This is the text of my Presidential Address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod this morning. (Disclaimer: I wrote it last night at Berlin Tegel and Amsterdam Schipol airports on my way home from an academic conference in Wittenberg, Germany.)

I returned late last night from Wittenberg in Germany. I was there to present a paper at a conference on Faith, Theology and the Church (from Tuesday to Thursday) and then record a programme for BBC Radio 4 on Martin Luther and the Reformation. Having launched the Reformation jubilee last October, preaching in the Augustinerklosterkirche in Erfurt where Luther was a monk, it was a privilege to end the year in Wittenberg where it all kicked off. As everyone knows, 31 October 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day when Luther is alleged to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche, thus challenging the Pope and the Church to address some serious concerns about both theology and the practices of the church.

Many of the stories of Luther’s words and deeds are now of dubious provenance. There is no record of him having told the Emperor at the Diet of Worms: “here I stand; I can do no other”. (Which hasn’t deterred sock manufacturers from producing huge numbers of their products with the phrase added. I might bear the weight of one’s foot, but it doesn’t seem to bear the weight of history. In fact, there is no evidence that he did actually nail his 95 Theses to the church door – something impossible now because the doors are made of bronze.

Martin Luther’s tomb

But, why let facts get in the way of a good story. Whatever the details of who did what and when, we do know for certain that Luther took his life in his hands when he dared to suggest that the grace of God is there for everyone and cannot be bought – even in the good cause of building St Peter’s in Rome. Fear of the consequences of death were trounced by the mercy of God.

Sitting in the Schloßkirche yesterday morning, looking at Luther’s tomb, I was very conscious that we can’t always control the consequences of the decisions we make. The monk of Erfurt changed the world in ways he could never have imagined when he found Paul’s letter to the Romans opening his heart and mind to the riches of God’s unmerited love. Not only a revolution in the church, but political ructions, too, that too often led to bloodshed on a huge scale. I wonder what he would have made of it today, if he had known what he was about to unleash.

This is not insignificant for us here in the Diocese of Leeds. After giving my paper at the conference on Thursday, I took part in a panel discussion with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Berlin and the head of the Protestant Church in Germany (the EKD),where both the divisions and affinities of ecumenical relationships were visible. As the church faces big challenges in British and wider European cultures, the need for Christians to prioritise their common baptismal discipleship over their denominational commitments becomes more urgent.

On of the watchwords of the Reformation traditions is ‘ecclesia semper reformanda’ – the Church needing constantly to be being renewed and reformed. Nothing stands still in this world. And the church can be no exception. Change is here to stay.

It would be ludicrously absurd to compare the changes our diocese has gone through in the last three and a half years with the enormity of the Reformation, but we need no telling that change brings pain as well as opening up new opportunities for those who are unafraid to explore them. And not every outcome can be predicted. As Luther found out – and it caused him a whole new set of griefs and concerns – there is the small matter of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Our diocese continues to change as we move on from the initial phase of our creation from 2014 to 2016. We are now functioning as a single diocese with a single administration, and we are now clear about where we are in terms of shaping support for clergy and parishes as they ‘do’ our mission and ministry locally. But, this has all taken place at a time when the church across the country is facing a hefty drop in the number of stipendiary ordained people during the next fifteen years. This inevitably means that we will need to re-shape not only where we deploy our clergy, but the nature of the role, too. A priest cannot do in six parishes what he or she did in one. And we cannot put clergy into jobs that are not do-able.

In other words, we have a lot of work to do in the next few years. We do so in the face of financial challenges, too, but our primary focus has to be on what sort of ministry and mission we can provide within the constraints over which we do not have complete (or any) control. Now, is this a cause for fear or concern? Well, yes and no. We need to be concerned enough to tackle the challenges head on and pay attention to the detail – understanding the cost of growth as well as the benefits. But, we need not fear. We are engaged in God’s mission, and must never lose track of the bigger picture of God’s transforming grace, his call to keep moving – with him – and to be faithful to him and each other.

Clearly, if our models of ministry are to change, then they will involve re-focusing the attention of clergy and reimagining the role of lay people. Now, let’s get away from some of the moany stuff we keep hearing. Clergy exist for the sake of the laity, not the other way around. That will not change, but, the way we do ministry and mission will look different in the future. This is not about power or rights or means of self-fulfilment; rather, it is about identifying the gifts and vocation of all baptised people, developing and deploying those gifts for the sake of the church … which exists for the sake of the world.

But, the primary calling of lay people is not to do stuff in and for the church, but to be disciples of Jesus Christ out there in the world. One of the recognised challenges of the church in more recent years has been that lay vocation has too often focused on lay ministries in the church – largely liturgical or pastoral. This is something we need to tackle as we move into the future. Discipleship first.

To this end we are holding a Lay Conference in Harrogate on Saturday 9 June 2018. More details will be forthcoming soon, but planning is well underway under the guidance of Andrew Norman and Hayley Matthews. This is intended to help us re-frame our strategy for lay discipleship and ministry into the future – although this will be a matter of process rather than event.

Nothing of what we do can be done in isolation. On today’s agenda this Synod will address several matters that, together, help us discipline our development and mission. Asking the General Synod to change the name of the See of Richmond to Kirkstall is not a whim or a bit of ecclesiastical fancy; no, it is to enable those outside the church in the Leeds Episcopal Area (particularly) to identify with the area bishop and our church structure. People assume Richmond is up north and can’t see why the Bishop of Richmond is bothered with the city of Leeds. For the sake of our ongoing mission we need to change this. More later, but I want at this point simply to locate this agenda item in our wider missional context.

