A significant piece of church history is being written in Vienna this weekend as the European Football championship kicks off. Different denominations were planning their own individual outreach activities-until the Catholic council of bishops proposed that all the churches work together under one umbrella.
Christen am Ball (Christians on the ball) was the result, a broad coalition of Christian churches, ministries and movements.
The official website of the outreach (www.ECoutreach08.eu) states: “We feel that an effective testimony of Jesus Christ should be presented to both international visitors as well as to Austrians during this event. Those of us from Vienna feel urged by God to do this through a creating a broad partnership of various Christian groups in the city. The umbrella organization over this endeavour is Christen am Ball, a coalition of Christian leaders representing their respective churches. These leaders come from the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches, various Evangelical Churches, Independent Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches, and a variety of other Christian ministries and missionary organizations.
Holding ecumenical celebrations together is one thing, but when has there ever been a joining together on the streets in common witness across such an ecclesiological spectrum- with official sanction?
Vienna, one of the host cities of the Euro 2008 European football championships, is also the location of one of the most significant movements towards Christian unity in Europe. Operation World twenty years ago described Austria as a place where people were afraid of contact with evangelicals because they were seen as sects in an overwhelmingly (albeit nominal) Catholic country.
Yet the unity being expressed during the three-week football outreach is the fruit of years of growing fellowship and dialogue among Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, House Church, Pentecostal and interdenominational leaders meeting at a Round Table, based on a common commitment to the Lordship of Jesus.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has played a leading role in nurturing a positive relationship with non-Catholics. Officially second only to the president in national ranking, the cardinal represents the new spirit of openness towards other Christian traditions in parts of the Catholic world. Two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI asked the cardinal to succeed him as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The cardinal’s response was that his work in Vienna was not yet finished.
Several hundred international participants are expected to arrive in Vienna this week for training, preparation and formation into teams working across the city in multiple activies. These include daily evangelistic outreaches on walking streets, in parks and schools, in church buildings and in a Christian café; the distribution of thousands of giveaway whistles and cardboard soccer games, and an evangelistic newspaper with testimonies of world class players. Other ministries include:
• Sports Ministry: street soccer tournaments, football matches, sports demonstrations, etc
• Music Ministry: worship, concerts
• Creative Arts: drama, dance, pantomime, puppets, fine arts, etc
• Practical Work: set-up for events, driving, food service, etc.
• Children’s Programmes in parks, the city centre and, churches
• Prayer Ministry, 24-hour prayer room, intercession
• Street Outreach: talking and praying with people
• A Family-oriented festival in one of Vienna’s biggest parks: face painting, balloon sculpting, juggling, miming, etc.
• Technical Assistance: sound, video, lighting equipment
• Ministry in Local Churches and Parishes
A large international and interconfessional Festival of Hope planned for the closing day of the European Championship, with a giant video wall, is expected to draw 10-15,000 participants.
The website also carries the common confession of faith, values and code of conduct to which all the partners have subscribed. If what is being achieved in Vienna could be spread across the continent, then Europe would be exposed to a united witness like never before in history.
Till next week,