Baltic Sea Neigbourhood Seminar in Kirkkonummi, Finland, 20-24 May 2015, was organized by the Finnish National Forum (Women’s Unit in the Finnish Ecumenical Council) as regional work within the frame of the Ecumenical Forum of the European Christian Women (EFECW). The preparatory work and the planning of this seminar was started shortly after the previous meeting in Lund in 2013. Four members of the preparatory group participated in the seminar, each with their own responsibilities. Seminar had 16 participants from seven countries: Estonia, Germany, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Finland.
We were members of Lutheran, Catholic, Uniting Church in Sweden, Methodist and Orthodox Churches. We had five outstanding research persons and they had the responsibility to give, from various aspects, the input to the overall theme of the seminar.
Aim and objectives
There is already a long tradition of these Baltic Sea regional meetings, started by and carried out by German Forum. This meeting was, like the previous one in Sweden, planned and carried out by the local national Forum. The aim was to deepen the previous theme of the Living Waters – Sharing our Traditions and provide a slightly enlarged platform to work “In Deeper Waters” with theological matters in ecumenical spirituality and to study how to act for the care of God’s creation ecologically. Our objectives were also to find out means to strengthen local national EFECW Forums and especially provide new knowledge and new experiences, which would give possibilities for personal growth as individuals and as Christian women.
The ways and means to reach the aims and objectives were built into the program as a process, which we hoped would cover all the elements of information, experience, sharing and networking as well as relation to nature and active spiritual life. After the personal presentations and the introduction to each other’s church and home places we were ready to welcome the special research persons. Tuija Kaunisto is a specialist, who has studied drinking water, but also the damages in water caused by corrosion. Her topic was Quality of Water, Our Common Issue.
She told us what the water actually is and what kinds of elements can be found in it and which of them cause serious problems. She also spoke about Baltic Sea and the special features of this small sea with its specific problems. Laura Riuttanen is doing research of aerosphere and weather conditions. Her topic was Climate Change – Big Challenge for the Mankind. She explained greenhouse phenomenon and what kind of various visions scientists have foreseen to happen under different kind of world development. In Lund there was too little information on water and its elements as well as of the Baltic Sea. This time we did get a lot of information, but we could have spent some more time on talking about Baltic Sea and its future.
After this introduction to the basic elements of our seminar we were ready to move to the Bible Study. It was guided by Yvonne Terlinden, one of the first woman theologians, who has written her doctoral thesis on Eco theology. She had chosen for us the text Genesis 21:8-21. The study of this passage evoked a lot of feelings and emotions both from the past in our personal lives, but also connected with the common life trends in the world of today.
Are we ready to respect each other regardless the differences or because of them? Do we agree that Christianity is at its best when it is odd, marginal and suffering and at its worst, when it is popular, trustworthy, triumphant and glorious? These among others were questions presented to us by Marjaana Toviainen, a Lutheran pastor. Her topic was Realizing and Accepting the Shadows. Reflections from the Margins. She challenged us to realize the shadows in our life, in our identity, to accept this as an integral part of each human being; good and bad are all the time present in us.
The Bible is the book, which should give us courage to live and by living we should spread this courage to other people! Marjaana’s own life is one concrete example on putting the Bible texts into action and her lively and at the same time spiritual presentation gave an experience and impression, which proved to be one of the highlights of this seminar. We had been challenged, but also had received deeply meaningful spiritual nourishment, which made heart full of joy and humble thankfulness!
Experiences and highlights
How do we describe the evening in Finnish sauna, swimming in May- cool-water in the near-by lake and after that joy singing together, frying sausages in the fireplace and of feeling “we enjoy this group and we feel safe in sharing our experiences”. Yes, this was one of the highlights and it was easy to add on top of that. We visited the Pokrova (Protection of Virgin Mary) Orthodox small monastery with guided tour in the main church, two chapels (of Vladimir and Olga and that of Elisabeth – a piece of art in the nature) and the wonderful garden, after which we had a nice dinner together. Two young women from the Youth Unit of the Ecumenical Council joined us in this visit.
Evening prayers in the church conducted by ourselves in the Orthodox manner finished our very pleasant visit. Many of the participants mentioned this visit to be one of the top experiences during our seminar.
On Saturday morning there was a wandering in the National Park Nuuksio, preceded by some nature exercises. The time in the woods was very empowering experience to many and appreciated by everybody.
The International evening buffet gave us, according to the tradition, a chance to taste many delicate specialties brought by the participants together with some of those from Finland. As guests for this farewell evening two lovely young ladies played both Finnish and classical accordion music with feminist energy.
Their playing and singing gave us a special experience and a real feeling of shared talents. The potpourri of Finnish Eurovision song contest songs was hilarious performance, perhaps better than the originals! How about learning to play a saw? Our second male participant in the program was a Lutheran minister, who apart of his profession is also a master in playing ordinary saws. He not only played very beautifully, but also was willing to give a demonstration in teaching of this instrument to us.
Main outcomes - What did we learn?
We learnt a lot of the information we received on the theme of water. We learnt to share our life-experiences and the practices of our churches. But we also learnt that it is important to listen and to be open to new things. Especially valuable is the fact of sharing prayers. We had morning and evening prayers in our local chapel in the premises, guided by different people in the group, and also prayers before the meals. These prayers were always highlights of the days and we waited for them. The spiritual experiences were very deep and touching and gave a special atmosphere for the whole seminar. We strongly felt that we were in God’s hands and we felt good with each other.
It was appreciated that there was a balance between private, individual perspective and that of the global matters reflected in the program. We shared the joy of having learnt a lot, but we also struggled with the fact of not really having tools to interpret this experience back at home. How could we influence other people to make concrete promises for the preservation of God’s creation and also be strong enough to keep own promises already done! We also learnt once again that networking in international level works well in meetings like this, but when it comes to the reality, keeping contacts proves to be full of obstacles. Let’s hope we can overcome some of them in the Baltic Sea region.
Follow-up and the future visions
There was a discussion of the future of the Baltic Sea neighborhood meetings. Germany would like to go back to the basics, of having the responsibility to organize the meeting in two years’ time. Poland will ask about the possibility to have it there. So these two countries will negotiate together of the future. The reports of this meeting will be in the web-pages at least in Finland (in the Finnish Ecumenical Council) and other countries respectively do their own procedures.
This seminar emphasized the need to cooperate with the youth organizations both on national and European levels in order to safeguard the future participation of such a meeting. We need different generations to work together, because it gives much richer variety of experiences and opinions in dealing with these common issues. It is also essential to talk on the European Forum level of the policy of costs and compensations. The subsidy rule was decided in totally different political and economic situation in Europe. Now is the time to rethink in what way in economic terms real and just participation of all European regions and countries is possible and how the EFECW can guarantee this equal practice of participation.
It was a great pity that all three Lithuanian participants had to cancel their participation just very shortly before the seminar. Whatever the reasons, also the cancellation of one Estonian due to illness and of one young Russian due to family reasons added to the fact that numerically small meetings are very vulnerable in terms of last-minute cancellations. Fortunately we did not cancel the meeting all together, but for some days this fear was real. Also this element of these regional meetings should be thought about. What are the consequences if the plans cannot be carried through? This time we were lucky and we were able to negotiate with service providers of the expenses. And we are extremely happy that we were able to organize this Baltic Sea regional seminar with such a wonderful group of both the participants and the research persons. May God, who always knows and guides our doings, be thanked. We felt we were in His hands and that is what matters!