A communications strategy for the diocese is not incidental. If we can’t communicate effectively in the world in which we now live, then we might as well just tend a long decline. We cannot address the lack of children and young people in our churches without engaging with social media and a way of relating/communicating that is a million miles away from what I grew up with. Do we have the courage to grasp this nettle and learn a new language of evangelism and pastoral care? That is the question – along with: are we willing to put resources into making effective communications and changing the rumour about God and the church?

Rules about synod elections and sizes of synods might not be the stuff of romance, but they matter. It is vital that our synods – at every level – should drive and enhance our mission … and for that we need people – in the right numbers and variety – who are caught up by a vision of the kingdom of God that grabs popular attention, awakens curiosity, draws people in from being met outside on their territory and in their terms. Are we up for this? It isn’t easy, and it will mean sacrifice; but, we need younger energy and vision to challenge us and drag us into new ways of being a renewed and reformed church in this part of Yorkshire.

Again, this is not for the sake of the church’s organisation or own well-being. Yorkshire faces massive challenges in the wake of Brexit (however that might ultimately look…), but also in terms of its own political organisation. Westminster seems to have a view of how Yorkshire might be governed in the future (under its devolution proposals), but how do we want to help drive this for the sake of the common good of the people of Yorkshire? Do we want to be stuck in the past, with old enmities and thinking within old white lines, or can we be bold about developing a vision of and strategy for a Yorkshire that makes the most of the Northern Powerhouse – whatever that means?

What I am driving at here is that we should not be a church that merely responds to the initiatives of others, but be creative ourselves at fostering debate and proposition that, rooted in our traditions, offers a refreshed view of future potential.

Of course, this is all stuff and nonsense if we would prefer to just keep turning the handle. In the diocese we have proved that, even where we might have differing degrees of affection for the diocese we have shaped, we can commit ourselves to it as mature adults who follow Jesus Christ.

At this point I want to pay special thanks to the Dean of Wakefield, Jonathan Greener, who will leave the diocese in November and be installed as Dean of Exeter. Jonathan vigorously opposed the creation of the new diocese, but, since its creation, has been an excellent friend and colleague, a creative and imaginative shaper of new things (three cathedrals and three deans in a single diocese), and a brave contributor to all we have done. We owe him a huge debt. Personally, I will miss him, his wisdom and advice, even his humour. But, we wish him God’s richest blessing and the fullness of the Spirit’s gifts as he and Pamela move into a not-unchallenging situation in Exeter. They go with our love, gratitude and prayers.

So, let me conclude where we began – with Martin Luther. While sitting with three young Germans in the very room in Luther’s house in Wittenberg, around the table where he and his friends argued about theology, politics, beer and bodily functions (I kid you not), having our own feisty debate about the meaning of Luther’s theology now, we felt close to the heart of passion: the passion that is courageous, contagious, irritating, maybe even hopeful – maybe even the passion for Jesus Christ, his grace and mercy, his call to us and his friends to love one another as he loves us.

This is the text of this morning's Presidential Address at the Leeds Diocesan Synod:

The fifth of November. The day we remember how we used to burn Roman Catholics in this country.

Last Monday I preached in the church where Martin Luther became and served as a monk. The Augustinerkloster in Erfurt looks today much like it did when Luther prostrated himself before the altar and took his vows. I was there with a group from this diocese, having been invited to preach on the 499th anniversary of Luther (allegedly) nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg. Last Monday kicked off the year of celebration and commemoration of the Reformation and will conclude on 31 October 2017.

The Reformation divided Europe and changed the world for ever. Yet, when the German monk decided to challenge what he saw as ecclesiastical perversions of the gospel and church order he did not intend to create a new church. He wanted to heal the church and return it to its proper form and role. Yet, he discovered quickly that it is easier to set off destructive events than it is to stop or control them. The Law of Unintended Consequences led to civil uprisings, religiously-inspired violence, civil war and political settlements that exist to this day in Germany. The Reformation marks the recovery of the primacy of God’s grace as revealed in Scripture; yet, it also calls to memory some dreadful passions, all-too-human rejections of grace, and Christians who could no longer see each other as belonging to the same church.

The legacy was the rise of the Enlightenment partly as a reaction against religious power and the violence of the Thirty Years War. It is significant that in Germany the Reformation Jubilee is being marked by a huge degree of ecumenical partnership, with the Pope even launching the year in Sweden last weekend. It has taken 500 years and we are not there yet. It is easy to divide – hard to reconcile. And yet we are a church fired by a gospel of reconciliation, committed to a ministry of reconciliation, needing to be very careful that the decisions we make do not deny that gospel or ministry itself.

I mention this this morning for several reasons. First, because our diocesan link with Erfurt is one we wish to strengthen. In the light of Brexit, our European links take on an even greater importance. Secondly, and as I said in my sermon in Erfurt, we need to learn our history and learn from it. If we do not know where we have come from, then we cannot know who we are. Thirdly, our reading of Reformation history should provoke in us a humility that comes from recognising that we are firmly placed in this world while being fired by a vision of another world, but that our this-worldliness can easily lead us to behave in ways that deny the nature of the Christ we are called (by the Apostle Paul) to imitate.

