It is a bizarre world out there.

Israel refuses to join in talks to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons – which raises the temperature out there, but highlights the hypocrisy of those who are asking for the de-nuking of some countries while retaining the edge given by owning their own. US forces have been killing Afghans by mistake (some comfort) and the financial precipice on which the world stands continues to crack and wobble under the weight of contradictory pressures. A precarious world…

So, what are we obsessing about here in England? A gay government minister who felt compelled to file housing expenses in order not to let any snoopers into the reality of his sexuality. Had David Laws not filed for housing expenses in London, you can bet your life someone would have outed him as gay – something he didn’t want. And, at the point of writing this, it appears he has tendered his resignation to David Cameron – the first casualty of the new regime.

David Laws seems to have broken the rules on expenses. He should repay them. But, the other questions remain and they have to do with the culture we have come to accept:

  • Why should he (and others) in the first place have to fear media intrusion into areas of his private life that have no bearing on his ministerial office? I know I have been here before, but why do we give the media the right to hold people in public life to ransom in this way? The Telegraph has said (creditably, in my view) that they had no intention of touching on his sexuality in exposing his expenses breach, but that he outed himself last night. I would love to know how the Telegraph would have exposed his breach without exposing his sexuality and identifying his partner.
  • Who gains what from his resignation – other than another ‘story’ for the media? Why do we think the world benefits from resignations?

An interesting light is shone on this question by an article in the Frankfurter Rundschau (titled Enough repentance, Frau Käßmann) today regarding the former Bishop of Hannover in Germany. Margot Käßmann resigned in February after being stopped for crossing a red light while well over the drink-drive limit. Thousands of people – including journalists – pleaded with her not to stand down, but, like Martin Luther himself, she felt, “here I stand, I can do no other”. She went and was universally applauded for her courage, integrity and dignity in taking responsibility for her serious error.

Now, however, many people in Hannover want her back. This wasn’t her intention (she is about to go to the USA for three months to teach before leaving Hannover in time for her successor to be elected in November), but her popularity was in evidence in Munich recently when she was the main attraction at the Ecumenical Kirchentag. Now it seems even the media are calling for her to come back – she acted with complete integrity and paid a huge price and justice was done, but that does not mean she can’t come back. Her re-election would also solve the problem of what the church can do with such a charismatic and popular leader who is always going to attract attention and cannot help but overshadow her successor at both Landeskirche and EKD level.

Her authority was re-established at the precisely the moment it was most compromised. This also proved that the mistake of February did not overshadow her credibility.

[Contrasting her decison to resign with the reluctant sacking by the Pope of the RC Bishop of Augsburg after what the journalist called ‘deception, lying and whitewashing’], Käßmann’s behaviour has shown her to have character and understand the gravity of her role… Käßmann resigned without a Plan B and this gives substance to her words of regret/repentance – even if she were to come back… Enough repentance, Frau Käßmann! Your return to office would be for the church the best evidence of what you preach. Credibility is not to be confused with infallibility. And: there is a second chance – not a cheap ‘business as usual’, but a reflective ‘now for something new’.

I wonder if we in Britain would have the courage to request the return of David Laws whose resignation has been forced by personal agony rather than greedy ambition? And how would the press have reported this story without outing him?

It’s not often a bishop gets treated like a rock star. It almost certainly couldn’t happen in England (even if anyone was stupid enough to want it). But, here in Germany the media have celebrated the return of Margot Kässman to public ministry and given her huge affirmation. They probably couldn’t have done anything else, given the massive affection with which she has been greeted here at the Ecumenical Kirchentag.

The first full day of the Ecumenical Kirchentag was always going to be dominated by the return of Margot Kässmann, the charismatic and immensely popular former Chair of the Council (Ratsvorsitzende) of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland. After only four months in office, she felt compelled to resign – along with her post as Bishop of Hannover – after having driven through a red light when well over the permitted drink-drive limit. This was her first major appearance since her resignation and she looked tense when she appeared in the hall to do a Bible study for more than five thousand people. She was accompanied by huge numbers of TV cameras and press phtotographers.

She was probably surprised to get to her seat on the front row and find me and two Church of England colleagues sitting right behind her. One of my colleagues had blagged his way through the barrier and we got prime seats on the second row from the front.

