Added on 09/09/2002
A report by Valerie Beatty and Desmond Harman
The second Porvoo Church Leaders’ Consultation took place in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, last March. It was attended by the Archbishops of York, Wales, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, the Primus of Scotland, bishops from England, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and the Diocese of Europe as well as senior clerical and lay leaders from the various Porvoo Churches. Observers from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, the Leuenberg Church Fellowship, the Old Catholics and The Council of European Churches also attended.
From the Church of Ireland were Bishop John Neill (Co-Chairman of the Porvoo Contact Group), Valerie Beatty (contact person for the Church of Ireland) and Canon Desmond Harman (delegate). The theme was ‘Church Leadership in a Changing World’. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia hosted the Consultation and the Sunday Eucharist in Tallinn Cathedral.
The sessions in the conference centre of the city library consisted of papers delivered on a number of topics followed by workshops and plenary discussion. The papers considered internal leadership issues (the diaconate and the allocations of resources within the churches), external leadership issues (the churches’ role in society) and the challenges of transmitting the faith to the new generation. The final session of the Consultation agreed a press release and recommendations which would form the agenda for the work of the Contact Group over the next few years.
The conference opened with a very thought provoking paper on the subject of leadership by a leading management consultant, Hugh Burgess, who is a lay reader and involved at diocesan and national level in the Church of Wales. He challenged us to accept that as a Church we tend to appoint managers rather than leaders to senior positions. He used the analogy of business appointing accountants to leadership positions, accountants are trained to be risk averse and this training doesn’t make them the best of leaders.
“The strength in a business comes with the tension between the risk-averse accountant and the risk aware leader, the one pulling hard to drive the coach forward and the other pulling on the reins to ensure it doesn’t run away. I feel that what we have in the Church is a situation where we train our people and our clergy to protect doctrine and tradition, to be accountants if you like, what we lack is the other half of the creative tension that seeks constantly to pull us over the edge into something new.
If the Church continues to appoint managers to the important leadership roles it will struggle to maintain its relevance in modern society.” Said Hugh Burgess
Groups from the conference visited different Church projects around and outside Tallinn. These projects included a former Russian army base, a hospital, a street children’s home, the theological institute and Church house. The groups were asked to focus on identifying the leadership challenges which these projects highlight.
Bishop Neill was part of the group who went to a church run hospital where he was impressed by the dedication of the staff to their task working against a background of very limited resources.
Canon Harman and Valerie Beatty were in the group who visited the street children's home and were particularly moved by what they found there. Peeteli church building where the home is situated had been seized and closed by the Soviet Government in 1962. The interior had been used to accommodate a television studio. The building was returned to the Church in 1993 and in 1997 an ambitious project was undertaken to restore the Church and convert the basement and other rooms in the Church to a centre for street children.
In 2001 a day centre was opened which caters everyday for 20 children where they get a cooked meal, wash themselves and their clothes, play and take responsibility for certain tasks. There is also a short stay facility for children in danger where they can stay for a few weeks and a permanent home for about 12 children where they can live up to the age of 17. The atmosphere of cheeriness, warmth, support and love for these deeply scared children is palpable. There is a huge respect for human dignity.
Thoughts on Diaconate
It is evident that diaconal ministry differs substantially from church to church both in its focus and importance. The various models were discussed and there was an interesting exchange of views between the churches but no movement towards a common definition and understanding of this type of ministry.
The challenges in this area are similar for each of the Churches. Money resources are limited and have to be allocated according to perceived and actual priorities. All Churches acknowledged that resources for ecumenical and other overseas activities tend to be down the priorities list. Human resources are more available in most Churches so there is an opportunity to make better use of these resources, especially in examining different patterns and forms of ministry.
Church in Society
Delegates were conscious of the very different tasks that face each of the Churches. Some have close historic links with the state. Others such as the Baltic Churches are finding a new role and new challenges in the reconstruction of civil society after the Soviet period. It was apparent however that in broad terms the Churches face the same issues which challenge all citizens of a modern, largely secular, society. This series of sessions covered a wide variety of topics including bioethics, the environment (particularly the threat of Sellafield to the Irish and North Seas) and the challenges of a multi-cultural society e.g. forced marriages.
The Consultation was a most successful forum for discussing key issues that challenge the leaders of the Churches in the Porvoo Communion. More importantly its conclusions outline what the churches need to do to rise to these challenges. The informal times of eating together and attending various evening social and musical events gave opportunity to deepen friendship and share experiences. The reception in the Town Hall attended by the President of Estonia indicated the change in what was a Soviet dominated country just over ten years ago.