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Summer Days in Orange

The Kirchentag celebrates the Reformation anniversary for five days

Around 120 000 people visited the closing service of the Kirchentag on the Elbe meadows in Wittenberg. (Photo: epd-bild/Thomas Lohnes)

From star politician Obama to comedian Hirschhausen: The diverse program of the Protestant Kirchentag has attracted more than 100 000 people to Berlin and Wittenberg. At the closure, a large celebration took place in the city of Luther.

Bright orange in the subway, commuter trains, the buses and on the street: With its scarves, t-shirts, ribbons and programme books, the 36th German Protestant Kirchentag has, in accordance with the motto of the Bible verse “You see me” also set its own colour accents in Berlin. The venues of the socio-political debates, the worship services and the extensive cultural program were spread throughout the entire city, the participants of the Kirchentag were therefore a lot on the road. There were discussions on the dialogue of the religions, limits of tolerance and the defence of democracy.

A church parish from Brandenburg has settled the issue of being together in its own way. On the great Evening of Encounters between the German Chancellery and the Gendarmenmarkt for the opening of the Kirchentag on Wednesday, the young parish of Neuruppin offered vegan Doner Kebab, on the stand next to it, the rest of the parish sold sausage, lard sandwiches and meatballs. “We are all tolerant”, says a man from the vegan stand and laughs. Around 200 000 people visited this Evening of Encounters on the opening.

The highlight of the meeting of the Protestants at the occasion of the Quincentenary of the Reformation was the appearance of the former US president Barack Obama at the Brandenburg Gate in front of 70 000 people. But other, smaller events also attracted such a great interest that the venues were closed to further visitors due to overcrowding. Among these a bible study with the bestselling author Bernhard Schlink, the discussion of the Bishop of the host Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, Markus Dröge with a representative of the AfD (a right-wing populist party) and a podium with the social democrat candidate for chancellorship Martin Schulz in the Berlin Cathedral. 

Plea for a democratic culture of debate

In a polarized society, the Kirchentag was also not a harmonious encounter. Dissident voices were explicitly invited. Thus the Kirchentag became itself a plea for a democratic culture of debate. Bishop Dröge was much acclaimed for his argumentative dissection of the political positions of the AfD. Beforehand the organisers faced a lot of criticism for inviting a representative of the AfD.

There were intense struggles on the other podiums as well. A common sermon of the German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and of Military bishop Sigurd Rink was disrupted by peace activists. At a debate on arms exports with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel banners were unfurled. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière got booed – but was also applauded by some – for his position on the family reunion of refugees. There hasn’t been so much protests from the public at a Kirchentag for a long time.

Kirchentag president Christina aus der Au, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Arnd Schomerus, Kirchentag pastor from Fulda and German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the closing service in Wittenberg. (Photo: epd-bild/Stefan Arend)

The aim to offer a discussion forum for different worldviews, religions and political opinions was achieved, assessed Kirchentag president Christina Aus der Au. With its invitation to dialogue, the Kirchentag has sent out a signal against persistence in the notorious echo chamber of the Internet. By paraphrasing Luther it has thereby illustrated what the struggle with the conscience, the “Freedom of a Christian” means and is therefore maybe the “most protestant” contribution to the Anniversary of the Reformation, during which the ecumenical reconciliation has been paramount.

Building bridges between Christians and Muslims

The Kirchentag in Berlin and Wittenberg has also built bridges between Christians and Muslims. “The visit of Grand Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb was a promising sign, a success and progress in the Christian-Muslim dialogue. In a globalised world, religions can no longer keep out of each other’s way”, explained Aus der Au.

Kirchentag Secretary General Ellen Ueberschaer added that the 36th German Protestant Kirchentag has at the same time promoted the dialogue between the Muslims themselves: “In different forums inter-Muslim debates sparked off.” This is seen as a sign for the success of the concept of the Kirchentag to create an open space for debate in which the rational exchange of arguments is possible. For Bishop Dröge, the meeting of Protestants showed “that there are no simple answers for the great challenges in our society.”

Appeal to the youth to get involved

At the closure of the Kirchentag in Berlin and of six “Kirchentage on the Way” in eight Central German cities appeals to the youth were reiterated to get involved and to strive for a better world. The worship service on the Elbe meadows near Wittenberg in front of 120 000 worshippers was the highlight of the festivities of the Kirchentag for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The collection of the worship service benefits two aid organisations which rescue refugees in distress in the Mediterranean, namely SOS Méditerranée and Mediterranean Hope.

On the sunny Elbe meadows in Wittenberg the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, appealed the youth in his sermon not to be discouraged: „Be radical.“ The Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, said: “We maybe witness the growing of a Generation 2017 in which young people set forth!”

With around 6000 visitors the staging “Our Lord’s chancellery” in Magdeburg was the most visited single event of the Kirchentage on the Way. (Photo: epd-bild/Viktoria Kühne)

Kirchentag president Aus der Au called on the Protestants not to shy away from controversies. Dialogue and controversies belong together. She also urged to talk with those “who don’t want to conduct a dialogue.”

Encouraging ecumenism further

Archbishop Makgoba, a successor of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, recalled the famous speech of Martin Luther King in the 1960s: “Like King, I also have a dream for the world. That one day all the narcissistic, nationalistic and isolationist slogans of our time may disappear.”

In his greeting speech, German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier encourages the Christians to even more community. “The lively ecumenical exchange between the confessions and the close cooperation between the Christians benefits the entire country”,he said. The Catholic Bishop Gerhard Feige, in charge of the ecumene called for a further convergence of the churches.

After the worship service, the Kirchentag ended in the afternoon with a picnic on the Elbe meadows. For this, 350 host parishes provided self-made food to the visitors. Starting in the late afternoon, the artists Konstantin Wecker, „Bell Book and Candle“, Judy Bailey and CITY performed under the title “Live 17”. The next German Protestant Kirchentag will take place in Dortmund in 2019.

Expectations as to the number of visitors were not fulfilled

The idea of a gigantic celebration of Protestants did however not entirely succeed. According to the organisers, around 120 000 people came under bright sunshine to the big closing worship to Wittenberg. At the beginning of the planning, the organisers had hoped for 200 000 visitors, but later corrected the prognosis to 100 000. At least this number was surpassed.

At the Kirchentage on the Way the organisers registered in total around 180 000 visitors. Most of them – 41 000 – came together in Leipzig. The most visited single event took place in Magdeburg, where 6000 visitors saw the staging on a river “Our Lord’s chancellery” with a Boat procession. A small drawback were the ticket sales which were lower than expected. The organisers in Berlin registered 106 000 tickets for the entire event. They had planned for up to 140 000. At the “Kirchentage on the Way”, instead of the hoped for 80 000 sold tickets only 50 000 were sold.


Source:epd/r2017 Date:29-05-17
Kirchentag, Kirchentage on the Road, Berlin, Wittenberg, culture of debate, ecumenism

German Protestant Kirchentag and Kirchentage on the Way

The 36th German Protestant Kirchentag (Church Assembly) will take place in Berlin and Wittenberg in May. In addition to this, Kirchentage on the Way will be organized in eight Central German cities.