“175 Years for Unity” was the slogan for the anniversary celebration of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance (SEA) that was established in Geneva in 1847. It was one of the first national bodies that formed in the wake of the founding of the World Evangelical Alliance the year before in London. It followed the same purpose in its own national context: uniting evangelicals across different denominations, so they could pray together and work together in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and responding to the social issues of their time.
Following the key words “Prayer, Bible and Mission”, the rich program at the event at the Centre Evangélique in Tavannes took the more than 200 participants on a journey through the years from its founding to the present time. It was moderated in part by Henry Dunant – played by Rev. Norbert Valley, former President of the Réseau Evangélique Suisse, the French-speaking branch of the SEA.
The “contemporary” Dunant illustrated for the audience what life was like in the mid-19th century and reminded them of the importance of combining the sharing of faith with relevant social engagement. “Yes, the Bible should be at the center, but it becomes alive in the love of the neighbor and especially the weakest ones,” he said. Dunant who is most famously known as the founder of the International Red Cross and the initiator of the first 1864 Geneva Convention, was a person of deep faith who also served as one of the earliest General Secretaries of the local branch of the Evangelical Alliance in Geneva from 1851-1859.
The event continued to highlight different periods and activities in the life of the SEA and evangelical churches in Switzerland. Examples included how they brought together churches from all stripes in the “Christustag” (Day of Christ) events gathering thousands of believers for a day-long festival of praise and worship. The SEA also has a long history of engaging with society and the government, such as the efforts combatting human trafficking, which included a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council that offered recommendations to the Swiss government to improve its response to this mostly hidden issue in society.
Even for the global Church, Switzerland has played an important role, as it hosted several WEA General Conferences over the years, and then most famously the historic evangelism conference convened by Rev Billy Graham and Dr John Stott in the Swiss city of Lausanne in 1974.
Today, the SEA continues to serve as a national Evangelical Alliance that illustrates how evangelicals from different denominations, cultures and languages can unite together. The celebration event itself was held with two moderators alternating in German and French, and among the highlighted efforts of the SEA today was the coordination of intentional outreach to immigrant communities and the welcoming of refugees from Ukraine into Swiss homes.
At the conclusion of the celebration, WEA Secretary General Bishop Dr Thomas Schirrmacher was invited to greet participants on behalf of the global body of evangelicals. “The World Evangelical Alliance would be nothing without the diverse history of its national and regional alliances, it is here where churches and believers actually work together,” Schirrmacher said, pointing out that “in a few years, for example, it will be the 175th anniversary of the Turkish Evangelical Alliance, which is closely linked to the history of evangelical churches in Turkey up to the present day.”
Most fascinating for Schirrmacher has been the way how old and new movements continuously come together in the Evangelical Alliances in different countries, and how they are often closely linked to revivals. “The SEA and the national alliances also show that alliances are “collectors”. We do not collect stamps, but revival movements and sanctification movements. This is how we understand the Reformation, so many movements and churches that are older than 100 years, such as the Methodists, the Salvation Army or the Pentecostal movement together with their many children and offshoots, so many awakenings from more recent times. It is always fascinating to me anew that we are able to maintain the unity of the body of Christ right up to the present day, despite constant new additions.”
He concluded by congratulating the SEA on the appointment of its new intercultural representative and encouraging them to continuously come up with new ideas how to serve the increasingly diverse Church in their country.
For more information about the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, visit Schweizerische Evangelische Allianz and Réseau Evangélique Suisse (RES).
Photos from the Anniversary Celebration are available here.