An Englishman at the Kirchentag (Bernard Lane)
Why would an Englishman go to the Kirchentag? At first glance, even the thought of taking such a trip must appear worrying, even frightening. Going to a Church Conference? And in Germany? But, after visits to Kirchentags in Bremen, Munich, and Dresden, I write to make the case for even totally non-religious English people taking the plunge into the fascinating world of Kirchentag.
The English are renowned across Europe for being careful with their travel money. And therein lies the first attraction. The Kirchentag is not expensive. There are many low cost flights to Germany. The Kirchentag fee is good value especially if you are a pensioner. You will get friendly accommodation provided in a family at no cost to you. And you will be given a travel card to travel free of charge anywhere in the wider city region you are visiting by train, tram or bus. And, if you have not been to Germany for a while, it is worth mentioning that you can eat well and more cheaply there than in most other European countries this side of the former iron curtain.
What about the language ? Must an Englishman pray in German ? No there are services in English, some even conducted by English bishops. And you need not go to church even during the Kirchentag. But what about the conference proceedings ? Many of those are either in English or have simultaneous translations. Are the sessions all about the Bible and the deeply mysterious inner workings of the church ? No many are about exciting political, social and environmental questions. And the speakers usually include well informed people the Bundeskanzler usually turns up to speak: in Dresden this year I also enjoyed a good debate between Germanys Defence Minister and an opponent of his policies in Afghanistan. Then, there are dozens and dozens of stalls for you to visit, to talk to people about the issues of international aid, nuclear power, climate change, looking after senior citizens, health care, and one hundred and one other questions. Many stalls have tasty free snacks. There are concerts, films, performance and singing.
Finally, there is one quite remarkable feature. People. The Kirchentag seems to attract so many very nice people from Germany, Europe and around the world. They are almost all keen and happy to speak to you on the trams, in the streets, in the Kirchentag itself. It gives you faith in the human race again.
SO watch out for details of Hamburg 2013. You might even find yourself going there and enjoying it.