I am in Dresden for a Meissen Delegation Visit with the Archbishop of York until Sunday. I am the Anglican Co-chair of the Meissen Commission which handles relations between the EKD and the Church of England since 1991.

Apart from the hard work on theological and practical issues, we have also had some fun. This evening we attended a brilliant organ concert at the incomparable Frauenkirche – the church the Allies destroyed during WW2 and in which I delivered a Bible Study during the Kirchentag last May.

I am not a great fan of organ music, but this exposition of JS Bach’s Die Kunst Der Fuge (14 fugues and 4 Canons) played to a packed house by the Frauenkirchenorganist Samuel Kummer was just brilliant. Organists must be the best musicians there are – they have to use so many fingers and toes – and this performance was mesmerising.

It made me think about the importance of ‘live’ music. Like with preaching, it is the event itself that defines the performance and content. Recorded music is wonderful, but the live event is by definition unrepeatable, utterly unique, of the moment. It is risky – anything could happen and anything could go wrong, especially in something so long and complex as the Bachzyklus XVIII.

Why were there hundreds of people in the church, many of them young and including a number of children? What on earth brings such a cross-section of humanity to a church to listen to an organ that is so high up that you cannot see the organist anyway? Why bother to turn out on a cold night to listen to something you could hear on a CD in the warmth and comfort of your own lounge – and probably for the same price?

The answer is probably complex. But, the combination of architecture, ambience, the shared experience, the live nature of the event, the atmosphere and the sheer artistry all combine to draw people to experience something unique and uniquely beautiful. You just can’t imitate in your living room the volume and nature of a major organ played in a vast and beautiful space.

It is a pity that the ‘event’ is so easily traded for a lesser, more accessible experience. I wonder if the experience of ‘live’ music is something that every child should be exposed to early on – something that should be commended and recommended to anyone wanting to know they are alive. And I wonder if people like me – those who preach, debate, communicate in a variety of media and contexts – need to make the ‘event’ so unique, so unmissable, so unrepeatable that curiosity and the need to discover one’s pulse will draw people to it?

Musings in Dresden after a long day.

Tomorrow we continue the business as we go to Meissen itself to begin celebrating 20 years of the Meissen Agreement. We end back at the Frauenkirche in Dresden on Sunday before the long journey back home.

There we are, trying not to be too complaining about everything, and the Guardian gets me going again.

Having moaned – with absolute legitimacy – about the state of language learning in England, I open today’s Guardian and find Simon Jenkins pressing another button: the history curriculum’s obsession with the Nazis.

Under the header ‘Britain’s Nazi obsession betrays our insecurity – it’s time we moved on’, Jenkins asks:

What is the matter with us? We seem unable to get the Nazis out of our system.

He goes on to put his finger on a point we in the Meissen Commission have been trying to address for several years:

Small wonder Hitler is now the ruling obsession of the national curriculum. I remember my son asking me, after a punishing term of the Weimar republic, if there was a second world war when was there a first? The GCSE history website scores 417,000 mentions of Hitler against just 157,000 for Henry VIII and the Tudors.

My own son managed to study history right through school and university, but it was only at uni that he managed to find an alternative to Hitler and Stalin.

Is it a mark of Britain’s insecurity that we can’t let Hitler go? Is it simply that 1945 was the last time we ‘won’ anything? Why when we play Germany at football do tabloids still do puns on Nazi imagery or football crowds sing such inanities as “Two world wars and one world cup – na na na na na.”?

The tragedy is that post-1945 Germany is an extraordinary story of division, political brinkmanship, economic re-engineering, social and psycho-social reconstruction, conflict, re-culturisation in Europe, and so on. If I didn’t like Berlin and Berliners so much, I would suggest that every school child in Britain should be taken to Berlin for a few days. Walk 100 metres down Unter den Linden to the Brandenburger Tor and you have to embrace language, history, geography, theology, economics and politics. You can’t understand German politics or culture without knowing history and how it has been shaped by theology.

