The National Synod of the Old Catholic Church met at Wettingen Abbey, Switzerland, on 17 and 18 June 2011. Here, the delegates made several decisions that will have a significant impact on the future of the Church.
New members elected to the Synod Committee
When new members are elected to a committee, the culture of leadership inevitably changes. This also holds true for the Old Catholic Church, whose Synod Committee now comprises half new members and half ‘returners’. The newly elected are Manuela Petraglio-Bürgi (Magden, see picture), Peter Hagemann (Steffisburg), Franz Murbach (Neuchâtel), Rev. Michael Bangert (Basel) and Rev. Christoph Schuler (Bern). Ms Petraglio-Bürgi was voted as president. She succeeds Urs Stolz, who has retired after more than 20 years in the role. This is the first time that a woman has been elected as president of the Synod Committee, the highest leadership position in the Old Catholic Church alongside the bishop. The presidency is always held by a layperson.
‘Partner’ – aid organisation turns 50
Parallel to the meeting of the Synod Committee, a celebration was held to mark the 50-year anniversary of ‘Partner’, an aid organisation founded by the Synod in 1972. Until 2010 its work included supporting Old Catholic and Orthodox projects across Europe. Today it works primarily with Anglican dioceses and institutions in Africa, and with the Philippine Independent Church. As the diocese covers all of the administrative costs, every donation is used in full to support current projects.’ Partner’ provides aid to up to 30 projects a year, worth a total of around 200,000 Swiss francs.
Two other relief organisations (Fastenopfer and Brot für alle) also turn 50 this year, as does the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Martin Dahinden, the SDC’s director, pointed this out in his speech during the anniversary ceremony, stating that the early 1970s were a breakthrough period for development cooperation. According to Dahinden, the SDC’s collaboration with partners all over the world has borne a great deal of fruit, despite the continued existence of poverty and a lack of basic provisions in many regions. His own experience frequently reminds him that the SDC and ‘Partner’ (a comparatively small agency) are connected by a set of shared values. This Christian solidarity, stated Dahinden, strongly motivates the workers’ aim of ensuring that everyone can share in the Earth’s resources.
The second speaker, Augustin Bahaya Cimole, a project partner of ‘Partner’ from the Democratic Republic of Congo, praised the collaboration in a comprehensive, moving statement.
He was followed by Loek Wagenaar from the International Old Catholic Welfare and Mission Society, who praised the methods and principles of ‘Partner’ not only in terms of financial assistance, but also in supporting projects by arranging visits and through personal involvement. Wagenaar pointed out that other Old Catholic aid organisations in Europe took longer to adopt this approach. Today the various organisations coordinate their relief projects.
Old Catholic student accommodation
Following an emotive discussion, the Synod approved reconstruction work at the Old Catholic Church’s student accommodation. The Church has provided rooms for university students in a designated house in Bern since 1970. Although primarily intended for students of theology at the University of Bern, accommodation is also made available to students of other subjects in order to broaden the residents’ horizons. The house now needs complete refurbishment. According to the bishop and the Synod Committee, this represents not only an investment in the future of the Old Catholic Church, but also a service to the public. The required work will cost 1 million Swiss francs, to be financed through donations, collections and interest-free loans. Reconstruction is scheduled to run from early July 2011 to spring 2012, after which the house will open its doors to a new generation of students.
One euro for the Union of Utrecht
The Union of Utrecht unites the Old Catholic Churches at the international level through their bishops, who belong to the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference (IBC). Among their fundamental tasks are contributing Old Catholic perspectives to ecumenical relations and working to foster the unification of the member churches. This calls for a large number of international conferences and discussions. As prices have risen, however, it has become more difficult to fulfil these tasks with the limited financial resources available. To ease this situation, the Synod of the Old Catholic (Old Catholic) Church of Switzerland approved a plan to contribute an additional euro per church member each year towards the ecumenical activities of the IBC. This contribution will initially be paid for a five-year period. The Synod will receive an annual statement of accounts and would welcome a similar financial contribution from the other Old Catholic Churches if possible. The Synod’s approval signals that the Old Catholic Church supports international activities and is keen to be involved. At the same time, the Synod members stated that they would like to receive more information on activities conducted at the international level.
Office of information of the Old Catholic Church of Switzerland
Photo: Jean Drummond-Young