Some 2,000 delegates from churches across Europe will gather next month for the Third European Ecumenical Assembly to share their vision and hopes for renewal and unity on a continent that both secular and religious press have described as "post-Christian" and thoroughly secularized.
"The Assembly, which embraces every strand of Europe's Christian community, met first in Basle at the end of the 80s when the Berlin Wall was breached and it looked as though the Cold War was over," recalled Anglican Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who will lead the Church of England delegation for the Assembly in the historic city of Sibiu, Romania, and give a keynote speech there.
"At the end of the 90s, with armed conflict in the Balkans and no sign of a holiday from history, the Assembly met for a second time in Graz, Austria," he continued, according to the Church of England.
"Now, for the first time, the venue is in a predominantly Orthodox country and one that has recently joined the EU. The theme will inevitably be the moral and spiritual direction of travel for Europe and the role which Europe's Christian Churches intend to play in the future."
The upcoming Assembly, slated for Sept. 4-9, comes at a time when religion in Europe seems to have slowed its downward slide and nascent signs of a modest comeback are becoming more visible after decades of secularization.
"Most church pews are still empty," noted Andrew Higgins, a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal. "But belief in heaven, hell and concepts such as the soul has risen in parts of Europe, especially among the young, according to surveys. Religion, once a dead issue, now figures prominently in public discourse."
And, as prominent U.S. evangelical leader Chuck Colson has noted, even after a century of secularization, "it's not too late."
"It never is with the Gospel."
According to reports, European identity, other faiths, migration, creation, justice and peace will be on the agenda for the upcoming Assembly, alongside questions of unity, spirituality and witness.
Delegates will share in prayer and worship from different traditions; discover the Christian heritage and hopes of Romania – a nation which looks forward to playing a full part in Europe; and set an agenda for common witness and action across Europe at a time of tremendous challenge.
"This is a fantastic opportunity to share my experiences as a young person in the Church of England and learn from those of people in other European churches, especially amid the changing face of European Christianity as a result of migration," said Timi Dorgu, a student of international business at Warwick University in the United Kingdom and the youngest member of the Church of England delegation.
And more than what will go on during the six-day gathering, European Christians are looking forward to what will come after.
"The work will go on before, during and well after Sibiu," said Canon Charles Hill of the Council for Christian Unity, who has been encouraging European groups in dioceses to engage with the Assembly's themes with partner churches in mainland Europe.
"Sibiu will give new impetus to the churches of Europe to raise their common profile and renew their mission to bring the light, hope and love of Jesus Christ to our continent," he said, according to the Church of England.
The Assembly, which has as its theme "The light of Christ shines upon all. Hope for renewal and unity in Europe," is being organized jointly by the Roman Catholic bishops' conference of Europe (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) – which groups most Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox churches in Europe.