The Meissen Commission is trying to address the English obsession with one exciting period of German history in two ways: (a) pressing for reform of the history curriculum in schools, and (b) embarking on what we are calling the Meissen Schools Initiative, aimed at establishing live links between schools in England and Germany.

Simon Jenkins concludes:

I must not fall foul of Godwin’s law, but the demands now being made of Germany “to show leadership” come with ghostly overtones of reparation for past guilt. Nothing is more likely to incur German resistance than to imply that rescuing Europe is somehow an obligation on a present generation of Germans for the deeds of a past one. Misreading Germany was a lethal failing of Europe’s 20th-century leaders. It is surely time to consign the Nazis not to oblivion but at least to history.

Like Jenkins, I suspect our obsession with Hitler and the Nazis is indeed a mark of our insecurity (or envy?). It is time we grew up.

The Meissen Commission finished its five-year work period on Monday and our report will now be completed and published in due course. The new Commission will begin work in the new year, completing its work in 2016 – leading into Germany’s Reformation Year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

In a podcast recorded at the German Embassy last Thursday evening I referred to the deplorable state of language teaching and learning in England. This was picked up by several newspapers and has gained some wider comment.

In fact, I wasn’t criticising teachers. Language teaching in our schools is heroic. But, many teachers feel they are fighting a losing battle against cultural and political forces that are rooted in an island mentality. We might understand the emphasis on science and technology in schools, but the relegation of language learning to a not-very-enthusiastically-encouraged poor option says much about the British understanding of identity, communication and business.

First, language learning is essential to a good and broad education. Simply to be able to read or listen in one’s own language is severely limiting to potential. As Helmut Schmidt wrote in his marvellous book Ausser Dienst, no politician should think of entering the Bundestag (Parliament) unless they speak at least two foreign languages to a competent degree. Why? Because, says Schmidt, you can’t understand your own culture unless you have looked at it through the eyes of another culture. And, to do that, you have to know something of the other language.

I said this to Ken Livingstone in a television studio last year and he laughed and said that we wouldn’t have any politicians in the UK. I thought that spoke volumes.

Second, we are disadvantaged in the business world with which we seem in this country to be obsessed. As I said in the podcast, business isn’t all done in English over the table; the real stuff goes on behind your back and if you can’t understand what they’re saying privately, you’re stuffed. It is appalling that we produce so few professional linguists, but – more seriously – we don’t produce ordinary business people who can cope with a foreign language.

Third, we Brits seem to find language learning too hard. Yet, we have Asian kids in our schools who move easily and unselfconsciously between two, three or four languages.

Fourth, we have a political class that is narrowly focused on an economic prejudice that concentrates on technique and technology as if they could stand independently of wider linguistic, communication or cultural factors. Language learning is being presented as less important than other studies, ignoring the importance not only of ‘knowing stuff’, but also ‘being able to communicate it’.

This isn’t special pleading by a one-time linguist. It stands for itself as an important cultural deficit in England. And, not only are we depriving our own children and young people of a vital dimension of human living, but also we are shrinking the cohort of potential language teachers for future generations.

It is serious and needs some intelligent attention.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Twenty years isn’t a long time in the grand sweep of history. Which makes it remarkable that agreements made in a very different world only two decades ago can have had such an impact on how countries and churches relate to each other.

In the mid-1980s Germany was divided and the Cold War was quietly defrosting in Europe. The German Church was also separated by the Berlin Wall and the role of the church in East and West looked very different. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, visited the GDR and proposed a living connection between the Church of England, the EKD (in West Germany) and the Federation of the Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic.

The result was the Meissen Agreement – written in 1988 and signed at Westminster Abbey in 1991. It was written in a divided Europe and was signed in a different world.

Twenty years later this agreement has formed the basis of most of the Church of England’s European ecumenical developments and paved the way for the multi-national Porvoo process. The Meissen Agreement has led to very effective diocesan and parish links, exchange of people, thinking and expertise, and the establishment of theological, ecclesiological, ethical and other conversations between the churches.

