary sessions hosted more than 10 participants in each and covered discussions on issues like: gatekeeping and opening the gates, understanding of traditional values and families on the example of Armenia, queer re-lecturing of the Ethiopian treasurer, etc.

Another participant of the Forum mentions: “Being part of the EECA Forum was a wonderful experience. It was great to see familiar faces and make new friends… I really enjoyed the workshops I took part in and, as usually, during the Forum I experienced several insights...”

The 2021 Forum was unique as it was organized online but the feelings, emotions, mutual understanding and care did not let anyone feel excluded and helped feel the presence of God during these difficult times. As one of our sessions said, the Forum created a space for each and everyone to be together as Christians. This gave us a chance to understand how faith and belief connect people as a community and gives us the strength to face the challenges that occur in the movements in different parts of the world.

As a conclusion it is particularly important to highlight the warming words of a participant who said: “For me, this Forum is an incredibly special space that is created each time in different countries, in different conditions, for just a few days. For me, the Forum has always been first and foremost, a space of rest and recovery, the space for practicing my faith, the Church where people come to take a break from the world, and not to face its worst reflections once again.”
- Arman
Web Seminar on the Blessing of Same-sex Couples

 

On the evening of 25 January 2021, The European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups – more specifically its Roman Catholic Working Group – organised a Zoom seminar to discuss blessing liturgies for same-sex couples. The speakers were two lay theologians from Germany, Dr. Julia Knop from the University of Erfurt and David Walbelder from Bonn. There were 25 participants from all over Europe to listen to the speakers and discuss with them.


(Photo by Maico Pereira on Unsplash)

The first to speak was David Walbelder, who works with the AKF (Task Force Catholic Family Education) and he spoke about a book that the AKF has just published. This working group collected texts of Blessing Ceremonies, not just for same-sex couples, but for all people excluded from a Catholic marriage. There was a surprising success, with 32 examples obtained from priests. Some texts had remained unwritten, others were adaptations of blessings for heterosexual couples. At first the texts were sent in on a confidential basis, but later it seemed useful to publish these texts, especially as the AKF had been approached by a Catholic publishing company Bonifatius. The book does not aim at judging the texts or making recommendations about how things should be done; it is a very important point that this is just an overview of what is being done. More than half of the texts were aimed at same-sex couples and almost all the texts intend “pastoral professionals” to preside over the blessing. Auxiliary Bishop Schepers from Essen diocese accepted to write a preface to the book given that it was a simple overview and not a justification. Since its publication in November 2020, the book has received only positive reactions, with no complaints from conservative Catholics.

The second speaker was Dr. Julia Knop, who is Professor of Dogmatics in the Theology Faculty of the University of Erfurt. Here is a summary of her presentation.

Dogmatics is the study of how the Church acts and how it justifies its actions. In the question of homosexuality, there are many inconsistencies in the Church's position. But even the best theory is wrong if it hurts people. It is just too easy to justify a position by saying: 'This is the will of God'.

How can the theory be improved? Although conservatives do not like to admit it, the Church has always evolved and adapted itself to the social environment: the present Catholic doctrine on marriage is only about 100 years old. It insists on the complementarity between the partners: so marriage can only be heterosexual, as the partners must be able to become parents. Sex is always suspect in the Church: it can only be justified by the desire for a child. This suspicion becomes aggressive in the case of homosexuality. In the Church's doctrine, homosexuality is seen as a disease that leads people to sin. This is why blessings are refused: you cannot bless a disease, you cannot bless a sin. The Church needs to correct its position clearly and in public, with a public confession of guilt in its treatment of homosexual persons. The Church must recognise sexual diversity as something normal and natural, as part of Creation. The Church does allow marriage of heterosexual couples that are sterile, but extending that to same-sex couples would only be possible if it was possible to ignore Natural Law and accept that homosexuality is part of Creation.

Questions coming from the various participants allowed certain points to be clarified.

- Michael Clifton (David et Jonathan, France)

The Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany

 
Have you heard about this big undertaking in the German Catholic Church? If not, Michael Brinkschröder (who is the Chair of the Roman Catholic Working Group of the European Forum) explains
  • what the Synodal Path is,
  • how and why it started,
  • why it is relevant to LGBTQ Christians and
  • what the latest developments are
in an excellent report which you can read here.
The European Forum is partnering with the Priceless Podcast (made by Mihael Secen) for a series highlighting LGBTQ Christian stories from all over Europe and all walks of life. The first episode is coming soon, check out this trailer and subscribe!
Hint: previous episodes of the podcast are also worth a watch/listen!

Upcoming events

  • Included - Connections and Conversations Towards Inclusion in the Salvation Army 
  • 8 March, 2021 online
  • our very own Co-president, Arno Steen Andreasen will speak | more information & sign-up
  • European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups 40th Annual Conference 
  • 6-9 May, 2021 online
  • Registration will open soon
  • IDAHOBIT vigils
  • 17 May, 2021 in various locations across the world
  • you can vote for this year's Bible verse here until 28 February
Is there something else you'd like to see in our newsletter? Let us know!
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