However, my other reason for starting with the Reformation and last week’s Erfurt visit is that every generation faces its unique challenges and choices. One of the challenges we face in the UK in 2016 is the slow corruption of our public and political discourse. It is not coincidental that the former Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, a committed Roman Catholic now running media in New York, has just published a book titled ‘Enough Said’ in which he – correctly and possibly prophetically in my view – names the currents of bile, destructiveness and dehumanising contempt that colours the public discourse in Britain, across Europe and in the United States. I offer you Brexit, migration and the US Presidential election.

Like charity, let’s start at home. Whether you voted in the June Referendum to remain in or leave the European Union, the fact is that the vote went the way of Brexit. Not overwhelmingly – we now live in a very divided country. The referendum, however, was advisory and did not legally or constitutionally bind the government (or Parliament) to deliver on the decision – this in contrast to the AV referendum that was binding. Hence, the legal clarification sought this week in the High Court was entirely reasonable and, it could be argued, entirely necessary. The question of who, in a representative parliamentary democracy and following a non-binding referendum, has the right to trigger negotiations that then lead inexorably to a radically different constitutional settlement, is a very important one.

The courts ruled this week, and immediately allowed an appeal by the government to the Supreme Court. That is how the rule of law, based on an independent judiciary, is supposed to work in the sort of parliamentary democracy we rightly celebrate and value in this country. The rule of law should never be taken for granted. It is hard won and can be very easily lost.

So, even if you think Brexit is the right move for Britain and you want to see it happen quickly, you should be very alarmed at newspapers referring to judges as “enemies of the people”. Several newspapers suggested yesterday that we should get rid of judges who don’t do what certain politicians want and replace them with ones they do. Now, does that sound familiar? And do you spot the serious risk to the rule of law. And isn’t this precisely the sort of sovereignty that Brexit was supposed to guarantee to the UK in the first place?

As racism, intolerance and violence increase across Europe, it is probably just as well we can look to the Land of the Free to keep us sane and safe, isn’t it? Oh. So, even there we see the final throes of a presidential election that has been reduced to an abusive slanging match that is hardly going to commend ‘democracy’ to those countries and people we so often think should be compelled to enjoy it.

But, it is the threat to the public conversation that is so dangerous and potentially poisonous. How we speak to, with and about one another matters far more than we might wish to think. Christians must speak differently, refuse to collude with or be corrupted by what is swilling around in the media and on social media, and hold to account those who threaten the nature of our discourse by what they choose to say or print.

When we accept our judges being labelled “enemies of the people” for doing their job, then we will be inviting the Law of Unintended Consequences to apply – where civil society is corrupted bit by bit by bit because we can’t be bothered to contest it. Europe has been here before.

Now, you might be feeling a little morose at this point. You should be. However, as someone once said, “don’t shout at the darkness – light a candle”. How might we respond positively to this challenge?

Since this synod last met the clergy of the diocese – 400 of them – convened at Liverpool Hope University for the first clergy conference since we were created at Easter 2014. One of the highlights of the three-day event was a presentation and dialogue between Professor Brian Cox and Professor David Wilkinson on the theme Science, the Cosmos and Human Meaning. After each had presented – and boggled most of us with stuff we didn't always understand (but still tried to look as if we did) – I moderated a dialogue between them. Brian needs no introduction: an agnostic with a huge media as well as academic presence. David, a Methodist minister with experience of inner-city ministry in Liverpool and a gift for Radio 4's Thought for the Day, has doctorates in astrophysics and theology (which is a bit greedy) and is Principal of St John's College, Durham.

After lunch – which was dominated by students wanting selfies … not with me – clergy asked questions of both guests and the conversation continued. It was interesting, intelligent, informed, generous and completely riveting.

But, why did we do it?

One of the things Brian Cox is concerned about is how to bring public institutions and disciplines together to model how to have substantial conversations about things that matter and to offer an alternative to the appalling public – mainly political – discourse we are subjected to during these difficult and uncertain times. In fact, that is why I invited the two professors to come in the first place. Clergy, lay people, bishops, the church need to be engaged in cleaning up the nature of public debate, and one way to help do this is to model it. David Wilkinson and Brian Cox did this in relation to science, but in a way that took us beyond the sort of nonsense prejudicing and name-calling we see between fundamentalist religious people and fundamentalist atheists. Brian and David explored the differences between the ‘how’ questions and the ‘why’ questions of human existence.

We are now looking at how to take this forward. If you can get to any of Brian Cox’s live shows (currently touring the UK), do enjoy what this looks and sounds like. Here we see an agnostic and a Christian both begin in the same place: looking at the enormous beauty and complexity of the multiverse and wondering what matters in the life of it. It is not unusual to have a common existential or intellectual starting point.

(We are now looking at a Lay Conference one day in early 2018 – it has not proved possible to get a suitable day at a suitably large venue in 2017.)

So, today we as a synod continue to work at shaping the nature and mechanics of our internal discourse as a church. Standing Orders might not be words that float everybody’s boat, but they provide the parameters in which we can then conduct our internal synodical conversations and decision-making. How we speak with one another will say something about whether how we speak outside the church will have any credibility. We will discuss deaneries and deanery synods – again, not words that inspire martyrdom in the minds of many people. Yet, the purpose of deaneries and their synods is not simply to order the life of the church, but to set us free to pay attention to our mission of reconciliation in the world and how we go about it. Structures are there for a purpose, and the purpose is not simply to perpetuate a structure as an end in itself. We will look at the vital matter of education and what sort of people we want our children and young people to grow up to be. Education is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: nurturing good and godly human beings, neighbours, citizens, who live and work for the common good. Safeguarding is a vital part of our common duty to ensure that our churches are safe places for all people, especially children and vulnerable adults.

