In 1908 a group of German Christians saw the clouds of conflict coming over Europe and dreaded the horror of Christians killing Christians as enemies in a war. They formed an ecumenical peace delegation and 131 of them travelled to London and Cambridge in an effort to strengthen the relationships between German and English Christians in the face of the threat. This group of Protestants, Roman Catholics and Free Church delegates met in the Bremer Ratskeller before boarding the ship bound for England. And that is where I was at lunchtime today.
The visit was notable for the journey that began it. German Protestants and Catholics did not know each other – they travelled on different trains to Bremen. But they had to board the same boat. The boat set sail, but hit a sandbank where it sat waiting for the tide to lift it off. You’ll get no marks for spotting the parabolic significance of that one…
Last year a group of Germans visited London and Cambridge in commemoration of the 1908 visit. This allowed for some serious engagement between the Germans and English, including a one-day conference in Cambridge with Juergen Moltmann and Richard Bauckham giving excellent theological papers.
In 1909 the Brits did a return visit – 109 delegates included Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers. Under the slogan ‘Peace through encounter’, they visited Hamburg, Berlin, Eisenach, Bethel and Bremen. In Bremen 3000 people joined together in the Cathedral at the end of the visit to say farewell and ensure that the relationships would survive whatever events would later lead the countries to war against each other.
The reception today took place in the place where the two groups met 100 years ago and was moving. It could be argued that European ecumenism began in Bremen 100 years ago. The challenges faced today are different, but it remains the case that the relationships will outlive the paperwork. Ecumenism is changing – representative bureaucracy is giving way to a dynamic approach to developing relationships and coalitions in order that Christian churches can be more effective in their engagement with the world (rather than obsessed with details of relations between churches).
On Sunday I lead a delegation to Paderborn to commemorate the 1909 visit.
So, back to the Kirchentag and what makes it work. Matt Wardman has made some interesting observations in a response to my earlier post. He wrote:
1 – It cannot be on a showground in the middle of nowhere. That is an institutional acceptance of privatisation and a type of sectarianism before you even start – as you say. Perhaps I should recognise that there is definitely place for “resource events” – provided that the resources end up going somewhere.
2 – It must be cross-cutting – denominationally and to transcend any sacred/secular divides.
3 – I’m tempted to suggest that, like the Kirchentag, it should be a lay movement.
How would it work here?
I’d throw out 2 thoughts.
Firstly that the setting must be urban to ensure an “in society” setting, with a full mixture of venues to ensure that it is not religious people talking to each other behind closed doors.
Secondly that one set of organisations with the inherent clout to draw really high profile speakers, and the breadth of projects/networks to pull something together, are the cathedrals – headlined by the Anglicans and the RCs. Then many other venues and organisations could follow that spearhead.
That leaves me with the idea of a varied festival rotating between centres with cathedrals in urban settings every 2 years.
Interesting. The Kirchentag is lay-led and that clearly makes a massive difference. There are no barriers between church, media, politics, culture, etc as everything is regarded as open to discussion and argument. This presupposes a confidence in both the faith and the institution of the church that sponsors (and pays) for it. The Kirchentag takes over an entire city – which obviously brings a huge economic boost to that place. But it makes the point that setting such an event in a ‘holy’ (set aside) place would be hopeless.
As we saw today with Huber, Merkel and Garton Ash, church cannot be protected from the wider world. Nor can the wider world be protected from a church which refuses to be ghettoised into a place of private interest.