I realised recently that it is just over twenty years since I first became directly involved in the work of EFTRE!
In the late summer of 2001, I travelled to Scotland to take part in the EFTRE Conference being held that year in Edinburgh. I seem to remember that I had been strongly attracted to this event from the moment – several months before – when I had first received the initial publicity about it. On reflection, I think there were probably several reasons for this:
- first, I felt that engaging with colleagues from across Europe would offer me invaluable opportunities to consider my own work in the context of new and fresh perspectives
- second, the Conference focus on handling truth claims in RE was highly relevant to me, the programme itself offered an excellent range of lectures, seminars, workshops and other activities and the price of attendance – at least for me – seemed to offer real value for money
- and finally, I have to admit that the prospect of spending time in one of my favourite cities with interesting people I had never met before was very appealing!
On all three counts, I am delighted to say that every one of my expectations was wholly fulfilled and what was true for me in that initial encounter with EFTRE remains true today. Through EFTRE, my work continues to be enriched and informed by collaboration and cooperation with colleagues in similar roles across Europe, EFTRE still has a strong commitment to hosting high quality conferences and other events and I have had so many wonderful times in wonderful cities with wonderful people, many of whom have become very dear friends as well as colleagues.
But much has also changed in the last two decades – just days after the EFTRE Conference in Edinburgh came to an end, the world was reeling after the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. Since then, we have endured many other such attacks and not least on European soil. RE, a subject which often claims to make a particular contribution to the cultivation of respect for others and the promotion of community cohesion has had to face the challenges imposed by all such attacks, whatever their motivations might be.
RE has also had to begin to grapple with other major concerns that have emerged more strongly since this century began – issues relating to climate change, to the marginalisation of certain ethnic and religious groups, to the role and status of women in society and to attitudes to sex, sexuality and gender. More recently of course, the pandemic has had a profound influence on the way many people think, act and feel and there have been – and will be – many more matters that challenge us in our professional and our personal lives.
As religious educators, we seek to provide the means to help our children and young people to navigate their way through this complex landscape and to engage with what is serious to them and to what is serious for others. At a time when increasing religious plurality and increasing secularism are to be seen in many of the countries from which we come, our task has perhaps become more complex than ever before.
EFTRE cannot claim to provide simple and easy solutions to the difficulties we face in these respects, but as our name suggests, we do provide a forum or meeting place where we can come together – virtually and in person – with those who are in a similar position to ourselves, although our contexts are never precisely the same. Our new website will be an invaluable tool for us to use in this respect, along with our other online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. We also plan to continue holding seminars several times a year on topics which should be of interest to all our members and friends. These will be via Zoom but we hope to conduct some of them in person when we can travel more easily and then they will coincide with Executive and Board Meetings in our various host cities and countries.
Finally, our forthcoming Conference will provide a more extended opportunity to identify, explore and evaluate some of the ways in which RE can create bridges over troubled waters, offering the spaces in which we hope every child and young person we support can receive the help they need to make sense of themselves and their place in their own country, in Europe and in the wider world. We very much hope you will want to part of that event and look forward to seeing you there!
Lesley Prior, Chair of EFTRE
London, October 2021