Once she got on stage and got going with her Bible study (on Genesis 9:8-17, Noah’s flood), she visibly relaxed and seemed completely at home. Met by repeated standing ovations, she could not have been other than moved by the love of her audience. And there was no self-pity, no self-reference, no milking the occasion for the sake of her ego, no attempt at self-justification or indulgence in satisfying the voyeurism of other people. She just did her stuff and did so with confidence, freedom and clarity.

It was an interesting text for her to address – and she didn’t choose it. The theme for this Kirchentag is ‘hope’ and all the Bible study contributors work from the same text.

She took five elements of the story of the flood, but explored briefly the nature of the story as an archetype of human fears of death, destruction and loss. She addressed the fact that we speak confidently of human and technological progress in a world that can still bring suffering to Haiti and in which volcanic ash can ground the world’s aircraft.

Given that suffering and tragedy are part of what being alive in a contingent world involves, the rainbow becomes not only a reminder to God of his promise, but the symbol of hope. Kässmann’s point was that shafts of hopeful light shine into the darkness of the world’s experience – not when we want them and never according to some engineered formula – and the rainbow becomes a symbol of the vision that there can be a future after destruction.

This brings to mind Brueggemann’s phrase, ‘newness after loss’ – in reference to the prophets of the Old Testament who not only saw the inevitable destruction coming, but also held out the hint of a hope that death, destruction, humiliation and exile do not have the final word after all.

The fundamental challenge here relates to views of the world that hold out no hope and offer no vision other than wishful thinking. Hope is not fantasy. Rather, hope is rooted in trust that the evidence of our eyes does not convey ultimate truth about the totality of reality. No Christian can be a stranger to the sort of mockery we often attract these days – but Noah built his ark, looked to an apparently absurd future when everyone else thought he was crazy.

Kässmann was calling for Christians to stop talking endlessly about (and take their focus off) their divisions and offer the world instead images of hope of a future – a bit like planting a tree in a desert, building a house during a war or buying a field when you are about to be thrown out of the country.

Terrible pun, I know. But today’s issue of Der Spiegel leads on the Käßmann resignation and contrasts her integrity with that of (principally) bankers, business leaders and politicians who hang on to their jobs at all costs.

Spiegel points out that on the morning the news about her drink-driving offence broke she was the subject of ridicule. By the afternoon, following her resignation, she had the respect and admiration of the German public. But the coverage focuses on a number of questions raised by Käßmann’s resignation:

 

Mit dem Fall Käßmann ist erneut die Frage aufgerufen, wie eine Gesellschaft und wie einzelne Mitglieder mit Schuld und Sühne umgehen. Es ist ein sehr deutsches Thema, weil die Schuld aus Holocaust und Weltkrieg hierzulande immer wieder Debatten ausgelöst hat. Der Fall Käßmann hat bei weitem nicht diese Dimension. Und doch beginnt damit ein neues Kapitel in der langen Geschichte im Umgang mit Schuld. Ihr schnelles Handeln weist weit über sie hinaus.

Somehow, any German consideration of ‘sin and guilt’ always comes back to the Holocaust and World War. Perhaps it is a little too dramatic of Spiegel to recognise that the Käßmann case lacks that particular gravity, whilst seeing in this event a ‘new chapter in the long history of how we cope with guilt’.

Interestingly, the article goes on perceptively (in my view) to consider the role of the media in events such as this one:

Das war Unsinn, und doch ist die Rolle der Medien in Sündenfällen nicht immer nur rühmlich. Die sogenannte Öffentlichkeit ist in erster Linie eine mediale Öffentlichkeit. Sie wird von Journalisten erstellt, bei Skandalfällen vor allem von Boulevard-Journalisten. Sie fabrizieren das, was dann „gesundes Volksempfinden“ genannt wird, häufig aber eher Skandalisierungs- und Verkaufsinteressen ausdrückt. Auch der Fall Käßmann hat eine starke Medienkomponente.

This recognition of media complicity in ‘fabricating’ scandal stories and claiming they represent the interest of the public is a brave one, coming as it does from a journal covering this story. But, Spiegel handles it in what I think is an exemplary fashion: clear portrayal of what happened, good analysis of the ‘story’ and its implications, penetrating consideration of issues/questions arising from the events and a responsible conclusion that takes seriously the story itself, the characters involved and the public whom it is informing.

