A Short History of the +enc
• A new form of semi-autonomous Christian communities has been emerging on the European continent during the past 4 decades. Although quite diverse in nature, they nevertheless share a number of characteristics:
- The majority of their members are young Catholic lay-people.
- They are ecumenically open.
- They are evangelistically active.
- Their members have a yearning for a revival and renewal of Christ’s church.
• In 1995 representatives of several of these communities were involved in the founding of RELaY. In so doing they embraced the fourfold mission of RELaY: Reconciliation, Evangelisation, Lay leadership formation and Youth work
• In 1997 RELaY hosted a Christian leadership conference in London. Leaders of missions organizations, youth leaders, pastors, priests, and leaders of communities from across Europe attended this event. During an afternoon set apart for the meeting of “special interest groups,” many of these community leaders met together for the first time. Out of this gathering grew an overwhelming desire to meet again under the auspices of RELaY, but this time at an event designed exclusively for people leading communities.
• The first and second RELaY conferences for community leaders took place in March 1998, and March 2000 at a monastery in Novy Hrady, Czech Republic. Approximately 70 people (most of whom came from the former East Bloc) attended these two events. One of the main issues that arose during both events was the possibility of creating a network of “autonomous” Christian communities. A steering committee consisting of representatives from various countries was entrusted with spearheading this project.
• In November of 2000 the steering committee convened for 3 days at the Vienna headquarters of the community “Umkehr zum Herrn” to examine a possible framework for a future network of communities. They discussed the concepts of network, commitment, pastoral structures and counseling as well as the necessity of clearly defined relationships between the “member communities” and their respective church authorities. An executive committee was then assigned to carry out the decisions of the steering committee. The members of the executive committee are: Bruce Clewett of “Kerygma Teams” in Vienna, Johannes Fichtenbauer of “Umkehr zum Herrn,” in Vienna, and Johannes Hüger of “Koinonia” in Biburg, Germany.
• In March, 2001 “Geist und Sendung” hosted the third RELaY conference for community leaders at their community house in Fulda, Germany. The 90 participants of this event came to the conclusion that:
1 They were to found a European Network of Communities (+enc) and to place this network under the umbrella of RELaY. One of the historical models for this new network is the Benedictine federation. In this federation, the +enc communities are to maintain relationships of mutual support and responsibility toward the other communities in the network without sacrificing their distinctiveness and “self rule.”
2 In addition to more traditional types of Christian fellowship, Europe also needs alternative forms - forms which don’t always fit neatly into the category of “monastery” or “parish.” One of the tasks of the +enc is to encourage the development of these “communities of the third way” (3W communities).
3 Finally, participants of the 2001 conference decided to form (in addition) semiautonomous networks of Christian communities in their respective nations. These
national networks would serve to encourage increased accountability and cooperation between communities in their respective countries. The national networks would directly relate to – but not be governed by – the +enc.
• In 2001 an already existing national network of communities in Austria decided to become part of the +enc. Shortly thereafter a national network of communities in Germany did the same. Currently there is a movement underway to create national networks in other European countries, including Poland, Holland, Slovakia and Romania. Another interesting development has been the granting of official recognition to a number of +enc communities by their respective church authorities.
• The +enc steering committee met in December, 2002 and again in 2003 in Guntramsdorf, Austria to take stock of the growth and development of the +enc, to plan future +enc events and to formulate a tentative list of core values of the +enc. At this point there were approximately 80 groups in a preliminary relationship with the network.
• The fourth +enc conference was hosted by the “St. Martin’s Community” in Modra near Bratislava, Slovakia. in March, 2003. The main speaker, Rick Olmstead, senior pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Fort Collins, Colorado, addressed the 200 participants about strategies for building healthy community leadership structures and about the subject of mentoring future leaders.