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First Pan-German Protestant Since Reunification To Discuss Global Issues

Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
2 June 2011

By Anli Serfontein
DRESDEN, Germany, 1 June 2011 (ENInews)— For the first time since the East and West Germany were reunited in 1990, as many lay Protestants from the former East Germany have attended the 33rd Kirchentag as Germans from the western part of the country.

“This is the first really German Kirchentag since 1961,” the year the Berlin wall was constructed, said Katrin Göring Eckardt, a prominent Green Party member of Germany’s Bundestag (Germany’s parliament) and its deputy speaker). She is the foremost lay Protestant leader in Germany, serving as director of the Evangelical Church in Germany, a federation of Lutheran, Calvinist and other Protestant church bodies.

This year’s five-day-long Kirchentag (literally, church conference) has drawn some 120,000 attendees to Dresden, capital of the former East German state of Saxony. The location is significant: A series of protest vigils and prayer meetings organized by the East German Protestant churches played a key role in bringing about the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, paving the way for reunification. “This Kirchentag is only possible because there were brave Christians here in Dresden twenty years ago,“ German President Christian Wulff told delegates gathered on the banks of the Elbe River.

In Dresden today, only about a fifth of the population belongs to a church, says Jochen Bohl, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dresden. Nonetheless, Bohl says the choice was significant in another way: Saxony was once home to Martin Luther and critical religious debates have a natural home there. Bohl said he hopes the Kirchentag events will make those city residents who don’t attend church recognize that today’s church “is young, happy and spiritual – and thoughtfully facing the world.”

The agenda for this year’s Kirchentag, which wraps up on Sunday – Ascension Day, reflects that global outlook. In the wake of the massive earthquake that struck Japan in March, and the Fukushima nuclear plant’s near meltdown that followed, organizers altered the program to include discussions on how to create a nuclear-free environment. (The German government this week announced that by 2022, it plans to eliminate any reliance on nuclear-generated power.)

This year, the church festival will discuss this and other issues that fall under three broad themes: theology and faith, politics and society and the world and the environment. Up for debate are topics that range from the aftermath of sexual abuse scandals in church institutions, the impact of the revolutions in Arab nations and the question of whether military interventions can halt armed conflict as well as perennial issues such as the prosperity gap between the northern and southern hemispheres and what makes an equitable economic system. Participants will also discuss the thorny issue of integrating immigrants, refugees and migrant workers into German society. Wulff, who caused a controversy by telling a national day celebration last October that Islam is now a party of Germany, will participate in a discussion based on the question of how much integration a democracy needs.

The biannual Kirchentag has its roots in the postwar years, when it began as a way for Protestant from all walks of life to gather to debate social and political issues.


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