The Meissen Commission meets each September alternately in Germany and England. The national committees meet three times per year in their own country. Added to this are other exchanges, visits and engagements with particular members of the Commission. I have chaired the English Committee for the last five years; the German co-chair is Professor Friedrich Weber, Bishop of Braunschweig and an Ecumenical Canon of Blackburn Cathedral.

In the last five years we have done a good deal of work on (and thinking about) interfaith experience, education (religious, historical and linguistic), and have agitated about the disastrous state of language teaching/learning in England. We have shared experience of church reform, fresh expressions and evangelism in a rapidly changing world. The next five years will see some continuity, but also one or two new points of focus.

The reason for writing this today is simple. This afternoon the Commission began the celebration of it’s twentieth anniversary with a seminar and reception at the German Embassy in London. The German Ambassador is a brilliant man and he hosted not only the seminars on the Meissen Library in Durham and expert reflections on interfaith work in our two countries, but also a very generous reception with nearly 70 guests. It was such a good evening and demonstrated the genuine friendships that have grown between our countries and churches. Bishop Weber reminded us that our parents were enemies – now we are friends.

Work will continue in Limehouse on Friday and Saturday (with visits to see how two churches in the East End are engaging with the Christian Gospel in a multi- faith and multicultural environment). On Sunday I will be preaching at a morning service at the Christuskirche in Knightsbridge (in English, fortunately) before we go to Westminster Abbey for a celebration Evensong at which Bishop Weber will preach. The Commission will conclude it’s work and celebrations on Sunday night and Monday morning. A new Commission will then be appointed for the next five years and I will continue as the English co-chair. There will be some change in the membership of the English Committee – three of the five members will retire this time.

But Meissen, not widely known about in England, is a very significant ecumenical relationship. It is living, is not bureaucratic, and is rooted in real relationships of respect, mutual learning and active friendship.

And it compels me and us to keep banging on about the dire situation in England vis-a-vis language learning. We are impoverished as well as incapacitated by our inability to understand (let alone speak) the languages of others.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Over 120,000 people have descended today on the eastern German city of Dresden. It has to be seen to be believed. The idea of drawing similar numbers of people to a four-day rolling conference run by Christians in the UK is inconceivable. It would simply be ridiculed.

Yet this Kirchentag (following the 2009 event in BremenBremen and last year’s Ecumenical Kirchentag in Munich) brings together ordinary people, serious academics, politicians of all complexions, clergy, lay people and plenty of people who would not identify themselves with any church. Why? It is intelligent, sociable, enjoyable – and takes people seriously. The media turn up in huge numbers and treat the whole thing with critical respect.

This does not mean that all these people leave their brains at the door. On the contrary, people are expected to engage both mind and spirit in addressing some of the most searching questions and demanding challenges facing the world: from ecological dilemmas through political choices to economic priorities. And all this is offered in a context of a huge range of Bible studies, worship, seminars and parties.

The theme this year is taken from Matthew 6:21: ‘There will your heart be also’. This will be looked at from a number of perspectives. I am here largely through my co-chairmanship of the Meissen Commission and this year I have a heavy programme. Tomorrow (Thursday) I am doing an hour-long Bible study in the famous Frauenkirche on the theme of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5. I go from there to do an hour-long podium discussion with my German counterpart and friend, Bishop Professor Friedrich Weber on Meissen-related matters. I then preach (this time in English) at a service for hundreds of young people, led by a young Afro-Caribbean woman called Judy Bailey. Then I finish in the evening with a Lima eucharist.

There will be more to follow on Friday and Saturday before the closing events on Sunday and a welcome flight back to Bradford.

What am I hoping for here? Apart from survival, I hope to be stimulated, challenged and encouraged in making the links between theology, politics and economics as we address the big challenges of today’s world. If it is anything like previous years, it should be very entertaining, too.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


If the idea of academic ecumenical conferences doesn’t float your boat, now is the time to click onto a different site. However, if you can get beyond thinking it will be dry or abstract, you might well find that the conversations stimulated by the papers given in Salisbury this last week float your mind and theological imagination off in unexpected directions. I was tired when I arrived at Sarum College on Tuesday, but totally ‘alive’ when I left last night (unfortunately, missing the last morning). Anyway, here’s a summary of key points from the papers and a reflection: it might be quite long, but you have been warned.

