Every three years the churches around what is called the Rhein-Knie (Rhine knee) get together for a day of worship, celebration, consultation and serious discussion of current issues. They come from Switzerland, Germany and France – thousands of them. This time it’s in Basel and it’s boiling in the sun.
The Münster was full to overflowing for the opening service (done in French and Gerrman) this morning and the seminars began after lunch. The session I was in wasn’t brilliantly attended, but began with some music. We got to hear singing in five different languages – the songs of people from other parts of the world. By singing their songs in their languages we enter a (very) little into their experience of God and the world. We also get a reminder that some things cannot be translated – you have to ‘feel the depth’ of the untranslatable language – and this at least generates a bit of humility, if not humiliation. To sing the songs of others in their language reminds us also that God is not monochrome, monolingual or monocultural.
But where else other than in church would people get this experience today – a unique opportunity for many people? A similar question that bugs me about young people and some ‘fresh expressions of church’ (the ones that are really ‘peer’ churches) is how in today’s world it might be possible for children and young people to have generous relationships with elderly people outside of their family. Where can children listen to and learn from the experiences of adults whose lives and wisdom might just have something to teach us that can’t be learned from a computer or telly? Children need good relationships with adults outside the family if they are to mature.
Here again, the church must regain it’s confidence in being probably the only institution that regularly brings together in a single community of relationships people of all ages. That’s why I am suspicious of the limitations of some forms of church which simply bring together people who like each other and are like each other. It might be more interesting and less frustrating, but I am not sure it is what church is meant to be.
Anyway (!), this Basel Kirchentag brings together people of most ages (haven’t seen too many younger people yet) and they come from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Free churches and other odds and sods of church genres. And the main theme of the multiplicity of seminars? Not churchy stuff. Not ecumenical relations. Not mere spirituality to feed the individual (there are other places for that). No, here the question has to do with the role of the churches in addressing the aftermath of the financial crises of the last three years, the impact of these on relationships and families, and how to get a Christian voice/perspective heard in the shaping of the future.
They bring perspectives and proposals from three countries, three cultures and three languages to the common task of building a good society for all. And it is notable for not only repeating the imperative of standing alongside those who suffer, but also that of helping build something positive and new for the future.
What I need to think through as I prepare to go to Dresden on Wednesday for the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag (150,000 people) is how the church in England can find a way not only of standing with those who suffer, but inspiring those who will use both their gifts and their wealth – however understood – to build the society our children will soon see as ‘normal’. Standing with the suffering is vital, but it isn’t the only responsibility we have.
Basel has seen some religious battles and controversies in past centuries. Today the only scrap is around the Cup Final which is taking place in Basel, but doesn’t involve FC Basel.