It’s not true that I left the country this morning because the Tories are back in power. But it is certainly interesting to see the processes of British politics through the eyes of a different country and culture. The Germans seem not to understand what all the fuss is about – they have a permanent ‘hung Parliament’ and seem to have done reasonably OK.
I am in Munich for the 2nd Ecumenical Kirchentag which began this afternoon and finishes on Sunday. The Protestants do this every other year, but this is the second time the Protestants and Roman Catholics have done it together (the last time seven years ago). Several hundred thousand people of all ages will be here during the next three days and tens of thousands joined together on the Theresienwiese for the opening service.
The service was interesting, but typically wordy. The theme of the Kirchentag is Damit ihr Hoffnung habt (‘So that you may have hope’) and the service attempted to get the word ‘Hoffnung’ into every sentence without ever really explaining what Christian hope might actually look like when ‘dressed’ in human flesh rather than existing simply as a theological idea.
The best bit was – surprisingly – the words of greeting brought at the end by the Bundespräsident, Professor Dr Horst Köhler. This is a bit like the Queen turning up and doing a talk to get the event going. Whereas Protestant black and Catholic Episcopal pink was to be seen everywhere, it was this lay politician who articulated what needed to be said and did so in language that was unambiguous, direct and honest. The scandal of child abuse by Roman Catholic priests has shattered Germany and, in Köhler’s words, hung a cloud over the churches and the Kirchentag itself. He spoke of the many people who had turned their back on the churches or been ashamed by their church, and called for support for victims of abuse.
The President then called the churches (a) to united witness by united worship and service; (b) repentance and transparent addressing of the sins of the church; but (c) not to lose sight of the good done by Christians in, through and from their churches. He strongly urged the churches to face the reality of their failures, but to remain confident both about the Gospel and the powerful good done and still to be done by the Christian churches in Germany. He was constantly applauded before concluding (along with Brother Roger of Taize) that Christians need both to struggle (its mission in and for society)and to be contemplative (rooted in reflective worship and prayer).
It was eloquent, passionate and articulate stuff. To hear a Head of State speak so powerfully, simply, clearly and honestly was very impressive. He was followed by the President of the State of Bavaria (Ministerpräsident), Horst Seehofer, who was equally direct, encouraging and funny. He welcomed us to his Land (state) and added that his Cabinet had agreed on Tuesday that there should be five days of good weather. He commented that we would soon find out what a politician’s word was worth. (Despite every weather forecast promising thunder storms and heavy rain, the evening was pleasant, cloudy and dry.)
Tomorrow begins with thousands of people flooding into the Messegelände for Bible studies, seminars, lectures, concerts, arts presentations, worship and every other kind of encounter. Rather than being preoccupied with abstract theology or disengaged spirituality, the programme is courageously aimed at addressing environmental, political, economic, social and ecclesiastical issues head on and making theology apply to the hard questions facing human beings in our societies now and for the future.
The Kirchentag probably couldn’t happen in Britain – but it is uniquely wonderful here.