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.
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.
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