PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY
Jointly prepared and published by
Scripture quotations: The scripture quotations contained herein are from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989, 1995, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and are used with permission. All rights reserved.
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TO THOSE ORGANIZING
The search for unity: throughout the year
The traditional period in the northern hemisphere for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Paul Wattson to cover the days between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul, and therefore have a symbolic significance. In the southern hemisphere where January is a vacation time churches often find other days to celebrate the week of prayer, for example around Pentecost (suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926), which is also a symbolic date for the unity of the Church.
Mindful of the need for flexibility, we invite you to use this material throughout the whole year to express the degree of communion which the churches have already reached, and to pray together for that full unity which is Christ’s will.
Adapting the text
This material is offered with the understanding that, whenever possible, it will be adapted for use in local situations. Account should be taken of local liturgical and devotional practice, and of the whole social and cultural context. Such adaptation should ideally take place ecumenically. In some places ecumenical structures are already set up for adapting the material; in other places, we hope that the need to adapt it will be a stimulus to creating such structures.
Using the Week of Prayer material
BIBLICAL TEXT FOR 2017
2 Corinthians 5:14-20
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
The text used above is from the New Revised Standard Version which is the agreed English translation always used for our materials. However, the writers felt that “the love of Christ compels us,” the rendering of verse 14 from the New International Version made a stronger title, and therefore we use this title and phrase in these materials.
INTRODUCTION TO THE THEME
Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us
(cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20)
Germany: The Land of the Lutheran Reformation
In 1517 Martin Luther raised concerns about what he saw as abuses in the Church of his time by making public his 95 theses. 2017 is the 500th anniversary of this key event in the reformation movements that marked the life of the Western Church over several centuries. This event has been a controversial theme in the history of inter-church relations in Germany, not least over the last few years. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has been building up to this anniversary since 2008, by focusing each year on one particular aspect of the Reformation, for example: the Reformation and Politics, or the Reformation and Education. The EKD also invited its ecumenical partners at various levels to help commemorate the events of 1517.
After extensive, and sometimes difficult, discussions, the churches in Germany agreed that the way to commemorate ecumenically this Reformation event should be with a Christusfest – a Celebration of Christ. If the emphasis were to be placed on Jesus Christ and his work of reconciliation as the center of Christian faith, then all the ecumenical partners of the EKD (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Mennonite and others) could participate in the anniversary festivities.
Given the fact that the history of the Reformation was marked by painful division, this is a very remarkable achievement. The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity has worked hard to produce a shared understanding of the commemoration. Its important report, From Conflict to Communion, recognizes that both traditions approach this anniversary in an ecumenical age, with the achievements of fifty years of dialogue behind them, and with new understandings of their own history and theology. Separating that which is polemical from the theological insights of the Reformation, Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today, recognising him as a “witness to the gospel” (From Conflict to Communion 29). And so after centuries of mutual condemnations and vilification, in 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will for the first time commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation.
From this agreement and the wider ecumenical context emerges the strong theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us” (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-20).
The Council of Churches in Germany (ACK) and the Reformation Anniversary 2017
The Council of Churches in Germany launched several projects to commemorate 1517. One was entitled “Discover Anew the Bible's Treasures”. Here, in a manner reminiscent of the importance Martin Luther placed on the meaning of the Bible, all ACK member churches wrote texts describing their approach to the Bible. These were later published in a brochure. In addition, the ACK conducted a symbolic “pilgrimage” to various member churches in Wittenberg. Each community visited, expressed and celebrated its own unique relationship to the Bible. In April 2015, the ACK also organized a conference entitled: “Irreparably Divided? Blessed Renewal? – 500 Years of Reformation in Various Ecumenical Perspectives”, the proceedings of which have been published.
It was in the context of the anniversary that the Council of Churches in Germany (ACK), invited by the World Council of Churches, took up the work of creating the resources for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A committee comprised of ten members representing different churches met three times in 2014/2015 to develop the necessary texts. A particular emphasis was placed on the preparation of the ecumenical worship service for the Week (see pp. 11 to 24). The resources should serve the general purpose of the Week of Prayer, while at the same time commemorating the Lutheran Reformation.
The Theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2017
When the German national planning committee met in the autumn of 2014, it quickly became clear that the materials for this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity would need to have two accents: on the one hand, there should be a celebration of God’s love and grace, the “justification of humanity through grace alone”, reflecting the main concern of the churches marked by Martin Luther’s Reformation. On the other hand, the materials should also recognize the pain of the subsequent deep divisions which afflicted the Church, openly name the guilt, and offer an opportunity to take steps toward reconciliation.
Ultimately it was Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) which provided the theme for this year, when it used the quote: “The Love of Christ Compels Us” (Paragraph 9). With this scripture verse (2 Cor 5:14), taken in the context of the entire fifth chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians, the German committee formulated the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2017.
The Biblical Text: 2 Cor 5:14-20
This biblical text emphasizes that reconciliation is a gift from God, intended for the entire creation. “God was reconciling the world (kosmos) to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (v. 19). As a result of God's action, the person who has been reconciled in Christ is called in turn to proclaim this reconciliation in word and deed: “The love of Christ compels us” (v. 14, NIV). “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (v. 20). The text stresses that this reconciliation is not without sacrifice. Jesus gives his life; he died for all. The ambassadors of reconciliation are called, in his name, to give their lives similarly. They no longer live for themselves; they live for him who died for them.
