Last night was too momentous to spend asleep, so I listened from my hotel bedroom on my mobile phone to events unfolding. At midnight it seemed that the UK would vote to remain in the EU. By dawn it was clear that there was a narrow, albeit clear, margin in favour of leaving. The sunrise here in Norway was beautiful, and the world is still turning.
I am in Trondheim representing the Church of England at a meeting of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. I have been glad to be able to meet with other church leaders to share concerns and reassure them of the Church of England’s continuing commitment to its European partners in our pursuit of the common good. I exchanged greetings with Fr. Heikki Huttunen, the Finnish General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), who reminded me that CEC is bigger than the EU.
The referendum campaign was a bruising one and it exposed some raw feelings and emotions. Not least, I think we have seen the extent to which a good many British people feel alienated from mainstream London and Brussels-centric political discourse. I have particular concerns about the implications for Ireland and for Scotland. There is now a need for a good deal of listening and healing as the UK finds a new future for itself both internally and in its place in the wider world.
Of course, I have particular concerns for the people of my diocese, many of whom are British expatriates living on the European continent. They will be worried about health care, employment rights and pensions in the coming months and years. For the present, we don’t know the precise implications of the vote. I do plead that both British and EU diplomats will take heed to the situation of those living overseas (whether in Britain or on the continent), who will be feeling especially vulnerable at the moment.
People in Britain have expressed their discontent with the structures of the EU. Actually, these discontents are widely shared by other Europeans. I hope that EU leaders and officials are able to bring about the reform to European political structures that is needed for these structures to endure. And I pray that they do endure. Because they were constructed to serve the cause of peace and reconciliation after the two terrible world wars. The task of reconciliation is never done, and I want my children and grandchildren to enjoy the kind of European peace which my generation has known.
In the meantime, I continue my own work of pastoring our European diocese, sharing the good news of Jesus and encouraging people in their faith. I pray for the future of the United Kingdom and of our European continent. I long for our continent to be a place of faith, of hope and of neighbourly care, with political institutions that serve the cause of justice, peace and prosperity.
The Rt Revd. Dr. Robert Innes
Bishop of the Church of England Diocese in Europe