The Protestant Kirchentag takes place every two years. This year’s Kirchentag, in Berlin and Wittenberg, brought together some 140,000 German Christians and another 7,000 international visitors. The theme verse – ‘You see me’, taken from the story of Hagar’s encounter with God in the wilderness, was represented by pairs of eyes on an orange background. Going around Berlin, the pairs of eyes looked out at you at every turn, like here at the Brandenburg Gate where several of the biggest events took place.
This year’s Kirchentag marked the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. We took the opportunity to visit Martin Luther’s House in Wittenberg. Here you can get fascinating insights into how Luther actually lived – combining his duties as a university professor with marriage and family life – and his ‘extended family’ in fact ran to some 50 people. Helen and I were struck by the remarkable contribution of his wife, Katharina Luther, who bore six children, organised daily catering for the extended family and ran some extensive family estates. The theological changes that Luther initiated can be hard to grasp at our distance, but seeing the tangible impact on everyday life in Wittenberg brings these dramatic changes to life in a new way.
The Kirchentag involves hundreds of stalls and many talks and concerts. The highlight this year was a dialogue between Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, in which they related their personal faith to international relations [watch here]. At a more modest level, I took part in a service using the ‘Lima Liturgy’ – so called because it was first used at a significant World Council of Churches meeting in Lima, Peru in 1982. It was a great pleasure to share in this service with bishops from the Old Catholic Church of Germany, the Evangelical-Lutheran German Church and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden. There was a real sense of ecumenical fellowship and togetherness.
On the Sunday, I went to St. George’s Berlin for a service of baptism and confirmation. The large and spacious church of St. George’s was filled to capacity, numbers swelled by Kirchentag visitors. With Kirchentag events, it had been a very busy week for the chaplain, Christopher Jage-Bowler, but the service was nonetheless beautifully organised. I particularly appreciated an introit sung in Urdu by a Pakistani refugee member of the church. Christopher has been Chaplain of St. George’s for 20 years, and his long-term commitment to the church and to Berlin shines through.
After church there was opportunity for coffee with members of the congregation in the hall and church garden.
I particularly enjoyed meeting Mr. Bill Sheckleston OBE, the most senior member of the congregation. Bill had come to Berlin as a young soldier in 1946. He eventually become Vice-Consul. His experience of war-time devastation convinced him that the disaster of European war must never happen again. He is passionate about international relations and in particular about Anglo-German relations.
After coffee, we went for a parish lunch at a nearby restaurant run by Egyptian Copts. Deliberately choosing a Coptic restaurant seemed to me an excellent way of giving practical encouragement to a community which is suffering persecution in its homeland.
It was a truly memorable and full visit. The Kirchentag in Berlin on the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation was very special. There was opportunity to meet and greet lots of people. And lovely to visit the thriving international community of St. George’s with all the signs of life and faith represented by the people in my picture below.