 

Furthermore, the reflection on the media difficulty in covering a story such as this is helpful – starting, of course, with the statement that it was Käßmann’s drink-driving that caused her downfall and not media reporting of it:

… nichts hat die Würde des Amts so beschädigt wie die trunkene Fahrt der Ratspräsidentin Käßmann. Gleichwohl begeben sich Journalisten in eine schwierige Rolle, wenn sie sich zu den obersten Moralisten des Landes aufschwingen. So wird von den Medien eine moralisch äußerst empfindliche Öffentlichkeit hergestellt, ohne dass die Medien als Ganzes über alle Zweifel erhaben wären.
 

 

It would be interesting to see how this media reflection develops. Perhaps it is only a German preoccupation, but it would be a good conversation piece even here in England. And that is not a dig at the media – it simply opens up a real, serious and interesting discussion.

The resignation of Margot Käßmann as Bishop of Hannover and Chair of the Council of the EKD earlier this week has made me think about why people resign. Or – which is probably more accurate – why the rest of us put pressure to resign on people who have got something wrong. This has always mystified me and I have always assumed I was simply missing what was obvious to everybody else: that if someone got something wrong, they deserved to lose their job or role.

I know I am not alone in questioning the link between failure and resignation – the opposite, I suppose, of the link between ‘success’ and bonus. There are several bits of this that bother me and I offer them as a first word rather than a final word, a question rather than a statement:

  • If someone gets something wrong, they are not likely to get it wrong again. In that sense the safest person to have on board is one who has learned from failure or error. Of course, if serious error is repeated, that’s a very different story.
  • Fear of failure can inhibit creative risk-taking and lead to limited and short-term thinking.
  • The fact of having got it wrong should produce a humility that is not inimical to confidence. (I don’t trust people who appear to claim that they have been spotless; I listen to those who know their fallibility.) This is not about hubris or hypocrisy, both of which demand resignation for the sake of all parties.

Margot Käßmann believed that her drink-driving offence would render her unable to speak with authority to power or challenge ethical injustice. I question this. Christian leaders are always assumed to be speaking down to the world from a moral pedestal which they themselves have established for the satisfaction of their own ego. But this is nonsense – which a conversation with any bishop would quickly displace. None of us speaks about ethics from a pedestal: the basic starting point of Christian morality is that we’ve all screwed up and none of us has a leg to stand on when it comes to throwing stones at others. (Great mixing of metaphors there…)

This is not to say that no one can make moral judgements or hold others to account. But it is to say that leaders like Käßmann would – I believe – be listened to all the more keenly because any challenge she brings cannot be stood against any imputation by others of moral superiority.

I know this sounds silly in our current climate, but surely a wise business/institution would invest in the long-term development of its leaders, taking failure as part of the development, and thus avoiding the short-termism that dogs us today? I heard yesterday that the average tenure of a Local Authority Chief Executive is around 3.5 years – it isn’t hard to unpick the implications of that.

I can’t help wondering if the immediate clamour for the resignation of ‘senior’ people has something to do with a desire for punishment or some sort of vindictive schadenfreude – even when it might not be in the best interests of the business/institution (or of the people they serve) for the resignation to be accepted.

Which, I guess, is another way of asking why we love to heap opprobrium on those to be blamed (our new national sport) and voyeuristically enjoy watching the downfall of people who were only doing their best?

Margot Käßmann must not disappear. The Church needs her – perhaps more than even she would dare to realise.

This is a massive tragedy. Margot Käßmann resigned earlier today both as Bishop of the Hannover Landeskirche and as Chair of the EKD Council (Ratsvorsitzende).

Following the incident a few days ago when she drove through a red light, was stopped by the police and found to be well over the alcohol limit, she resigned all her posts. The Council had a teleconference last night and gave her unanimous support – and I gather support has come in from just about everywhere. She made no excuses and made no attempt to duck her responsibility. So, her resignation press conference demonstrated just what the EKD and Germany have lost: a woman of stature, humility, dignity, clarity and courage. She is the best communicator the EKD has and is by far the best media operator in the Church.

When she finished her statement and rose to leave the press conference, the journalists applauded her.

It is too early to say why she resigned so quickly and against the will of so many in and outside of the church. She said that her ability to offer a prophetic critique had been compromised, but I am not sure that is true. I think many people are more ready to listen to the challenging voice of one who has ‘fallen’ and speaks with humility from a place of realism (and not from a pedestal of righteousness). Her departure is a tragedy and I have emailed her personally to assure her of my personal support, prayer and love.