In other words, our agenda might look a little inward-focused at first glance. It isn’t. It is part of the work we still need to do in order to enable us to be the church our region needs us to be for the sake of God and his kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, I trust we will speak with one another in love, and speak of the church in love – offering mercy and generosity in the place of suspicion and mistrust. Together we can continue to shape a diocese – and its communication by word and deed – that reflects the nature of the Christ we serve and serves the world for whom we are called. Together we might pay attention to how our discourse might offer a different model to that which we see in parts of our media and our political world.

And let us remember that, as Martin Luther discovered in such a revolutionary way, in the end it is all about grace.

I am in Erfurt, Germany, to preach at the Reformation Day service in the Augustinerkirche where Martin Luther studied at the university and became a monk. Having arrived on Friday, we have had a packed programme, including a brilliant (though largely incomprehensible) concert in the Michaeliskirche last night – great guitar playing, especially), meetings with groups of people, a visit to a 'pilgrim church' at Schmira, a day in Weimar, and a visit to the former Stasi prison in the Andreasstraße in Erfurt today.

Yesterday was my first visit to Weimar. This is the place where in 1919 the constitution was drawn up that gave its name to the republic that was created in the humiliating aftermath of defeat in World War One. Yet it is also the place where Goethe, Schiller, Herder and Nietzsche spent their finest and most productive years. Here the culture of what became known as the Enlightenment flourished.

(An aside: one of the best stories we heard was of the pastor of the church in the centre where we attended the morning service. In the sacristy there is a portrait of him. His name was Wessel and he came from an upper-class line of distinguished clergy and military officers. When during the War the poor of Weimar couldn't afford a Christmas tree or presents for their children, he put a “tree for everyone” on the steps of the church and got gifts for the children of the town. He supported Hitler at the beginning, but gradually saw where it was all heading. He resisted and eventually was sent to Buchenwald. He survived only because Hitler pardoned him, leaving him to return to Weimar a da totally broken man. Why did Hitler pardon him? Because he was related to Horst Wessel, whose song – the Horst Wessel Lied – became almost the national anthem of the Nazis. Resistance was brutal and costly.)

The Enlightenment flourished partly as a reaction to the horrendous bloodshed in conflicts that were rooted in the sorts of religious and political power games that emanated from the Reformation. Never again should religion be allowed space in the political sphere: reason and rationality should thenceforth define genuine humanity and humanism. It is not hard to follow the logic and the sentiment. Speaking of Martin Luther today in the Augustinerkirche, there also had to be an acknowledgement of the less-than-gracious elements of his character, to say nothing of his appalling antisemitism. (Like his bowel problems, it got worse as he got older.)

Yet, getting rid of religion in favour of faith in rationalism did not quite go according to plan, did it.

The train from Erfurt to Weimar takes you past Buchenwald. Just around the corner from the famous statue of Goethe and Schiller in front of the theatre in Weimar is the hotel where Adolf Hitler was greeted by the idolatrous crowds that claimed the poets and Herder as their intellectual and cultural heritage.

My point is simple. The problem of the human bias to destructiveness is evidenced in religious conflict and the lust for power at any level. It is not cured by rationalism. How is that the culture, philosophy and idealism of Goethe, Schiller, Herder, etc. was so easily corrupted within a century or less by a populace drawn to populism, fascism and mass slaughter?

If the bloodbaths of religious wars in Europe led to a better way, then that better way also led to Buchenwald and the Stasi. Now listen to the rhetoric of the far right wing groups springing up in Germany and across Europe, blending the language of dehumanising hate under the guise of “cultural realism”.

 

This is the text of my sermon from this morning's celebration of Reformation Day in Erfurt, Germany. The service, which included a wonderful Bach cantata with orchestra and choir, took place in the Augustinerkirche which is where Martin Luther became and served as a monk. Today kicks off the Reformation Year – 500 years since Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg and set off events in Europe that have deeply shaped it ever since.

Ich rede von der Gerechtigkeit vor Gott, die da kommt durch den Glauben an Jesus Christus zu allen, die glauben. Denn es ist hier kein Unterschied: sie sind allesamt Sünder und ermangeln des Ruhmes, den sie bei Gott haben sollten, und werden ohne Verdienst gerecht aus seiner Gnade durch die Erlösung, die durch Christus Jesus geschehen ist. (Römerbrief 3:21ff)

The Cranach Altar in Weimar

Vor kurzem ging ich in eine Buchhandlung hinein. Ich wollte eine neue Biografie von Martin Luther kaufen. Ich fand den Verkäufer und sagte: “Wo finde ich die neue Biographie von Martin Luther von Professorin Lyndall Roper?” Er sagte mir: “OK… Martin Luther King…” “Nein,” sagte ich, “Martin Luther”. “Oh?” sagte der Verkäufer, “wer ist er? Nie habe ich von ihm gehört.” Ich war ein Bisschen überrascht und erklärte langsam: “Martin Luther war vor fünfhundert Jahren ein Mönch in Deutschland. Er machte die protestantische Reformation in Europa auf, und er änderte die Welt für immer.” “Oh?” sagte der junge Mann. “Wie interessant! Wahrscheinlich finden Sie das Buch unter dem Titel 'Religion'.” Endlich habe ich das Buch am zweiten Stock unter dem Titel 'Deutsche Geschichte' gefunden.

