For the record, these are two statements issued by the Protestant Church in Germany following the EU Referendum in the UK:

The Chair of the Council of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, has issued the following statement in the wake of the EU Referendum result:

The Evangelical Church in Germany deeply regrets the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. Now it will be necessary to analyse the reasons for this decision. The imminent departure of a country from the EU is a painful matter and must prompt us to drive the European peace project forward even more energetically. With our international ecumenical network, our churches will continue to work towards a united Europe based on solidarity. If it is confirmed that many young people, in particular, voted for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union, we have a particular commitment not to flag in our dedication. Speaking for myself, I see young people as being the hope of Europe. (Hanover/Berlin, 24 June 2016)

 

The German co-chair of the Meissen Commission (of which I am the English co-chair), Ralf Meister, Lutheran bishop of Hanover, and Petra Bosse-Huber, EKD bishop of ecumenical relations and ministries abroad, are seriously dismayed by the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union:

“With all due respect for the democratic decision in Britain and all the obvious necessity for reforms in the EU, in our view Europe will suffer a painful loss with the upcoming withdrawal of an important partner,” said Bishop Ralf Meister. “The spirit of reconciliation and the ecclesial fellowship between our churches will not be affected by this political step. On the contrary, we will do everything to bring our churches and the people in our countries closer together.

“Precisely in our fragile and vulnerable world, and in a Europe that is so directly challenged today, our churches have a mutual need of each other and want to make an energetic contribution to European and global cooperation,” Bishop Petra Bosse-Huber underlined, speaking between sessions of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee meeting in Trondheim, Norway. “Together with our sisters and brothers in the Church of England we are working for a Europe of growing community and just peace,” she added.

 

 

[The Evangelical Church in Germany and the Church of England have for 25 years been bonded through the Meissen Declaration. Together they are on the way towards the full, visible unity of their churches. In past decades countless steps have been taken towards greater togetherness – close partnership relations exist between parishes, cathedrals, German regional churches and dioceses.] (Hanover/Berlin, 24 June 2016)

I am in Dresden for a Meissen Delegation Visit with the Archbishop of York until Sunday. I am the Anglican Co-chair of the Meissen Commission which handles relations between the EKD and the Church of England since 1991.

Apart from the hard work on theological and practical issues, we have also had some fun. This evening we attended a brilliant organ concert at the incomparable Frauenkirche – the church the Allies destroyed during WW2 and in which I delivered a Bible Study during the Kirchentag last May.

I am not a great fan of organ music, but this exposition of JS Bach’s Die Kunst Der Fuge (14 fugues and 4 Canons) played to a packed house by the Frauenkirchenorganist Samuel Kummer was just brilliant. Organists must be the best musicians there are – they have to use so many fingers and toes – and this performance was mesmerising.

It made me think about the importance of ‘live’ music. Like with preaching, it is the event itself that defines the performance and content. Recorded music is wonderful, but the live event is by definition unrepeatable, utterly unique, of the moment. It is risky – anything could happen and anything could go wrong, especially in something so long and complex as the Bachzyklus XVIII.

Why were there hundreds of people in the church, many of them young and including a number of children? What on earth brings such a cross-section of humanity to a church to listen to an organ that is so high up that you cannot see the organist anyway? Why bother to turn out on a cold night to listen to something you could hear on a CD in the warmth and comfort of your own lounge – and probably for the same price?

The answer is probably complex. But, the combination of architecture, ambience, the shared experience, the live nature of the event, the atmosphere and the sheer artistry all combine to draw people to experience something unique and uniquely beautiful. You just can’t imitate in your living room the volume and nature of a major organ played in a vast and beautiful space.

It is a pity that the ‘event’ is so easily traded for a lesser, more accessible experience. I wonder if the experience of ‘live’ music is something that every child should be exposed to early on – something that should be commended and recommended to anyone wanting to know they are alive. And I wonder if people like me – those who preach, debate, communicate in a variety of media and contexts – need to make the ‘event’ so unique, so unmissable, so unrepeatable that curiosity and the need to discover one’s pulse will draw people to it?

Musings in Dresden after a long day.

Tomorrow we continue the business as we go to Meissen itself to begin celebrating 20 years of the Meissen Agreement. We end back at the Frauenkirche in Dresden on Sunday before the long journey back home.

Twenty years isn’t a long time in the grand sweep of history. Which makes it remarkable that agreements made in a very different world only two decades ago can have had such an impact on how countries and churches relate to each other.

In the mid-1980s Germany was divided and the Cold War was quietly defrosting in Europe. The German Church was also separated by the Berlin Wall and the role of the church in East and West looked very different. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, visited the GDR and proposed a living connection between the Church of England, the EKD (in West Germany) and the Federation of the Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic.

The result was the Meissen Agreement – written in 1988 and signed at Westminster Abbey in 1991. It was written in a divided Europe and was signed in a different world.

Twenty years later this agreement has formed the basis of most of the Church of England’s European ecumenical developments and paved the way for the multi-national Porvoo process. The Meissen Agreement has led to very effective diocesan and parish links, exchange of people, thinking and expertise, and the establishment of theological, ecclesiological, ethical and other conversations between the churches.

The Meissen Commission meets each September alternately in Germany and England. The national committees meet three times per year in their own country. Added to this are other exchanges, visits and engagements with particular members of the Commission. I have chaired the English Committee for the last five years; the German co-chair is Professor Friedrich Weber, Bishop of Braunschweig and an Ecumenical Canon of Blackburn Cathedral.

In the last five years we have done a good deal of work on (and thinking about) interfaith experience, education (religious, historical and linguistic), and have agitated about the disastrous state of language teaching/learning in England. We have shared experience of church reform, fresh expressions and evangelism in a rapidly changing world. The next five years will see some continuity, but also one or two new points of focus.

The reason for writing this today is simple. This afternoon the Commission began the celebration of it’s twentieth anniversary with a seminar and reception at the German Embassy in London. The German Ambassador is a brilliant man and he hosted not only the seminars on the Meissen Library in Durham and expert reflections on interfaith work in our two countries, but also a very generous reception with nearly 70 guests. It was such a good evening and demonstrated the genuine friendships that have grown between our countries and churches. Bishop Weber reminded us that our parents were enemies – now we are friends.


Work will continue in Limehouse on Friday and Saturday (with visits to see how two churches in the East End are engaging with the Christian Gospel in a multi- faith and multicultural environment). On Sunday I will be preaching at a morning service at the Christuskirche in Knightsbridge (in English, fortunately) before we go to Westminster Abbey for a celebration Evensong at which Bishop Weber will preach. The Commission will conclude it’s work and celebrations on Sunday night and Monday morning. A new Commission will then be appointed for the next five years and I will continue as the English co-chair. There will be some change in the membership of the English Committee – three of the five members will retire this time.

But Meissen, not widely known about in England, is a very significant ecumenical relationship. It is living, is not bureaucratic, and is rooted in real relationships of respect, mutual learning and active friendship.

And it compels me and us to keep banging on about the dire situation in England vis-a-vis language learning. We are impoverished as well as incapacitated by our inability to understand (let alone speak) the languages of others.

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Location:London