Her statement ended with this affirmation:

Zuletzt: Ich weiß aus vorangegangenen Krisen: Du kannst nie tiefer fallen als in Gottes Hand. Für diese Glaubensüberzeugung bin ich auch heute dankbar.

‘You can never fall deeper than the hands of God.’ James Jones once wrote a Lent book called Falling into Grace. In it he makes the point that whenever we fall into sin we then fall further into the grace of God. Clearly that is what Margot is saying. That same grace must lead her through this trauma and then restore her gifts and experience to the service of the world through her service of the Church. She must be encouraged to speak, to preach and to write – she is brilliant. That’s what I am praying for her on a very sad day.

I had an interesting meeting with a newspaper editor this morning. One of the things we discussed (in general terms) was the plight of public figures whose life might be remarkable and admirable for the most part, but who are brought down by a single flaw or misdemeanor. This afternoon I read that the Ratsvorsitende of the EKD (German Protestant Church), Bishop Margot Kaessmann, has been arrested on a drink-driving charge.

I don’t particularly want to respond to this – I hate knee-jerk reactions which pile grief on people who know (without us telling them) they’ve screwed up. People should not be used as fodder for vicarious stone-throwing.

Interestingly, the first article I read was in Die Zeit and it was simply a factual reportage of what had happened and noted that she had cancelled all engagements for the rest of this week. It reported that the EKD would be discussing the matter. No further speculation and no great moralising.

Then I went to Bild, the tabloid newspaper that broke the news. Inevitably, they have started polling the ‘angry people’, sought out the voices who will (inevitably) call for her head, and (reluctantly?) noted at the end of its pieces the fact that lots of church leaders are supporting her. My contempt for the moral hypocrisy of those who produce these ‘newspapers’ is well known, so I won’t say more here.

However, what of Kaessmann herself? There will be lots of cries for her blood elsewhere, so I will approach it from a different angle. She has admitted the charge, expressed shock at her own behaviour and said she will face whatever the law throws at her. But she is media-savvy and will know that she now faces being taken apart as a form of public sport. The following is obvious, but needs saying:

  • Drink-driving is not only criminal, it is crazy
  • Church leaders – in the public eye – should be more careful than most and should not take such risks
  • Driving through a red light (as she did) is dangerous
  • Kaessmann’s sense of judgement on this occasion should be questioned
  • She should be subject to the discipline of her church.

But it is a matter for her and the EKD how she and they proceed from here.

Should she resign? I think not. It would please the self-righteous, but wouldn’t achieve anything else. However, she and the EKD Council will have to ask if this single misdemeanor of itself and automatically obviates all her other gifts and qualities. Does this compromise her ability to represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ through a church that needs little reminder of its own potential for compromise of a more sinister sort?

I still think Kaessmann is a very good thing and am sad to read what she has done. Nevertheless, she has always been startlingly honest in public, and has shown great courage under the spotlight as well as being a powerful articulator of the Gospel and the engagement of theology in the modern European marketplace of ideas. She is flawed as we all are. She is also more gifted than most of us in many respects. I hope the EKD doesn’t lose her.

I doubt if she will ever make this mistake again. I hope, however, that she will be given the chance to start again. Sometimes it is the leaders who need judgment and mercy – with some recognition of the pressures under which they work. That isn’t an excuse or special pleading. Yet, although I don’t drink and drive, I do look at her and think that ‘there but by the grace of God go I’.

More anon…

I once referred to Helmut Schmidt’s contention that every national politician should be able to speak at least two foreign languages. That would rule out almost every British politician (which was Ken Livingstone’s immediate response when I told him this in a television studio last month). The point Schmidt was making is that you can only really understand your own culture (what we might call ‘home’) if you can see it through the eyes of another culture – and to do this you need to know something of the language of the other culture.

So, I find myself back in Germany and reflecting on ‘home’ through the lens of a place that is different. Langenargen is on Lake Constance and appears to be deserted. It looks beautiful in the snow and sunshine. But I am here to read and think and study and walk and get some space to think new thoughts (or, maybe, think old thoughts newly). Which brings me neatly to the media.

I have contested before now that the media in Germany handle matters very differently from in Britain and that there appears to be a more open approach from those the media wish to cover. (I know that is a generalisation, but I haven’t got all day…). The head of the EKD, Dr Margot Kaessmann is a case in point and she is so simply because she has been all over the media since I got here a couple of days ago.