Wie ist es möglich, dass heute ein gut ausgebildete Hochschulabsolvent keine Ahnung hat, wer Martin Luther war? Aber dort liegt die große Herausforderung. In England interessiert man nicht sehr für die Reformation vor fünfhundert Jahren in Wittenberg. (Vielleicht erklärt diese kurze Geschichte, warum so viele Briten aus der Europäischen Gemeinschaft hinaustreten wollten – sie haben keine Ahnung, wovon sie kommen oder woher sie stammen.)

Das ist eine ernste Angelegenheit – eine wichtige Herausforderung. Wenn wir unsere eigene Geschichte vergessen, dann verlieren wir unsere Identität. Wenn wir vergessen, woher wir gekommen sind, dann können wir nicht wissen, wer wir sind. Und wir können nicht unsere gemeinsame Zukunft formen, wenn wir unsere gemeinsame Vergangenheit nicht anerkennen.

Martin Luther hat die gleiche Bibel gelesen, die wir lesen heute. Als er die Alte Testament studierte, sicherlich muss er die Warnungen notiert haben, die den Israeliten gegeben wurden, bevor sie ins versprochene Land zum ersten Mal betraten. Die Geschichte geht so. Die Israeliten waren über vierhundert Jahre als Sklaven in Ägypten, und ihr Leben wurde ein unerträgliches Leiden. Sie konnten sich nicht aus eigener Hand befreien. Mit Hilfe von Moses, Fröschen und Plagen wurden sie endlich von Gott befreit. Aber sie tauschten nicht sofort die Unterdrückung für die Freiheit, sondern mussten vierzig Jahre in der Wüste verbringen, so dass eine ganze Generation von Beschwerdeführer, Romantiker und anderen Menschen aussterben würde, die von Nostalgie getrieben werden. Während dieser harten Jahre mussten die Israeliten versuchen, eine wichtige Wahrheit zu lernen, und zwar: ihr seid von der Unterdrückung befreit worden – das ist klar; aber wofür seid ihr befreit worden? Menschen vergessen sehr schnell.

Deshalb ist das Volk von Moses angeleitet worden, einen jährlichen Ritualkalendar zu errichten. Regelmäßig durch das Jahr mussten die Israeliten Rituale durchführen, die praktisch zur Erinnerung die Geschichte des Volkes brachten. Sie mussten nicht nur spirituell darüber nachdenken, sondern mit Körper und Stimme diese Geschichte feiern und erzählen.

Zum Beispiel in Deuteronomium 26:

Wenn du in das Land kommst, das dir der HERR, dein Gott, zum Erbe geben wird, und es einnimmst und darin wohnst, so sollst du nehmen die Erstlinge aller Feldfrüchte, die du von deinem Lande einbringst, das der HERR, dein Gott, dir gibt, und sollst sie in einen Korb legen und hingehen an die Stätte, die der HERR, dein Gott, erwählen wird, dass sein Name daselbst wohne, und sollst zu dem Priester kommen, der zu der Zeit sein wird, und zu ihm sagen: Ich bekenne heute dem HERRN, deinem Gott, dass ich gekommen bin in das Land, das der HERR, wie er unsern Vätern geschworen hat, uns geben wollte. Und der Priester soll den Korb aus deiner Hand nehmen und ihn vor dem Altar des HERRN, deines Gottes, niedersetzen. Dann sollst du anheben und sagen vor dem HERRN, deinem Gott: Mein Vater war ein Aramäer, dem Umkommen nahe, und zog hinab nach Ägypten und war dort ein Fremdling mit wenig Leuten und wurde dort ein großes, starkes und zahlreiches Volk.” Usw.

Mit anderen Worten: “Vergiss nicht, das du einmal Sklaven warst – dass du nichts hattest, und dich selbst nicht von den Ägypten befreien konntest. Denn, wenn du deine eigene Geschichte vergisst, wirst du schnell andere Menschen als deine Sklaven behandeln. Um diese Entwicklung zu vermeiden, musst du einige Rituale etablieren, die das Volk daran erinnern werden, woher sie kommen. Diese regelmäßige Erzählungen der Volksgeschichte wird dazu helfen, dass die Perspektive richtig gehalten wird und ihre Prioritäten hinterfragt werden.”

Aber was hat diese Geschichte der alttestamentarischen Ritualen mit der lutherischen Reformation zu tun? Oder mit der einen Welt, die das Jahresthema der EKD im Jahre 2016 heißt? Manche von uns werden das für offensichtlich halten: das heißt, die Kirche von heute muss von ihrer Geschichte lernen – nicht nur um ehrlich von den schlechten Erinnerungen zu lernen, sondern auch um auf den guten aufzubauen. Zum Beispiel, wir wissen, dass Martin Luther von der Gnade Gottes überrascht war; dass er vom Angst befreit wurde; dass er die Liebe Gottes erfuhr. Aber er war in seinem Verhalten mit anderen Menschen nicht immer gnädig.

Aber er veränderte die Welt. Er öffnete die Bibel für künftige Generationen von Menschen, die auch die Geschichte von Gott und Menschen immer neu lernen möchten. Er war kein plastischer Heiliger, sondern ein echter Mensch wie du und ich.