Bishop Graham Cray, Ecclesiology, Culture & Mission: This began with an explication of the ecclesiological heterogeneity inherent in Fresh ExpressionsEmerging Church and the churches involved in and around them. Starting with a brief survey of the changing context of English society and the place of the church within it (set out in the Mission Shaped Churchreport), the challenges facing a ‘traditional’ church are not hard to detect. The challenge to the churches is, therefore, to engender new forms of church which stand alongside, emerge from or extend the reach of existing churches.

The key point about Fresh Expressions is that there is no standard model to adopt or replicate; rather, there is a process of thinking, questioning, planning and discerning which has to do with genuine love of neighbour and not the prioritising of preferred worship styles. The theological underpinning derives from (according to the paper) (a) deciding what constitutes ‘church’, (b) the trinitarian nature of the ‘Missio Dei’, (c) mission as incarnational, (d) the church as ‘sign, instrument and foretaste’, and (e) our understanding of the ‘economy of God’.

Fresh Expressions have generated significant challenges, particularly at the interface of ecclesiology, mission and culture. The place  (and dynamic) of sacramental life in the priority of a new Christian community is a key challenge within the church, but this has also to do with the nature, identification and generation of appropriate leadership. The ecumenical challenge is not the least of these.

The paper led on to discussion of key points, such as the nature of consumerism as both context and (potential) content of Fresh Expressions. The Germans are interested in how the Church of England in particular – given its particular history and culture) has come to a point of agreeing (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) that permission should be given for such risk-taking and ground-breaking initiatives.

Bishop Professor Dr Friedrich Weber, Current Missiotheological Discussion in the EKD following the 1999 Mission Synod in Leipzig: The German context differs from the English in that (a) membership of the Church is counted according to those who pay the Church Tax (two thirds of the population – 50 million – belong to a church), and (b) the division of Germany and subsequent reunification has profoundly challenged not only society in general, but the churches also. Projections in Church Tax income over the next thirty years led to the Reformprozess and some renewed thinking about the raison d’etre and mission of the Protestant Church in Germany. (The English cynics need to realise that the huge income from the Tax also funds massive and massively impressive social care provisions.)

Based on the image of ‘breathing in’ (worship, teaching/preaching, sacraments and fellowship) and ‘breathing out’ (mission, outreach and service), mission is not an optional add-on for churches that like that sort of thing. A brief survey of German social trends (de-christianising of society; reducing church membership; individualism of faith; the eclectic provisionality of personal ‘meanings’) explains why the mission question has gained in urgency since the late 1980s. The Mission Synod in Leipzig in 1999 was a key point in getting mission on the agenda of the EKD.

The state of play in Germany in relation to mission theology is characterised by such themes as: mission as a worldwide partnership for questions of peace, justice and the integrity of creation; mission as keeping alive the question of God beyond territorial borders; mission in the context of globalisation as intersubjective dialogue; mission as the recruitment and winning of people for the community of the church; mission as the conversion of people to one another and, therefore, the struggle for the unity of the church; mission as planned dialectical behaviour.

This has all led over time to specific initiatives in the EKD and its constituent churches, including: the establishment of centres of mission and evangelism training; courses on church growth, evangelism, nurture, education and service; nurture course resources; church planting.

There is a lot going on, but there is also resistance to these impulses for mission. Nothing new there, then!

Revd Professor Loveday Alexander, Mission & Unity in the Acts of the Apostles: Every church uses the Acts of the Apostles to justify (or direct) their (wildly diverse) ecclesiology and missiology! We are given a paradigm for a church that is apostolic, but also (and often forgotten or ignored) one that demands “strong – and equally costly – commitment both to the unity of the church and … to the catholicity of the church“. Luke gives us not a propositional model, but a narrative illustration of the first churches.