Kaessmann preached a New Year’s sermon in the Marktkirche in Hannover in which she called for (a) clarity of purpose and vision with regard to the presence of German troops in Afghanistan or (b) a withdrawal of German troops from a potentially endless and ill-conceived conflict in Afghanistan. This produced a furore in the political media in Germany and led to a face-to-face meeting between the Bishop and the German Defence Minister yesterday (Monday 11 January).

Kaessmann was shocked that her words had been misrepresented and rejected the extrapolation from her actual words to a call for the ‘immediate’ withdrawalof German troops from Afghanistan. A cursory skim through the media shows that this was taken seriously and that the Bishop had opened up a debate that was overdue. Despite calls from the usual suspects for the Church to keep out of politics (yawn… Silly ‘can’t sort out Afghanistan with candles and prayers’ stuff from the SPD), many politicians defended (a) the role of the Church in asking questions others have failed to ask, (b) introducing moral thinking into public policy and (c) the ability of the Bishop to create a public debate/discussion about something that was bubbling under an embarrassed surface.

I caught up with this in two ways. First, a friend sent me a link to an article by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) – at the height of the furore – and this dealt seriously with (a) the role of the Church in asking the hard questions and (b) whether Kaessmann was simply articulating what lots of Germans think but haven’t either the courage or the opportunity to raise. But then the journalists tackled the questions raised with a seriousness that made its comment worth reading: they assumed that the Bishop was a woman of intelligence and integrity and that the readers should take seriously the questions she had raised.

Then, last night, I happened upon a television interview on ARD with Kaessmann. The first interviewee on the programme had been Horst Seehofer, leader of Bavaria’s CSU (currently coalition partners with the CDU and FDP in the Bundestag. He was subjected to intelligent, open and creative questioning about the struggles within the coalition at the moment – particularly over the taxation demands of the FDP and the style and leadership (or lack thereof) of the Bundeskanzlerin, Angela Merkel.

Seehofer remained at the table when Kaessmann was being interviewed. He vigorously (you have to use your imagination here because Seehofer isn’t a very animated man) defended the Bishop’s right and duty to address matters of public concern – and he did so with clarity and humour. Kaessmann, for her part, took questions of substance (should the Germans withdraw troops from Afghanistan?), but also addressed personal questions about her new role as Ratsvorsitzende of the EKD, comments she had made earlier about the personal pressures upon her, the personal cost of taking such responsibility (not as privilege, but as costly duty), her divorce and so on.

What was impressive was the feeling that we were going deeper – and with less defensiveness than would ever be possible in the UK – and learning about a woman learning her job, recognising mistakes, finding her ‘voice’ and being confident about (a) the right and role of the Church in public life and (b) the relevance and importance of Christian insight and experience (often backed up with direct quotation from the Bible) in helping shape public debate at a serious level.

Now, my question while watching this (and reading the follow-up reports in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (newspaper) this morning – with a strongly supportive editorial comment) was: why could this not happen in Britain? What I mean by this is simply that the adversarial approach – either real or assumed – of journalists to their subjects produces a sense of caution that means the audience doesn’t get very deep into understanding the real person or how she has come to her view. What we get is a game in which the subject suspects that the interviewer is simply trying to expose contradiction or inconsistency (which is sometimes important) and, therefore, tries to avoid this by avoiding getting anywhere near any ‘thin ice’ – and the interviewer assumes that the subject is either thick or a liar and needs to be exposed.

This latter approach means that the public loses the opportunity to understand what makes ‘leaders’ tick (we don’t get close enough) and the debate/discourse is impoverished by being limited to what I have called ‘the game’.

No doubt this will irritate journalists again. But the difference of approach is important and brings with it consequences. I am not naive and not everything in the German media garden is rosy. But I think (a) people like me would be more open and engaged and less defensive in this German culture and (b) the audience in Britain would be better served by the German approach.

