This consultation was a major blessing and a privilege to be part of.  Participants included the host Robert Calvert (long-time minister of the Scots International Church in Rotterdam) and his PLACE colleagues Stephen Thrall (Paris), Dave Clark (Dundee), Axel Nehlsen (Berlin) and Andrej Madly (Cluj).  They are all heavily impacted by Ray Bakke who was the special guest.  There were about 30 participants who included people working in Dundee, Glasgow, Birmingham, London, Paris, Rotterdam, Groningen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna and Cluj.  Many of the participants were outside their home culture (e.g. Germans working in the Netherlands) and every continent was represented, particularly people from African backgrounds.  There were also several participants working in Rotterdam who dropped in for part of the conference.  The atmosphere was extremely convivial and relaxed, with people quickly striking up good conversations.

There were five discussion sessions in all:

Cities – led by Rogier Bos we considered some of the essential characteristics of major Europeans cities (e.g. old, and centred on an Christian core such as a cathedral though Christianity is a disappearing influence, multicultural, becoming brands in their own right, built on a premise of self-actualisation and having an increasingly ageing population.  We considered the challenges of ministry in these contexts (churches with little sense of mission, stuck in maintenance mode, with much creative innovation on the fringes, and confusion about ecclesiology, missiology, ethics and eschatology).

Change – Robert Calvert talked about the sort of change we need to engage with, change that is radical enough to force us to reconsider our missiology and ecclesiology.  He particularly asked us how we evaluate change.  Traditionally we look at numbers of conversions, but ‘redeeming a community’ does not necessarily result in an increase in headcount though God can still be at work.  He cited as an example a Rotterdam church made up largely of ex-criminals who came to Christ as a result of an urban regeneration project but were unwelcome in traditional churches.

Leadership – Ray Bakke talked about inspiring leaders, people who are prepared to break the mould and engage with homosexual/transgender culture, enter gangland communities, or gain access to muslim schools by completely removing Christian references in their work.  He told several dramatic stories of incarnational mission.  The story which had the strongest impact on me was one of a pastor who deliberately moved with his family into a deprived area, and sent his children to the local school despite other Christians accusing him of ‘abusing’ his children by doing this.  His son became friends with a classmate and regularly invited him back home for meals.  When the family discovered that the boy was homeless, they adopted him.  Some time later the boy became a Christian, saying to the pastor it was easy to understand.  “You sent your son to my school and we became friends, so you adopted me.  God sent his son into the world, and whoever becomes his friend gets to be adopted!”  What a simple but effective image of the gospel!

Networks – Harald Sommerfeld and Axel Nehlsen (leaders of Together for Berlin) did a presentation on effective networking, highlighting the difference between strong ties, which are good for bonding and reciprocity while taking up time and not necessarily introducing you to new contacts and ideas, and weak ties which do the latter but not the former.  Ideal networkers need a blend of both.  Having successfully linked together a number of agencies and churches working in Berlin, their recommendation is not to try to bring everyone into one central network but to ensure that you are connected to at least one key player in each network who can then extend your influence into other circles.  I feel that is exactly what we should do with this network!

Prayer – we had a whole session on prayers for our communities, identifying key issues for each city and praying into them.

Additionally there were visits to the Danish Seafarers’ Mission, an Agape project living and working among immigrants, and an outreach and regeneration project in a poor area of the city.  These people and several others told their stories of radical incarnational mission which often left them unsupported by local churches unable to make an adequate adaption of their ecclesiology/missiology, which ultimately bore fruit for the Kingdon of God.

Several people told their stories and many of them featured successful work in muslim communities and schools, or fruitful projects which were initially too radical to gain support from local churches.  We agreed to keep in contact with each other through social media, and to meet together regularly in future years.  This is a network which is worth participating in if you are active in urban church planting in Europe.

The consultation was organised by Partners Learning and Acting in Cities of Europe (PLACE), a forum which grew out of Hope for Europe.