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Hearing the “muted voices” at Lausanne Europe 20/21

The muted voices of the church in Europe were heard more prominently in Lausanne Europe 20/21 than at any other European evangelical gathering, but we still have work to do.

VISTA JOURNAL AUTOR 46/Jim_Memory 16 DE MARZO DE 2022 15:50 h
Image via [link]Vista[/link].

In November of 2021, the Lausanne Movement held their first major conference on European soil since the original 1974 Congress on World Evangelisation.

The overall theme of the Lausanne Europe 20/21 Conversation and Gathering was “Dynamic Gospel New Europe” with its double focus on bringing to bear the power of the eternal Gospel in today’s changing Europe.

Eight hundred delegates from each of the forty Lausanne Europe countries had been invited according to a strict quota system to ensure a fair representation of age, gender, and area of ministry, but also an important quota for Majority World leaders.

Alongside that, delegates and others were encouraged to join the Lausanne Europe Conversation, a monthly engagement in groups with the key themes that would be dealt with in the Gathering.

Sadly, the Covid pandemic led to the postponement of the original Gathering from October 2020 to November 2021, and ultimately the decision was made to move the whole gathering online.

Nevertheless, six hundred of the original delegates, together with six hundred others who were able to participate as a result of the event going online, met together virtually with a small team hosting the event from Southampton International Lighthouse Church in the UK.

Jeff Fountain, Director of the Schuman Centre for European Studies, summed up his experience of the Lausanne Europe Gathering:

“Whether following alone from one’s home or office, or in national gatherings such as the one I joined in Almere just outside of Amsterdam, we were all drawn into a broad, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-national ‘communion of saints’ blanketing Europe and far beyond. We became more conscious of our own cultural blind-spots, nationalistic limitations, linguistic differences, and perhaps even racial prejudices. We were confronted with needs and challenges in today’s needy mission field of Europe. The four days of online conversations, video reports, exchanges through chat boxes, interactive seminars and bible expositions have created a landmark event which will impact the evangelical landscape of Europe for decades to come”.


Muted voices

Three years ago, in January 2019, the organising committee of the Lausanne Europe 20/21 Conversation and Gathering, held a one-day thinktank in Amsterdam.

The eighty or so who took part were leaders of churches, denominations and church planting movements, youth and student ministry leaders, diaspora church leaders, and mission agency leaders from across the continent.

They were challenged to discuss what benefit a Lausanne Europe gathering might bring, what objectives we should be set for the gathering, but also to look around the room and ask the question: who is missing? Whose perspectives, input, and voice, is missing from the deliberations?

A few months later, the Vista editors decided to explore this issue more deeply. We surveyed a group of church, mission, and network leaders from across Europe and found that four voices were often muted in conversations about mission: the voice of women, the voice of the young, the voice of Central and Eastern Europe, and the voice of Majority World Christians (“Who speaks for Europe?” Vista 33, June 2019).

In the next issue, we featured articles written by someone from each of those groups giving their perspective on what needed to change (“Reimagining Europe” Vista 34, Oct 2019).

As the programme for the Gathering developed, the issue of muted voices became more and more prominent, and ultimately the decision was made that one of the morning plenaries should be entitled: “Welcoming Diversity: Listening to “Muted” and Marginalised Voices”.


Inviting the four voices

The quota system sought not just to ensure a balanced representation across the whole gathering, but also within each of the national delegations. However, the table overleaf shows just the global figures, not the country breakdowns.

In each case there are three percentages: the goal or target representation that the organisers were aiming for, the percentage of that collective that signed up as delegates, and the actual percentage of that collective that participated online in the November 2021 Gathering.

It is evident that in the case of women and the young, the quota system was generally successful in ensuring a balanced representation, though in the case of women,  as Director of the Women’s Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance Amanda Jackson notes, surely a target of at least 40% would seem appropriate given that (more than) one in every two European Christians is a woman.

The efforts to ensure an appropriate number of delegates from Central and Eastern Europe and a Majority World were less successful. The number of delegates from Southern, Central and Eastern Europe was below target, mainly because so many of the speakers were from North and Western Europe.

However, whilst more Southern Europeans actually joined online than were signed up as delegates, the number of Central and Eastern Europeans joining online actually went down further.

This may well reflect the provision of simultaneous translation into French, Spanish and German, but not into any Central and Eastern European languages.

In the case of Majority World participation, the numbers are even more stark. The 20% target was very ambitious and in some countries, this would be an overrepresentation of the diaspora Christian population, but overall it was rather disappointing that only 6% of the delegates were from a Majority World background.

However, with Lausanne Europe 20/21 moving online, there was a 50% increase in diaspora Christian engagement, and much of the feedback indicated how ethnic diversity amongst speakers and presenters was highly valued by all delegates.


Hearing the four voices

One thing is being invited to join a conversation. Another thing is actually being invited to speak. Yet another thing again is to feel that you have been heard.

The organisers certainly made efforts to ensure that among the speakers were women, younger leaders, speakers from Central and Eastern Europe and diaspora leaders too.

So, did the Lausanne Europe 20/21 Conversation and Gathering serve to amplify the voices of women, the young, Central and Eastern European leaders, and the voices of diaspora Christians in Europe? The short answer is yes, but there is so much more that needs to be done.

Amanda Jackson, celebrates the focus on un-muting the voices of half the Church, but also challenges Lausanne Europe, and evangelicals more broadly, to go further in facilitating and equipping women to use their gifts for the benefit of the church and mission in Europe.

Henriette and Alexander Engberg Vinkel are young leaders from Denmark. They were encouraged by the representation of young people, of young speakers, and mission to the younger generation, but observed that “we did not hear much about how the young people are a muted and marginalised voice in church”.

They make an impassioned plea to not just talk about or to younger leaders, but to talk with them. There is a longing for mentors and role models who are willing to walk alongside younger leaders.

Slavko Hadžić and Peter Pristiak are church leaders from Bosnia and Slovakia respectively. They make a number of observations, not least that the number of speakers from Central and Eastern Europe did not reflect the number of participants.

Nevertheless, they were challenged to think more deeply about how they might partner with diaspora churches in their countries and saw this as one way in which the influence of unhealthy nationalism might be countered.

Finally, Vista co-editor Harvey Kwiyani assesses Lausanne Europe 20/21 from a diaspora perspective. Whilst celebrating that nearly one in ten participants was a Majority World Christian, he noted the absence of some of the diaspora leaders from the large Pentecostal churches in Europe:

“I have become more hopeful just as much as I have become more concerned. I have become hopeful because I see a great possibility that the voices and perspectives of diaspora Christians will continue to be heard in Europe. There is a growing general willingness to engage and listen to diaspora Christians. I was concerned because, as the challenge of getting 20 per cent diaspora participation at this conference showed, there is a huge chasm between diaspora and European Christians … The chasm that exists between us needs to be bridged, and both sides need to figure out how to reach out and be hospitable to one another.”

In my opinion, the muted voices of the church in Europe were heard more prominently in Lausanne Europe 20/21 than at any other European evangelical gathering in recent years. However, we still have work to do.

The four keywords for Lausanne Europe 20/21 were See, Meet, Talk, Act. We did see new perspectives, meet new people, and enter into a genuine conversation. Yet ultimately that conversation must turn to action, to collaboration in the re-evangelisation of Europe.

Jim Memory is the Vista editor. He was part of the organising committee for Lausanne Europe 20/21 Conversation and Gathering and led the Process Team which put together the monthly Conversation materials. He has been recently named as the new Regional Director for Lausanne Europe.

This article first appeared in the  January 2022 edition of Vista Journal.




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