The 45th International Old Catholic Theologians’ Conference took place at the Zinzendorfhaus conference centre in Neudietendorf, near Erfurt, Germany, from 3 to 7 September 2017. Its theme was “Challenged by the others” (“Die Herausforderung durch die Anderen”).
The speakers approached the subject from a variety of angles. Professor Charlotte Methuen (Glasgow), Dr. Stefanos Athanasiou (Bern) and Dr. Martin Bräuer (Bensheim) offered insights into how they, as Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant theologians respectively, perceive Old Catholic theology in programme and praxis. Following the ‘outside’ ecumenical perspective, the participants were invited to look inwards, and then outwards again: How are we challenged by new theological and social issues to reflect in theological terms on the meaning of sacraments and sacramentality today? Dr. Mattijs Ploeger (Utrecht) presented his reflections on the blessing of same-sex partnerships in the light of Old Catholic communio theology. Dr. Eleonora Hof (Amsterdam) examined the theological and practical challenges raised by contact with ‘others’ in a diaconal and missional context, especially when such contact is supposed to be based on partnership and equality in line with methodological reflection in recent research such as the Postcolonial Studies. In a series of workshops, the conference participants discussed liturgical formularies for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation and for the blessing of same-sex partners; several such formularies have been produced by Old Catholic Churches in recent years. Other workshops dealt with pastoral projects such as working with homeless people in the Netherlands and the social engagement of the Philippine Independent Church, connecting solidarity with an expression of catholicity.
In plenary and group discussions, the conference participants gained deeper insights into what ‘otherness’ means for Old Catholic theology and practice. How do our encounters with others shape our own personal, theological and ecumenical identity? What do other voices challenge us to do? How do we face new challenges? On which sources and which theological methods do we base our discussions? Old Catholic theology and practice have traditionally been challenged and shaped by ecumenical relations. Today, interest is also growing not only in interreligious encounters, but also explicit encounters with secular worldviews and contexts. Whereas experience with ‘otherness’ is essential for encounters, conversations, all forms of fellowship, and even for the success of synodality, constructive interaction with others relies on individuals’ own openness to other perspectives and a healthy self-awareness at the level of the Church.
The conference participants also had the opportunity to pray the Divine Office in the church of the Unity of Brethren, to celebrate the Eucharist, to present research projects, to explore the city of Erfurt, and to enjoy the hospitality and welcoming atmosphere at the Zinzendorfhaus conference centre.
The 46th International Old Catholic Theologians Conference will take place in Wislikofen, Switzerland, from 26 to 30 August 2019.
Neudietendorf, 7 September 2017