Via an exploration of the word ‘ekklesia’ and its use to denote both the ‘local church’ and the ‘whole church’, we can see mission as key to Luke’s narrative explanation of what the church is for. The church has always allowed space for diversity within its overall unity (of origin, place and practice). Antioch is the ‘fresh expression’ model of church, but Paul insists on its (and his) accountability to the ‘traditional/centre’ church in Jerusalem: the ‘centre’ and the ‘marginal’ are mutually dependent and mutually accountable. It was his taking this so seriously that ultimately cost Paul his life.

So, mission is not the sole preserve of the ‘fresh’ or marginal churches, but permission, generosity, complementarity and mutual accountability are the hallmark of a genuine missiological ecclesiology.

Professor Dr Martin Wallraff, Mission & Media: Remarks on the Spread of Christianity in Late Antiquity: Christian mission always uses certain media for communication and these also shape that mission and the church itself. (a) Communication of the church’s mission in the early post-apostolic centuries (up to the fourth century) did not centre on the use of media: “For the church, the widespread communication of its missionary activities was not important.” (b) The spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire coincided with the proliferation of the new medium ‘codex’ (i.e. from ‘scroll’ to ‘book’). The early Christians soon learned how to positively take advantage of this new medium. But it raises questions about what it means to call Christianity a ‘religion of the book’. (c) Stories of mission in late antiquity often emphasise that the conversion of whole peoples began not with a church government initiative or a bishop’s commission, but with surprising and ‘humble mediators’. (d) Christian mission often corresponded with a historical quantum leap in terms of media: (e) Liturgy (preaching, performative acts & aesthetics) acquired an exceptional position on the ‘religious market’ in late antiquity. (f) More work is needed on the correlation between media and mission – and this must be done ecumenically.

Discussion went on to the disaster for mission that is the unruly horrors of the internet when used by competing Christians engaging in their theological controversies. However, this particular genie is already out of the bottle.

The Revd Dr Paul Weston, The Missionary Church in the Theology of Lesslie Newbigin: This paper was an excellent and timely reminder of the greatness of Newbigin. It looked at ecclesiology in (a) eschatological perspective, (b) corporate perspective, and as (c) ‘foretaste’. Newbigin writes: “The disunity of the church is a public denial of the sufficiency of the atonement. It is quite unthinkable that the church should be able effectively to preach that atonement and to become, in fact, the nucleus of the reconciled humanity, while that denial stands.”

The connection between the doctrine and its consequent ethics has clearly still not been understood by the squabbling church whose Gospel lacks credibility in the light of its behaviour and discourse.

Professor Dr Michael Weinrich, Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church: Systematic Theological Suggestions in the Perspective of Karl Barth: This paper (in the absence through sickness of the author) represented a Reformed understanding of the church – one that drew criticism from all sides of the conference. However, it put emphasis on the activity of God in mission and placed a question mark over a church which busies itself with self-justifying activity aimed at self-preservation or self-perpetuation for its own sake. Mission begins and ends with God and is not primarily about bigging up the church. However, one comment suggested that an ecclesiology that reduces the church to nothing raises the question about why anyone should bother with it in the first place. (Weinrich disputes that reading of his text.)

Professor Dr Corinna Dahlgrün, Protestant Theology in a Religious Vacuum: This offered a searching and moving reflection on the experiences and challenges of  ‘a missionary perspective on the study of theology in Eastern Germany’. It covered the differences between the experiences of the church in the two Germanies and the particular challenges faced (particularly by the East) since reunification – which include small membership in the post-Communist East, residual ignorance of church and Christianity, materialism, and the imbalance between churches of East and West. The three concluding theses were: (a) the churches need individuals to undergo a ‘spiritual reformation’ in order to renew the church and society; (b) to do this, the church must learn to translate its message into a language people can understand; (c) the church needs to worry less about its internal purity and take seriously its vocation to mix it in the world for the sake of the world it is called to serve.

