The Kirchentag is now about to conlude under clear blue skies and a warm sun. Tens of thousands of people have made their way to the Buergeweide for the Closing Service, but I have to prepare to leave for a conference in Paderborn. Just time for some concluding reflections on the Kirchentag.

kirchentag-plakat1. The Kirchentag does not take place in a private place, but in the heart of a living city. Every day we walk past the red light clubs and the business of the city goes on. The worship, seminars and workshops (around 2,500 in three days) go on in the public space – a refusal to park religion in the ghetto where people who like that sort of thing can get on with it in private. Last night, as we were looking for somewhere to eat, a reflective service was going on in the Marktplatz – hundreds of people at the heart of the city, unashamedly praying and bringing questions of life, politics, economics, society to the public square.

2. It has caught the imagination locally. The theme of the Kirchentag has been ‘Mensch, wo bist du?’ (Where are you?). The regional SPD welcomes visitors to Bremen with placards stating ‘Schoen, dass du da bist!’ (We are glad you are here!). The ‘pub’ we ate in last night is called Die Staendige Vertretung: waiters wore t-shirts with ‘Mensch, wo bist du? on the back, and underneath ‘in der Staendigen Vertretung!’ (Where are you? I am in the SV pub!). It is great to see how the funny side of a serious business has caught the imagination of the local (secular?) society and the whole city has joined in the fun. Christians have captured the public imagination, partly by choosing a theme and wording that invited response and engagement from all people – wonderful.

3. The press coverage of the Kirchentag has been interesting. The local Weser Kurier has put out a special edition every day of the Kirchentag and has provided good (not always uncritical, but always fair and intelligent) coverage of what has actually been going on here. There is a clear celebration of the event locally – even among those who don’t actually want to be part of it. As far as I have been able to see, the national press has also covered the event with intelligence, fairness and humour. Journalists take the substance seriously and don’t just look for holes and contradictions to exploit – that there will be holes, inconsistencies and contradictions is assumed and accepted.

4. There is a robustness about the Kirchentag which allows for enormous diversity of approach on the grounds that people are grown up enough to think, make their own minds up and argue the toss when they wish. There is an intellectual and cultural maturity to the whole thing that makes me want to stay here. For example, serious and lively discussions about religious education in schools has not been accompanied by the sillinesses we have come to expect in England – look at the recent spat between Ekklesia and others on this matter, for example.

5. Serious questions about the future development of the EKD are being asked and the debates are robust and demanding – as they should be. But what is immediately remarkable is the mutual respect with which ‘opponents’ treat each other and the rigour with which arguments are articulated. With few exceptions (in my experience), people behave like adults and Christians who love God, the church and the world and want to bring all three together.

So, there are some concluding thoughts and the clear suggestion of a regret that such an event in England is hard to imagine. I don’t have illusions about the Germans or their church, but I do have close experience of the way they are proceeding with facing change. I think it is impressive – regardless of whose vision will end up being implemented.

Now to Paderborn.