Wir wissen ja, dass die heutige Welt nicht die Welt von Martin Luther ist. Aber trotz den dramatischen Unterschieden zwischen 1517 und 2016 bleibt die Berufung – das heißt, die Mission – der Kirche einfach und klar: sie ist dazu berufen, der Welt zu zeigen, wer Gott ist und wie Gott sich behandelt. Gott befreit den Menschen von der Sklaverei – deshalb müssen die Befreiten auch anderen von ihren Sklavereien befreien. Wenn wir die Liebe Gottes genießen, dann müssen wir auch unsere Nachbarn lieben. Das ist die klare und einfache Logik des Evangeliums. Die Kirche von Jesu Christi sollte so aussehen, als den Jesus, den wir in den Evangelien sehen. Die Kirche sollte die gute Nachricht der Gnade Gottes mit der Stimme von Jesus selbst aussprechen. Und das ist die einzige Prüfung unserer Treue als Kirche. Wir sind immer noch dazu berufen, der Welt zu zeigen, wie es aussieht, als Individuen und Gemeinden von der Gnade Gottes befreit zu werden – frei zu dienen, frei zu lieben, frei zu vergeben, frei wie der Prophet Micah, der schrieb: “Recht tun, Liebe (besser Barmherzigkeit) üben und demütig wandeln mit deinem Gott.” Das beschreibt die prophetische Rolle der Kirche Jesu Christi.

Nun, ich weiß, dass die Erfahrung der Kirche von England sich von der Erfahrung der Kirchen in Deutschland unterscheidet.

Die Kirche von England ist eine sonderbare Kirche: eine reformierte katholische Kirche – wahrscheinlich die einzige solche Kirche in der Welt. Das englische Christentum war weniger von der lutherischen Reformation geprägt als von Jean Calvin und einem König, der sich in zu viele Frauen verliebte. Ehrlich muss ich sagen, das Heinrich die Reformation meistens als hilfreich in seinen Streiten mit dem Papst betrachtete. Es ging um die Macht, die königliche und politische Unabhängigkeit. Es ging nicht primär um die Religion, um theologische Fragen oder um die Gnade Gottes. Und nach dem Tod von Heinrich ging die größte Herausforderung um die Einheit von England als Nation, als Land. In einer getrennten oder geteilten Welt, wie können die Menschen – das heißt, die Katholiken und Protestanten – in einer Kirche zusammengehalten werden? Die Antwort war: common prayer (gemeinsames Gebet) und Gesetze, die eine einzelne Kirche für England schufen. Aber heute weißt auch der Papst nicht genau, ob die Kirche von England katholisch oder protestantisch ist: sie ist beide. Also, alles klar!

Die Kirche von England ist territorial organisiert. Das heißt, ein Gemeindepfarrer ist nicht nur der Kapitän seines Kirchenschiffs, sondern auch der Pfarrer aller Menschen, die in seiner Gemeinde wohnen oder arbeiten. Das bringt nicht nur gesetzliche Verantwortung und eine generelle Verfügbarkeit für alle, die dort leben, mit sich, sondern auch eine unvermeidliche Verpflichtung für das Wohlbefinden der ganzen Gemeinde, und verleiht darüber hinaus dem gesamten geistlichen Amt eine missionarische Perspektive – was bedeutet, auf diejenigen in der Gemeinde zuzugehen, die Gottes ‚frohe Botschaft‘ bislang weder gehört noch erfahren haben.

Das heißt, dass die Kirche sich zu jeder Zeit erinnern muss, warum die Kirche da ist und wozu die Kirche eigentlich existiert. Die Kirche von England ist eine Kirche für England.

Aber wie erfüllen wir die Aufgabe, die gute Nachricht von Gottes Gnade unserer Generation zu bringen?

Heutzutage müssen wir einfallsreich, selbstbewusst und fantasievoll sein, wenn wir den Ort und die Bedeutung des christlichen Glaubens für das persönliche und das öffentliche Leben beschreiben und dafür streiten wollen. Wir müssen Wege finden, das Evangelium von Jesus Christus so zu beschreiben – und als Zeugen dieses Evangeliums zu leben – die Menschen zum Glauben und zur Kirche ziehen.

In meiner Diözese haben wir drei Stichworte identifiziert, die uns eine Linse bieten, durch die wir unsere Aufgabe verstehen können: LOVING. LIVING. LEARNING. Lieben. Leben. Lernen. Vorher hatten wir: CONFIDENT CHRISTIANS. GROWING CHURCHES. TRANSFORMING COMMUNITIES. Zuversichtliche Christen. Wachsende Kirchen. Verwandelnden Gemeinden. Diese waren Stichworte für diejenige, die schon Kirchenmitglieder sind. Lieben, Leben, Lernen spricht zu denjenigen, die außerhalb der Kirche stehen. Wir lieben Gott und unsere Nachbarn und die Welt, die Gott liebt. Wir lieben das Leben und streben nach der Wohlergehen der ganzen Gesellschaft. Wir wollen, dass jeder Mensch aufblüht (oder gedeiht). Aber wir müssen uns immer demütig verhalten und aus unseren Fehlern lernen.