Dr Cathy Ross, An Exposition & Critique of the Five Marks of Mission: This paper offered a clear tracing of the development of mission understanding in the Anglican Communion in the last thirty years. It is remarkable how much energy and how many words can be expended in trying to sort out ‘mission statements’ when there is less evidence of their fruit to be seen. How on earth has the church managed still to obsess about the artificial division between evangelism and social action? “When Jesus was asked to sum up what God required of us, he did not answer in terms of either a set of ‘projects’ to be performed or a set of ‘doctrines’ to believe. Instead we are called to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbour in the same way we love ourselves.” (Ramachandra) We were helpfully reminded (with reference to Oscar Romero) that “no mission statement can say everything, that we cannot do everything, that the final responsibility lies with God and that we are only ministers, not messiahs.” The ‘five marks’ were summed up by CMS as: ‘Proclaim, Teach, Respond, Seek, Renew’. But, perhaps ‘worship’ ought to be in there somewhere?

Bishop Martin Schindehütte, On the Missionary Dimension of Diaconal Service/Work: God wants everyone to be helped, saved, healed. That is the basis of the German church’s vast and expansive service of young, sick and vulnerable people through its Diakonia work. This led on to reflections on how those who work in this way (both employed and volunteers) are supported professionally and spiritually.

The Revd Hans-Hermann Pompe, The Recovery of Mission at Parish and Regional Level in Germany: Mission is back on the agenda, but there is still denial of its importance and urgency. This paper looked at some of the challenges to a recovery of mission and the implications of effective mission for the shape of the church.

The Revd Dr David Holgate observed the impact of mission thinking on the training of clergy and church leaders and called for  ‘robust theologies of culture’. In a changing world the church needs to get to grips with new demands and fit its leaders accordingly. (This followed an earlier contribution by Canon Dr Vernon White in which he described the changes in ministerial training and formation in the Church of England in the last thirty years or so.)

Canon Professor Paul Avis, Toward a Missiological Ecclesiology: The conference concluded (in my absence) with a paper that drew on the 1910 Edinburgh Conference and the emphasis on unity that ran through it. There is an “inseparable biblical and theological connection between unity and mission and … this deserves to be recognised in theological study, ministerial training, church policy and pastoral practice”.

So, there it is. Far too long a ‘digest. And I didn’t mention the worship, the pub, the meals or the fact that the conference was excellently chaired by the Bishop of Guildford, The Rt Revd Christopher Hill and Professor Dr Friederike Nüssel from Heidelberg.

You really had to be there…

This Meissen Theological Conference in Salisbury is proving too full for me to have done an easy digest as we go along. So, I’ll offer a quick summary of themes here and then try to make time when I get back home to write a resume of content.

Bishop Graham Cray opened up a conversation about Fresh Expressions, looking at ‘Ecclesiology, Culture and Mission’. This led into quite serious debate about how the ‘charismatic’ and adventurous ‘margins’ (Antioch) relate to the ‘centre’ (Jerusalem) and where the accountabilities lie in church life. This was given fascinating treatment on the basis of the Acts of the Apostles in a paper given by Professor Loveday Alexander on‘Mission and Unity in the Acts of the Apostles’.

If you want funny stuff, go to a German Patristics scholar working in a Swiss university. Professor Dr Martin Wallraff came at the ecclesiological questions from left-field by looking at media development in Christian history: ‘Mission and Media – Observations on the Expansion of Christianity in Late Antiquity’. Dr Paul Weston (Cambridge) took us back to and through the thinking of the great Lesslie Newbigin in ‘The Missionary Church in the Theology of Lesslie Newbigin’. This led into papers by (the absent) Professor Dr Michael Weinrich on ‘Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church’ followed by Professor Dr Corinna Dahlgrün on ‘Protestant Theology in a Religious Vacuum’.

Today we are looking at changes in the church’s approach to its mission before going on to how the English and German churches are tackling (practically) their engagement with the cultures and societies in which they are set.

