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Alive and Challenged

I'm not an easy blab. This year so far I have wept once and that was at an utterly sublime Mahler 3 by the Berlin Philharmonic So why did Margot Käßmann's bible study at the Kirchentag this year leave me damp in the eye region? Part of the emotion no doubt has to do with my personal story.

I grew up in a church community which said it valued women but acted as if it despised them. Even in this last heave towards women bishops, women are spoken about as the problem and not really valued for what they contribute. In front of my very eyes here was a woman getting a standing ovation for gloriously clear and challenging teaching. She spoke for an hour on the Beatitudes. The theology was sparkling and the application sharp.

With the German Federal President Christian Wulff sitting on the front row as a regular punter, she reconstructed large sections of government policy. She noted, for example, that the text does not say blessed (happy) are the poor - the 2·2 million children that die each year from starvation are not happy. How different would it be if 6,027 children died of hunger every day in West Europe? She challenged an immigration policy which fragments families, and she questioned the school system which failed to nourish the souls of the children.

Most tellingly she questioned how sending German troops as part of the EU force over Libya had gospel values. The Federal President took it on the chin. Margot Käßmann is no paper saint. She has four children, is divorced, resigned as bishop after failing a breath test, and has done battle with breast cancer. She has wisdom and grace and with it comes a clearly God-given authority.

I have never seen a woman flourishing for the Gospel like that in this country. No wonder I filled up. That alone would have been worth the trip but there was so much more. For example, fascinating conversations with my host family about the complicated transition to unification. They didn't want the iconic Frauenkirche rebuilt, it ought to remain ruined as a 'warning' they said.

The conversations and lectures were high octane, wide ranging and open. Church and State in dialogue in a way that I envy. Add music and art to the mix and stir with a glass or two of local Saxon wine and the returning Rosie feels alive and challenged.

The Revd Canon Rosie Harper is vicar of Great Missenden and Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham.

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