European Forum Conference 2023
The European Forum of LGBTI+ Christian groups was founded in 1982 and is an ecumenical association of LGBTI+ Christian groups in Europe. It currently has 46 member groups from more than 20 countries from as far south as Malta, north as Finland, west as Portugal and east as Armenia. These include OneBodyOneFaith which re-joined the European Forum in 2022 after several years of absence.
Its main purpose is to facilitate mutual support and collaboration between its member groups across Europe which are all working together to improve the lives of LGBT+ Christians within their own countries as well forwarding its own programmes of political advocacy at the level of the Council of Europe, for example and advocacy within the different church entities including the World Council of Churches.
This support can be especially valuable in times of distress such as when, a few months ago, our friends in Slovakia tried to come to terms with the fact that friends had been killed in a shooting outside the only gay bar in Bratislava. And, more recently, when, a few days before writing, gay Christian friends were attacked and badly injured at a small prayer event held during a Pride Event in Tallinn, Estonia.
The main event in the calendar of the European Forum is its annual conference which is held in May, in a different location each year and, which is organised by the member group or groups of the country in which the conference takes place.
This year’s conference was held in a historic castle in the Netherlands close to the German border. It was wonderful to have our workshops and meetings in rooms full of beautiful old furniture and to be able to meet socially in the rather splendid old courtyard where two magnificent peacocks paraded around rather majestically but screeching rather loudly and intrusively!
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘In Christ, there is no East or West’, chosen because this was the first time that the members from the Eastern Europe and Central Asia regions had come together with members from Western Europe to participate in one conference. The Dutch organising committee looked after everything to do with the venue and the programme was designed and managed by the EECA colleagues – a collaboration which worked wonderfully well.
The conference is a time for serious debate and discussion, our Annual General Meeting and time to relax, have fun, catch up and get to know each other.
Over the 4 days of the conference, there 15 workshops and 3 extended seminars exploring topics such as ‘celebrating queer masculinities beyond borders and stereotypes’, ‘What the f is in gender’, ‘Being LGBT and a Believer: Conflict transformation’ and ‘Between East and West: Central Europe’.
The AGM is a core event within the European Forum. It is the event at which representatives of the member groups come together to elect new Board members, review the finances of the organisation, hear about the activities of the previous year and plans for the upcoming year and cast votes regarding major elements of the running of the organisation.
Not to be underestimated is the social element of the conference where people have the chance to have fun together but also to discuss LGBT+ Christian issues that they might be facing in their own countries. And there are the totally fun elements like this year we were entertained by one of our colleagues who transformed himself into a very entertaining drag artist and many had a lot of fun watching the Eurovision song contest.
Next year’s conference will be held at a beautiful convent in Varese (near Milan) in Northern Italy. It promises to be another exciting conference so, as a member of the Board of the European Forum, I am hoping that many of you who read this will come along.