The papers have been immensely stimulating, but the real benefit is in the conversation and debate that follows. It is impossible to do justice to the extent of the material, but a couple of quotes might be suggestive of the direction of travel:

Perhaps we have given too much uncritical emphasis on the church as steward of the inheritance from the past, and too little on the church as an anticipation of the future. (Graham Cray)

The fundamental task of mission is to bear witness to Christ – to be, if you like, ‘fresh expressions’ in the world of God’s living Word. (Not fresh expressions of the church!) (Loveday Alexander)

I’ll try to digest the discussions and papers later when I get the space.

I have just arrived in Salisbury for the Meissen Theological Conference. I attend as Anglican Co-chair of the Meissen Commission, but have no responsibility in this conference other than to participate and enjoy it. How nice is that?

The theme this time is ‘Ecclesiology in Mission Perspective’ – which basically means that we want to tease out our understandings of what the Church is (and what it is for). If that is still too vague, then we will be looking at culture, Scripture, unity, implications of Fresh Expressions, academic thinking in Germany and the UK, systematic and practical theological perspectives, ecumenism… and taking a peek at dead influential theologians (who happen to be both dead and influential) such as Karl Barth and Lesslie Newbigin.

Now, for those outside of church circles who might think this is a weird way to spend the inside of a week, I’ll explain where the interest lies.

Churches – like any institutions or any groups of human beings with a common interest or task – easily fail to address the demands of a rapidly changing world. Their default setting is to consolidate the gains or settled patterns of the past – especially where such gains were hard won or costly in some way. So, it is vital that serious consideration is given at regular intervals to re-examining why we think we are who we think we are and why we do what we do in the way that we do it.

The advantage of doing this here is that bringing two cultures and two histories together provides a perspective that sets the experience and priorities of a church in one culture in the context of the critical light of another. So, what might appear to be (or assumed to be) fixed and ‘given’ in England might look a little more relative when seen through the lens of another church’s theological or historical experience and thinking.

Given that – for both the Church of England and the EKD – our churches are not there merely to maintain themselves as ‘societies’ or institutions with a common identity, these themes become important. The Church exists for the sake of the world and not vice versa. It needs to be built up, grown and supported in order that it can fulfil its primary mission of ‘creating the space in which people can find that they have been found by God’ (in whatever circumstances of life). And we can learn better how to do that by subjecting our own preoccupations and assumptions to the scrutiny and questioning of those who come from somewhere else.

I’ll keep you posted.

I got back from a great Meissen Commission meeting (in Wittenberg) late last night and have been catching up on the news from the Pope’s visit (as well as emails, correspondence, paperwork, etc.). Tomorrow I’ll be at the consecration of three new bishops at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The juxtaposition of these experiences sent my mind off at a bit of a tangent.

The Pope clearly went down better than many had thought (or hoped). But, now he has gone, life carries on. Someone pointed out to me that he was in the air on his way here while I was in the air en route to Wittenberg and he was in the air on his way back to Rome as I was in the air coming back form Berlin. Spooky…

But, what I wondered was this: does he ever get do do anything that broadens his horizons or fires his imagination? And I don’t mean Benedict in particular, but the office of Pope. The demands are infinite, the pressures massive and the walls of the Vatican high.

The three bishops being consecrated tomorrow will find that their world changes and it takes some getting used to. The big danger is that we become so churchy and preoccupied with churchy things that we lose the things in life that also feed us. When I became a bishop I virtually stopped doing music – no time for regular rehearsal or playing. Not inevitable, but that’s what happened. So, I have had to work hard at listening to new music, watching films and reading more than theology. The new bishops will have to find their own way, but they shouldn’t neglect their own nurturing.

One of the things that fires me up (and, I think, feeds my ministry) is finding new bands or being pointed towards old stuff I never really listened to. At the moment I’m loving Franz Ferdinand and watching The Wire. I have just finished reading Chris Evans’s autobiography alongside Hans Küng, Terry Eagleton and Tom Wright.

But, how does the Pope ever get the space to watch good theatre, hear new music, watch good films or relax with good fiction? There might be a simple answer to this and it is possible that he has cracked the challenge and has a wonderfully developed ‘hinterland’ that feeds him and fires him. But I wouldn’t bet on it. (The Archbishop of Canterbury does read a huge amount and has an amazing memory: he also knows some interesting and surprising telly stuff.)