Die Kirche von England lernt, den Menschen dort zu begegnen, wo sie tatsächlich sind (und nicht, wo wir wünschten, dass sie sein sollten) und sie lernt in Sprachen zu sprechen, die gehört und verstanden werden können. In den letzten fünfzehn Jahren haben wir tausende Projekte entwickelt, die wir „fresh expressions of church“ nennen: neue, frische Gesichter oder Ausdrucksweisen der Kirche. Dazu zählen innovative Gemeindeformen in Clubs, Kneipen, in Privathäusern oder sogar in Firmen. Nach und nach ermutigt das die Anglikaner, immer neu darüber nachzudenken, wie man Menschen in ihren jeweiligen Lebenszusammenhängen erreichen kann.

Diese veränderte Welt hat der Kirche von England aufgezwungen, sich umzugestalten – und diese Herausforderung ist von vielen Pfarrern und Laien nicht leicht angenommen worden. Sich zu ändern ist nie einfach.

Aber, die Welt hat sich verändert. Und meiner Meinung nach ist es sinnlos und eine verpasste Chance, nur darüber zu klagen. Wenn die Kirche ihren Auftrag erfüllen will, muss sie die Sprache der heutigen Welt erstens verstehen und zweitens sprechen können. Wir müssen uns daran erinnern, dass die biblische Geschichte uns zeigt, dass Gott sein Volk dazu beruft, so zu leben, dass die Menschen, die mit der christlichen Gemeinde in Kontakt kommen, etwas von dem Christus erfahren, von dem wir in den Evangelien lesen.

Ich möchte dies anhand einer persönlichen Erfahrung illustrieren. Von Mai 1992 bis April 2000 war ich Pfarrer in Rothley. Die Kirche existiert dort seit 860 nach Christus. Mein Auftrag war es, die Menschen zu erreichen, die nicht in die Kirche kamen. Ganz am Anfang meiner Zeit als Pfarrer habe ich eine Entscheidung getroffen, die die Wahrnehmung der Kirche ziemlich veränderte….

In diesem Dorf (mit ungefähr 6000 Einwohnern) gibt es fünf Pubs. Wunderbar! Was für eine schwere Belastung war meine Arbeit! Jedes Lokal hat seinen eigenen Charakter und seine ganz eigene, um nicht zu sagen: eigenartige Klientel. An einem Montag ging ich in das ‚old village‘ Pub – the Old Crown -, wo zwei Männer Billard spielten. Sonst niemand. Ganz leer. Ich sprach mit dem Wirt und fragte ihn: ‚ Es ist fast leer heute Abend. Ist es immer so?‘ ‚Es ist Montag,‘ sagte der irritierte Mann. ‚Ist es immer so am Montag?‘ fragte ich. Der Wirt schaute mir in die Augen und sagte: ‚Es ist Montag. Das heißt nach dem Wochenende!‘ Ich dachte einen Moment nach und fragte ihn: ‚Darf ich den Pub am Montag in drei Wochen haben – und ich verspreche, dass viele Menschen kommen werden?‘ ‚Du möchtest das private Zimmer hinter der Bar haben, oder?‘ ‚Nein,‘ sagte ich, ‚ich will den ganzen Pub haben.‘ Endlich stimmte er zu.

Zu dieser Zeit hatte ich nur eine Computergraphik: eine Bierpumpe. Ich machte einige Plakate und verteilten sie überall im Dorf: ‚Pump the Vicar in the Old Crown‘ (den Pfarrer in der Alten Krone anzapfen) – ‚pump‘ auf Englisch kann auch bedeuten: ‚jemandem viele Fragen stellen‘. Also: ‚Pump the Vicar in the Old Crown – um 20 Uhr, Montag den blah blah blah… Keine Tabus!’

An diesem Montag kamen fast 70 Menschen. Um 20 Uhr stand ich auf (mit meinem Pint) und sprach nur fünf Minuten lang von Jesus. Ich sagte, dass es sich wirklich lohnt, als Erwachsener einen zweiten Blick auf Gott und Jesus Christus zu werfen. Ich sprach nur kurz, aber provozierend. Danach fingen wir an zu diskutieren. Was meinen Sie, um wie viel Uhr bin ich wohl nach Hause gekommen? Gegen 1 Uhr am Morgen. Danach haben wir regelmäßig ‚Pump the Vicar‘ organisiert.

Einmal war ich in einem BBC Studio in London und die Radiomoderatorin stellte mir plötzlich eine Frage: Wofür ist die Kirche eigentlich? Was ist der Sinn der Kirche? In solchen Umständen hat man keine Zeit, um eine gute Predigt aus der Tasche herauszuziehen. Ich sagte: “Die Aufgabe der Kirche ist es, den Raum zu schaffen, in dem die Menschen finden können, dass sie schon von Gott gefunden worden sind.”

Ich denke, dass auch der Mönch von Erfurt, Martin Luther, diesen Begriff entdeckte, als er begann, die Gnade Gottes zu erleben und verstehen. Der gnädige Gott lässt sich nicht gekauft oder manipuliert werden. Alles ist Gnade. Und wenn wir denken, dass wir ihn gefunden haben, finden wir, dass er schon auf uns gewartet hat – wie bei dem sogenannten verlorenen Sohn, der entdeckte, dass Gottes Barmherzigkeit größer ist als menschliches Versagen. “Gott aber erweist seine Liebe zu uns darin, dass Christus für uns gestorben ist, als wir noch Sünder waren.” (Römerbrief 5:8) Das ist Gnade.

