European Churches and Christian NGOs to reaffirm Scotland's ties with Europe

Christians from across Europe will attend a conference in Edinburgh this week to discuss shared concerns about social justice and to reaffirm ties between nations, just two weeks before the planned date of Brexit.

Around 100 people are attending the Eurodiaconia event
People from 49 Christian charities and churches have come together for the annual Eurodiaconia meeting, which this year is in Edinburgh

The annual conference of Eurodiaconia, which this year is being hosted by the Church of Scotland, will see representatives from 49 churches and faith-based social service providers come together with the theme 'Telling Truths - Changing Lives.'

Starting today a series of panel discussions, workshops, and talks will look at how churches and civil society organisations committed to social justice can challenge the increasing prevalence of false information such as fake news.

Challenging polarisation

Participants will consider public access to information, radical rhetoric and its threat to Europe, the ongoing Brexit negotiations, and their role of bringing together an increasingly polarised society. They will also look at how churches and civil society organisations can ensure they are viewed as honest sources of information.

This evening there will be a reception for the visitors at the Scottish Parliament hosted by Dr Alasdair Allan MSP where Aileen Campbell, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Communities will speak.

Opening worship at Greyfriars Kirk was led by Rev Dr Richard Frazer
Opening worship at Greyfriars Kirk was led by Rev Dr Richard Frazer

Dr Alasdair Allan said: "Here in Scotland we have been working hard to ensure that everyone is welcome and that the culture of hospitality that Scots are well known for, as well as the understanding of the common good, is not overshadowed by negative narratives.

"We continue to value highly those from other countries who have chosen to make their home here and indeed we want this to continue post-Brexit."

European co-operation

In her opening message, Eurodiaconia Secretary General Heather Roy expressed how "Holding the Eurodiaconia annual conference here in Scotland at this time emphasizes that European co-operation will continue despite Brexit.

"Scotland has a long history of working with partners across Europe and being here this week shows that the partnerships already established across Europe will continue. Our Scottish member has always been an active participant in our network and we are delighted that this will continue in the future."

A keynote speech from Professor Anne Birgitta Pessi, University of Helsinki, looked at the power of compassion and its relation to truth.

Panellists Viv Dickenson from CrossReach, Samuele Pigoni from Diaconia Valdese, Kirk member, former MEP and CEO of Open Knowledge International Catherrine Stihler, and Paul McNamee editor of the Big Issue with Heather Roy of Eurodiaconia

Panellists included Paul McNamee, editor of the Big Issue, former MEP Catherine Stihler, who is now the chief executive of Open Knowledge International, and Samuele Pigoni, director of Diaconia Valdese linked to the Waldensian Church in Italy.

There will also be an opportunity to a visit a range of Kirk-funded projects in Glasgow that promote social inclusion, many of which are run by the CrossReach, the operating arm of the Church of Scotland's social care council.

"Viv Dickenson, Chief Executive of CrossReach, said: "This conference is a great opportunity for us to join with our partner organisations from all across Europe and to listen to and learn from each other as we discuss social care and social justice from a faith based perspective.

"In this time of political upheaval, it seems more important than ever to advocate on behalf of those whose voices are not heard, so that issues of poverty and social exclusion do not get lost in this landscape of uncertainty, and that we can continue to work together towards a collective solution."

Building bridges

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, Convener of the Church and Society Council said he was "delighted" that the Church of Scotland could host the event.

"With uncertainty around our relationship with the rest of Europe, connections such as those we enjoy with Eurodiaconia become more and more important as we seek to build bridges rather than erect barriers.

"Christianity transcends borders and differences of any kind. The agencies affiliated to Eurodiaconia exist to enable people to find their true identity as children of God, worthy of justice, opportunity and the chance to thrive.

"In times of uncertainty, where there exists the potential for division, it is vital that those who stand for Christ inspired social justice stand together.

"We warmly welcome representatives from 49 national and regional organisations in 32 countries across the European continent."

Rt Rev Susan Brown, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will close the meeting by leading the conference in worship.