Here’s my recommendation to the Pope, the Archbishop and the new bishops: they might not like it, but it will introduce a new world to them.

Tim Hain lives in Surrey, is an interesting bloke and a damn good guitarist. He has also invented a fusion of Blues and Reggae which he calls ‘Bleggae’. He plays loads of small, localised gigs, but he deserves a bigger audience. It’s fun, it’s thoughtful, and it makes you want to dance.

If you bump into the Pope, pass on the link…

… which, of course, is the title of a Leonard Cohen song – best version by Jennifer Warnes.

In England we have this rather sad envy of all things German. In Germany – so the story goes – everything is top quality, everything works as it is supposed to work, the trains run on time and they all speak English anyway.

Well, they do ‘do’ quality – just look at their buildings. Everything works everywhere – and, if it doesn’t, they put it right very quickly. Most speak English – which can be a little frustrating if you want to work on your German. But – and it is with some relief and a certain Schadenfreude that I report this – the trains no longer run on time.

Or, at least, mine didn’t yesterday. The Deutsche Bundesbahn was late!

September 2009 011I took part in the final ‘pilgrimage’ walk with 1000 people through Kassel, concluding with me and Carla Maurer (from Switzerland and on the right of the picture) sending people on their way home with God’s blessing. This final event also involved Bishop Wolfgang Huber and the President of Germany, Horst Koehler and his wife. So, I sat with them on the stage, had a good conversation with them afterwards (in which I suggested he didn’t come to Berlin Cathedral on Sunday morning) and then had coffee with friends before catching the fast train to Berlin.

September 2009 012

It took 90 minutes longer than it should have done. By the time we got into Berlin I had missed the lecture I had planned to go to at the Humboldt University by Professor Dr Christoph Schwoebel. That’s ninety minutes late! So, I checked into the hotel, got a meal and had an early night.

September 2009 013This morning I was preaching at the Berliner Dom and I have worried about this for weeks – probably annoying everyone else by moaning about it too openly. In Kassel a good friend of mine, Christoph Roemhild, helped me with the German; so I was able to mount the extraordinarily enormous and intimidating pulpit with more confidence than I deserved. There was a congregation of (so I was told) around 700. I preached on the raising of Lazarus (you can read the basic text on the Berliner Dom website) and when I finished there was spontaneous applause. That has never happened to me before. I think they were so relieved it was over that they couldn’t contain themselves.

The service was wonderful and nearly had me in tears. The choir and orchestra led the setting by Johann Sebastian Bach and the service was led by the Dompredigerin, Frau Petra Zimmermann, and the EKD Bishop for Ecumenical and Foreign Affairs, Martin Schindehuette.

This service was, however, more than an opportunity to hear an Englishman speak German in public – which is usually good for a laugh. It represented yet another opportunity for German and English Christians to worship and serve together. This month represents a number of anniversaries: 70 years after the outbreak of the Second World War; 60 years of the German Constitution (Grundgesetz); 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall; and almost 20 years of the Meissen Agreement (bringing together the German Protestant Church and the Church of England in a common service of the people of Europe).

In my sermon I did draw attention to the fact that much of the reconciliation after the war was only possible because of the readiness of the churches to admit guilt, reach out and provide a rationale and locus for forgiveness, reconciliation and hope. We take it for granted now, but I found myself deeply moved by the unity we demonstrated and genuinely felt as we worshipped together this morning.

September 2009 014While waiting for the bus to the airport (where I am writing this) I looked again at the Berlin television tower – an embarrassment to the East German authorities during the Communist years. Every time the sun shone on it, the reflection took the form of a cross!

Incidentally, the reason I advised the German President to worship elsewhere this morning was because it is Election Day in Germany and he told me he would normally go to church before voting. I thought he might prefer to hear a German sermon rather than an outsider’s ruminations. I hope he had a good morning – he is a very nice man.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,896 other followers