In dieser angstvoller Welt können wir – wie auch Martin Luther zu seiner Zeit – zuversichtlich und hoffnungsvoll auf Gott vertrauen. Wir werden an unsere Geschichte erinnern und davon lernen. Semper reformanda. Die Gnade Gottes bleibt bestehen.

“Sie werden ohne Verdienst gerecht aus seiner Gnade durch die Erlösung, die durch Christus Jesus geschehen ist.”

Im Namen des Vaters, des Sohnes, und des heiligen Geistes. Amen.

 

This is the script of this morning's Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

I went into a bookshop last week to get a book I'd seen reviewed and, on a first look around the ground floor, couldn't find it. So, I went to the assistant and asked if they had the new biography of Martin Luther by Oxford academic Lyndal Roper. The conversation went something like this:

“You mean Martin Luther King?”

“No, I mean Martin Luther.”

“I've never heard of him. Who is he?”

“He was a German monk who set off the Reformation in Europe.”

“A German monk? He's probably in 'Religion'.

Eventually I went upstairs anyway and found it myself under 'German History'.

Well, I was a little alarmed about this. Not so much because of the religious illiteracy it demonstrated, but the historical ignorance. When I tweeted this exchange, a friend reminded me of the occasion when someone went into a bookshop and asked where he could find Oscar Wilde. The answer? “He's not in today.” Other funny comments followed.

Call me old-fashioned, but it is impossible to have any understanding of the modern world – especially modern Europe – without some reference to the German monk. And for me this is personal: I will be speaking in Luther's Erfurt at the end of October this year to kick off the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Europe.

The challenge this presents is this: which histories need to be known if we are to know who we are and what got us to where we are? I lived and worked in the Cold War, so inhabited a divided Europe: my kids did not, and for them the Soviet Union is as remote as the Boer War. Yet, some histories shouldn't be ignored.

Luther was a complicated man: intense, argumentative and bad-tempered. He said some terrible things about Jews (which in turn had terrible consequences even four centuries later) and wasn't exactly a proto-feminist. He challenged one political power only to find himself colluding with others. He was brave, disciplined and sharp as a knife. He changed the German language for ever, and shaped what became the modern world by following up on an idea: that God loves us anyway.

In other words, Luther was a complex human being – just like the rest of us. We don't have to ignore his faults or take him out of his times in order to make him palatable to twenty-first century sensibilities. Praise him or damn him, we still have to take seriously what he did at the time he did it.

Essentially Luther was empowered by one simple discovery: we can never be perfect, but we can be liberated by knowing we are freely loved by God. 'Grace' it was called. It changed him, and he changed the world.

We see around us plenty of anger, strife and disputation. Surely it wouldn't be a bad thing to re-discover grace. And also to re-discover history.

 

The Reimagining Europe blog continues to provide space for a different sort of conversation about the future of Europe ahead of the UK referendum in 2017.

2017 is, of course, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (when Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg). And, of course, you can't understand the shape of Europe or its history without understanding the Reformation.

So, I have posted a piece about the need to remember well, even when this might offend our prejudices or ideological interests. All in the interests of promoting the debate.

 

Killing four hours in Istanbul Airport isn't easy. The last time I was here, my connection (to Astana, Kazakhstan) had left here before we had even left London Heathrow. While waiting for a substitute flight with Air Astana we were given vouchers for a gourmet meal in Burger King. It wasn't funny.

This time I am doing some reading. Which brings me on to…

… two books I have read recently that have proved worth recommending.

Charlotte Methuen's Luther and Calvin: Religious Revolutionaries is a beautifully written introduction to the life, teaching and impact of two of the great European Reformers. Sometimes, when listening to English evangelicals talking about ' the Reformers' in awed tones, it might seem that these were paragons of orthodoxy, defenders of simple revealed truths about God and us. We quickly reduce them to simplistic-but-useful reinforcers of our own theological preferences. Sometimes it seems we award them the same authority as that claimed by the popes they opposed. Read the reality and a different picture emerges.

Of course, they were creatures of their time and they didn't know the end of their own story. But, their stories make it clear that their theology developed and changed, their theology was often driven by their politics, and their theology might well have developed even further if they had lived on (or in other times and contexts). We dig them into a framework that suits our own preferences and then quote them accordingly. It is always amusing to hear Hooker quoted by all sides in current Anglican debates…

Reality is always more ambiguous and more complex than our debating points would allow.

The full(er) picture is to be found in Diarmaid MacCulloch's magisterial Reformation, but Charlotte Methuen's concise book does the business. It is surely coincidental, but reading the book during the synodical debates on the Anglican Covenant and women bishops caused the ringing in my head of lots of bells.

The second book I finished on the plane from Manchester to Istanbul. I know of Mark Thomas only from the occasional telly programme and his very funny People's Manifesto. Extreme Rambling is a powerful, poignant and perceptive record of his walk along the length of the Barrier erected in Israel-Palestine. He walked it in three stages, meeting people along the way and asking lots of questions. It isn't an encouraging book unless you approve of Israel's treatment of Palestinians and think the illegal settlements are a really good idea. But, it is so well written – a personal narrative that takes you into the heart of some of the fundamental problems of this beautiful and tiny piece of land.

Having read up on the history and politics of Sudan, I am now on to William Boyd's Waiting for Sunrise. Ideal for a plane journey.

[Written Saturday 12 January, posted Monday 14th. Boyd book finished…]