Swiss Willibrord Day in Olten
3 November 2007
"Building Bridges: Exploring the Us, the Them, and the We"
The following participants attended the session:
Kurt Meede ;
Klaus Heinrich Neuhoff;
The session was facilitated by Barbara Boldt.
"Building Bridges: Exploring the Us, the Them, and the We"
The point of the facilitator was that in order to foster cooperation between groups, "over-arching" goals need to be found that are important to both groups so that they feel motivated to work together.
The effect of having accomplished a difficult task together is what creates group cohesion.
This works best if the contact between the groups is at the "grass-roots" (i.e. parishioner) level so that relationships can be built and liking can develop and from there, the desire to work together gains momentum.
- At the level of the clergy, there seems to be a fair amount of interest in cooperating and helping each other, particularly in situations where one or the other group lacks resources in a particular area of the country.
The example of the Anglican service in the Old Catholic church in St. Gallen was referred to more than once.
- At the level of parishioners, there seems to be less interest in interacting or cooperating.
Some of this may be due to differences in the parishioner bases of the two churches:
- The Old Catholic parishioner base is older and quite traditional: they seem to be content with things as they are (this comment came from Daniel Konrad).
- The Old Catholics are "at home" so their motivation for going to church is not necessarily to meet new people, but more to interact with people they have known most of their lives.
This was referred to as "Kleinheit" during the group-work exercise.
- The Anglican parishioner base tends to be younger, and, at least to some degree, more transient due to the fact that many (but not all) are expatriates.
They tend to be interested in making connections and meeting new people.
Some of the parishioners are "foreigners" who have married into Swiss culture, but who choose to worship in their "home" church an in their mother-tongue (English).
The "expatriate" parishioners might tend to only speak English, while the more settled "foreigners" are likely bi- or even tri-lingual.
The language issue is real.
Anglicans define "English language" as part of who they are.
The Old Catholics in Switzerland obviously worship in German or French.
It has to be acknowledged that because practicing a religion is such a personal experience, there is, at least to some degree, an emotional aspect to "going to church" in one's mother-tongue, even though some (maybe even many) multi-lingual people are exceptions to this rule.
In the group work, some other blocks to working together were mentioned or came out:
- Priests are too busy, so find it difficult to find time in an already packed schedule for joint initiatives;
- Unequal numbers of Old Catholics and Anglicans in some areas ( the numbers seem to be most balanced in the larger cities, Basel, Zurich, Geneva, Bern);
- Communication between the two groups is not very efficient (sporadic) and this is appears to be at least partially due to the fact that communication among the Anglicans is not terribly efficient.
There are something like eight different Anglican newsletters (one for each Chaplaincy) but no overview Anglican newsletter that ties it all together.
Having a more organized communication structure would help the Old Catholics ( and other groups) to understand what is going on in the Anglican community and maybe to see opportunities for collaboration.
(Personal note: I don't think it is realistic to just say, "we have a website and all of the information is on it".
Going to a website is a voluntary action that someone has to be motivated to take - what is going to motivate them to go there?)
Both groups seem to be in the position of asking fewer and fewer people to do more and more of the "work".
There is a lack of people who are going to church in general, which means that both groups are feeling stressed and strained.
We talked about the fact that joining forces could create a "critical mass" to do more outreach or some of the activities that are not strictly related to church services.
Suggestions for "Over-arching" goals that could motivate the two groups to work together:
- Youth initiatives: the Old Catholics have quite a strong youth program and are interested in attracting more young people to them, so publicizing these programs in the Anglican community could foster the building of relationships among younger people in the two communities, which could have important consequences for the future.
It was also mentioned that the younger people might feel the language divide less strongly and so be more open to collaboration.
- The idea of joining forces to combat religious indifference was also obliquely referred to.
This idea actually came out more clearly in the planning session for Willibrord Tag, but it certainly is an issue for both groups.
Peter Hawker brought it out most forcefully at the end when he said that we are not just "looking for Anglicans" but we are looking for people who want to practice their faith, and this gets to the heart of the issue.
Joint events could be organized to try to increase the visibility and attractiveness of practicing "religion" in general, perhaps also with other denominations.
The only real concrete actions that came out of the meeting are:
To make connections between the youth of the two churches (Peter H. was most interested in this and seemed to be willing to take action to make this happen)
To improve communication between the two groups.
It was less clear who was willing to take responsibility for this, but something needs to be done by the Anglicans to make their communication more accessible and transparent (less woolly) to outside groups.