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Can you imagine it?

The Church in Germany, though not a state church like the Church of England, is funded by taxation (although it pays the government to collect it). Citizens can opt out of the church tax (roughly 2% of income), but by so doing they may lose certain rights to weddings, funerals, education etc. As a result the church has the resources to mount massive events like the Kirchentag which Philip, Dorothy, Kathleen and I went to in Dresden recently - with 150,000 participants, and a directory of events 600 pages long. By contrast, the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham which some of us go to and which attracts about 20,O00, has to fund itself almost entirely from ticket sales and donations.

The Kirchentag is possible not only because the churches themselves have more resources, but also because the secular authorities think that events like this are worth supporting. Of the 14·8 million Euro budget for the Kirchentag, 7·46 million came from the City of Dresden and the state government of Saxony, and a further 0·4 million from the Federal government. However, it would be a mistake to think that all that money means the Kirchentag is handed on a platter to German Christians. Three things in particular struck me as a sign that the church in Germany is not complacent, but very much alive and active.
  • They asked for the people of Dresden to find beds for 10,000 elderly or foreign visitors (who are spared having to sleep on a school floor) - they received offers of 12,000 beds. (Bear in mind this is in East Germany - formerly a militantly atheist state). Dresden is about four times the size of Oxford, so that's like the people of Oxford offering 3,000 beds for a Christian conference. Can you imagine it?

  • I sat through three heavy afternoon sessions: round-table discussions between eminent speakers on issues such as whether futures trading in global food markets is driving up commodity prices, or whether prosperity is possible without economic growth. The sessions lasted three hours without a break, and each was attended by (at my estimation) about 4 000 people - sitting on cardboard boxes. Can you imagine that in Britain? At a church conference.

  • The money offering at the closing open-air act of worship was going to support the struggle against right-wing extremism in Germany. Again - can you imagine that in Britain? Of course, I may have come away with a false impression, but I got the sense that, being freed from having to compete with a thousand other charities and organizations for members and funds, the church in Germany has the good fortune to be able to concentrate simply on being The Church - and is doing it with a strong missionary sense of purpose.
The Church in Britain has to find its own funds, but I think what it really lacks is the unity that enables real cooperation in mission, without which things like the Kirchentag are unthinkable.

The Rev. Dick Wolff is Minister of Collingwood United Reformed Church on the Risinghurst estate near Headington, Oxford.

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