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This Year’s Kirchentag

David Bunney

The 35th Evangelical-Protestant Kirchentag took place this year from 3rd - 7th June in Stuttgart, capital city of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in south-west Germany. Visitors to this enthralling event enjoyed temperatures of 35 degrees – doubtless the Lord approved of what was happening there, as the first morning after was wet! The defining slogan this year was from Psalm 90:12 – "damit wir klug werden" (that we may become wise), words displayed everywhere, not least on the bright-red scarves that everyone wore.

With over 2500 events packed into the five-day programme no-one could share in everything! Quite obviously, homework is needed to define a personal schedule. I will remember particularly the challenge of the Bible Studies I was able to share: John Bell (from Iona) won hearts by explaining that, although he was speaking in English, it was only his second language! He also led an act of Reformed worship in the Castle Chapel; consecrated in 1562, and situated off the courtyard of the Old Castle with its three tiers of stone arcades, it’s one of the oldest places of worship from the early days of the Reformation. I heard another led by Br Richard of the Taizé community, and a third, given by no less a person than the State President himself, Winfried Kretschmann – not because of his rank but because he clearly knew his Bible!

The Kirchentag always attracts "big" names as speakers. One regular participant is the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself the daughter of a Protestant Pastor. She took part in a debate about the opportunities and responsibilities of the digital age. She acknowledged that Germany, so advanced in so many fields (the phrase Vorsprung durch Technik comes to mind) was not exactly in the forefront where digital progress was involved. She seemed well aware of the dangers of potential misuse of digital communications through oversight; this would need to be monitored. She remembered Luther’s words relating to the invention of printing: that every generation had to develop its own wisdom.

The indoor-sports arena where this was held was also filled to its 10,000 capacity for another great speaker: Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the UN. Now aged 77, he shared the platform with the Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds and Frank-Walter Steinmeier who, while Kofi Annan was in office, had been the German Foreign Minister. Mr Annan urged the gathered throng to take responsibility for freeing the world of conflict, saying that no-one was too young for this, and never too old to do something about it. His quiet, patient arguments for everyone to work for peace was greeted with a long standing ovation.

Another event with political overtones was held in the parish church of Mohringen, a southern suburb of the city. Dr Margot Käßmann, one of the first women to be consecrated as bishop (she served the diocese of Hanover 1999-2010) had been Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany until a motoring incident forced her to step down. Now a leading figure in the German peace movement, her fiery presentation on the Saturday evening attracted a huge following. Strangely, although she echoed the thoughts expressed earlier by Kofi Annan, this had not been included in the main programme (it was adjudged to have been "too political") but it didn’t prevent a large number of Kirchentagers from attending. She strongly articulated her displeasure at the way so many crises in the world were being mis-handled: everyone, even migrants, deserved to be treated fairly.

The Friday evening is traditionally given over to Eucharistic worship in many different styles and languages. I was able to share in the Moravian one, held in a suburban parish church. The service was led by Bishop Theo Clemens, based not far away in Bad Boll. I was invited to share in the distribution with the church's German Pastor, with the Revd Elijah Spalbar Gergan from Ladakh in India and a Pastor from Tanzania. Taking part in the service were the members of the Efatha Choir from the Moravian Church in Dar es Salaam; I would describe their singing as "different"! After the service we all shared together in refreshments of many kinds – a brief glimpse of the unity of Christians found in bread and wine.

The final – Sunday - morning of the Kirchentag brought an estimated 100,000 people to the closing Eucharistic service on the edge of the city by the river Neckar. There were 4,000 instrumentalists in the brass band to lead the singing. How long does it take to serve so many with bread and wine? About ten minutes! The sermon was given by a young lady, a parish priest from Hildesheim, who urged us to remember the fellowship we'd shared, and to try to ensure that we used such memories to embrace all those in need in our troubled world.

Work has already started on planning the next one – in late May 2017. Centred in Berlin, there will also be events in many other cities associated with the life of Martin Luther – Wittenberg, Eisleben, Halle, Weimar, Leipzig and Magdeburg among them – in what will, of course, be the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. It will be some event!

David Bunney