And then I saw that Sarah Palin has been signed up by Fox News and I thought the end of the world must be coming…

The Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) is meeting in Ulm for its annual Synod and I wish I could be there. My diary prohibited it, so the Meissen Commission/Church of England is being represented by one of my colleagues. The exciting thing about this year’s Synod is the election of the EKD’s new governing Council (Rat der EKD) for the next six years. The election of the Rat is followed immediately by the election from its numbers of the President/Chair (Ratsvorsitzender).

kaessmannOK, that doesn’t sound exciting, does it? But it was always going to be a hard job to succeed the retiring Ratsvorsitzender, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who, as well as leading the Church, has also driven the Reformprozess and is a superb communicator and representative of the Church in the public sphere.

The election this afternoon has seen the Hannoversche Landesbischöfin Margot Käßmann resoundingly elected- the first time a woman will have led the German Protestant Church.

I am biased. Margot Käßmann kindly wrote the foreword to the German-language version of my last book, Finding Faith (In höchsten Tönen, LVH 2009). She is a very popular church leader and bishop of the largest Landeskirche in Germany. She is a superb speaker, preacher, media operator and communicator both in and outside the church. She will bring a renewed and powerful dynamic to the Christian message in Germany and beyond.

It also makes the relations between the EKD and the Church of England interesting as we contemplate the consecration of women as bishops. It will make relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the EKD in Germany even more interesting to follow – with a German Pope and a female Ratsvorsitzenderin of the largest Protestant Church in Europe.

Margot KaessmannIt is hard to describe an arena filled with around 10,000 people listening to a Bible study. I thought there would be no problem getting in to hear Margot Kaessmann, Bishop of Hannover, taking us through the Good Samaritan. My money is on her to get elected as Chair of the Council of the EKD in the autumn in succession to the excellent Wolfgang Huber.

kaessmannMargot Kaessmann (MK) is one of the best communicators in the German Church today. She is brilliant with the media and she has the rare gift of being as good in print as she is with the spoken word. It is not surprising that her preaching attracts huge crowds and that she is immensely popular. She is unafraid to tackle tough subjects, but does so with a directness and generosity that is very attractive. And, in case you think I am being an uncritical fan, I need to confess that she wrote the foreword to the German edition of my book Finding Faith (launched this month).

She recognised at the outset that some biblical texts become over-familiar with repetition and that it can become hard to get behind them in a fresh way. But, she said, the context in which the texts are being read does keep changing – and this presents the challenge of how to read and expound the text at different times and in different places. She then took the parable in three stages and drew from it implications for the church in the world, called to prove its love for God by ‘love of neighbour’.

Without going through her address systematically, I’ll just note several points:

Kristallnacht_19381. She told the story of how on Kristallnacht a synagogue (in Hannover or Hamburg – I didn’t catch that bit) burned down. The fire brigade stood back and let it burn. The synagogue was located next door to the Church Office (the equivalent of our diocesan offices). As it wasn’t a church that was burning, the business of the Church Office just continued the next day without interruption. Quoting some scary anti-semitic propaganda from the NPD (neo-Nazis), she asked if we are a church that loves our neighbour and reaches the wider world, or one that is preoccupied with internal churchy reform at the expense of the world.

2. Challenging the cynical appeal of former free-market capitalists for social protection (when the markets let them down and their own lives were affected), she questioned whether love of neighbour allows us to continue to assume that ‘cheap is good’. She raised the interesting question of who decides when someone becomes ‘handicapped’? Is there a scale according to which when some reaches a particular point they qualify as ‘handicapped’ or ‘disabled’? Who decides which criteria apply?

3. She identified generosity as characteristic of Christian love. She concluded (among other things) that the church will only be renewed by looking outwards and being less concerned with its own internal business.

What is notable (but impossible to convey) is the massive affection and respect in which bishops like MK are held here. There is a deep humanity about MK which comes over: a woman small in stature and tall in theological and spiritual integrity. It was a privilege to be there, even though I have heard her severla times before today.

I went from there to be interviewed by the EKD Media on what they call ‘the Red Sofa’. The interview revolved around my two books in German and the place of contemporary music in the church’s engagement with culture. It was a stimulating conversation with a good audience and good interviewer – even though my German let me down a couple of times in the half-hour we were talking.

The evening took us to the other side of Bremen for a Meissen Service at which I was preaching in English. The church was packed, the music was great and the host pastor wonderful. We worshipped together and then experienced the generous hospitality that we had been told earlier is characteristic of genuine Christian love: food and beer. It made the miserable weather seem brighter and warmer for a while.

So, no great revelations. Just the sort of day the Kirchentag allows: variety, stimulation, fun and serious conversation with friends and strangers.