The Eight Days and the Worship Service
The text, 2 Cor 5:14-20, shapes the reflections of the eight days, which develop some of the theological insights of the individual verses, as follows:
Day 1: One has died for all
In the Ecumenical Worship Service, the fact that God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself is a reason to celebrate. But this must also include our confession of sin before we hear the Word proclaimed and draw from the deep wellspring of God's forgiveness. Only then are we able to testify to the world that reconciliation is possible.
Compelled to Witness
The love of Christ compels us to pray, but also to move beyond our prayers for unity among Christians. Congregations and churches need the gift of God's reconciliation as a wellspring of life. But above all, they need it for their common witness to the world: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
The world needs ministers of reconciliation, who will break down barriers, build bridges, make peace, and open doors to new ways of life in the name of the one who reconciled us to God, Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit leads the way on the path to reconciliation in his name.
As this text was being written in 2015, many people and churches in Germany were practising reconciliation by offering hospitality to the numerous refugees arriving from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, as well as countries of the Western Balkans, in search of protection and a new life. The practical help and powerful actions against hatred for the foreigner were a clear witness to reconciliation for the German population. As ministers of reconciliation, the churches actively assisted the refugees in finding new homes, while at the same time trying to improve the living conditions in the countries they had left behind. Concrete acts of help are just as necessary as praying together for reconciliation and peace, if those who are fleeing their terrible situations are to know some hope and consolation.
May the wellspring of God's gracious reconciliation overflow in this year’s Week of Prayer, so that many people may find peace, and so that bridges may be built. May people and churches be compelled by the love of Christ to live reconciled lives and to break down the walls that divide!
THE PREPARATION OF THE MATERIAL
The preparatory work on the theme for this year’s week of prayer material was undertaken by a group of representatives of different Christian communities in Germany. This National Committee was brought together by the working group of Christian Churches in Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen/ACK), led by Dr Elisabeth Dieckmann.
Gratitude is extended in particular to the leaders of ACK, the members of its National Committee, and those who contributed to these resources:
The texts proposed in this booklet were finalized during a meeting of the International Committee nominated by Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The members of the Committee met the National Committee in September 2015 in the Luther-Hotel of Wittenberg/Germany. They thank the ACK for generously hosting the meeting and for the very kind hospitality. In particular they wish to thank Pastor Bernd Densky whose assistance greatly facilitated their work. The working group was also accompanied and guided on a visit to Wittenberg and Eisleben by Revd Jürgen Dittrich, a local Lutheran pastor, who is responsible for the ecumenical work in the local church of Saxony-Anhalt. The visit started with visiting Wittenberg, where Martin Luther lived with his family and worked after he had left the monastery in Erfurt. The group also went to the famous castle church, where the German Reformer probably nailed the 95 thesis. It also visited Luther’s birthplace and the church of his baptism in Eisleben. These visits gave deep insights into the meaning and influence of Martin Luther for the Reformation in Germany.
An evening meeting with local representatives of different Christian communities was very helpful to understand the religious landscape in Germany, especially in Eastern Germany.
ECUMENICAL WORSHIP SERVICE
Introduction to the worship
Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us
Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
The churches in Germany decided to commemorate this anniversary as a Christusfest (an ecumenical celebration of Christ). The Reformation was the occasion of a renewed focus on salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We rejoice in God’s salvation centered on the cross of Christ, who overcomes division and draws us together. This worship openly confesses and asks forgiveness for the sins of division which followed the Reformation. The service will celebrate Christ and his act of reconciliation, which moves the hearts of divided Christians to become ambassadors for Christ as ministers of reconciliation.
The Contents of the Worship Service
The theme “Reconciliation – the Love of Christ Compels Us” celebrates the irrevocable reconciliation that we have received through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ's love becomes the driving force that moves us beyond our division toward acts of reconciliation.
Through psalms and songs we gather in Jesus’ name in praise of God’s wondrous deeds. We confess our sins of division and make our plea for forgiveness. The proclamation of the Word highlights the reconciling action of Christ as “One who died for all” (v. 14). The faithful respond to this good news by accepting the call to be ministers of reconciliation .
Symbolic Actions in the Service
1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, that began with the Peace Prayer Movement in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in which people placed candles in windows and doorways and prayed for freedom. Horst Sindermann, a member of the GDR Leadership until 1989, noted “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything, just not for candles and prayers.” This is why the division of Christians and the reconciliation we seek are represented by the construction and dismantling of a wall. This can become a symbol of hope for any situation in which a division seems insurmountable. Thus the construction of a symbolic wall at the confession of sin, the visible presence of this wall during the proclamation of the Word, and finally the dismantling of this wall to form a cross as a sign of hope, give us courage to name these terrible divisions and to overcome them with the help of God.
Directions/Material: Building up and tearing down the Wall
“Division due to our sin”: after a brief introduction some members of the congregation will construct a wall of separation representing the sins and division that we confess. The wall remains standing during the service until the section headed “Respond in faith – live in reconciliation.” At this point the stones will be removed from the wall and placed in the shape of a cross.
Depending on the size of the worship space, the following materials will be necessary for this symbolic action: 12 boxes of the same size (i.e. shoe boxes, transport boxes) covered in packing paper to make the “stones.” On the front side of each box a key term will be noted (lack of love, hate and contempt, false accusation, discrimination, persecution, broken communion, intolerance, religious wars, division, abuse of power, isolation, and pride). As each sin is named the stone is brought forward to build the wall. Following a moment of silence, the stone bearer makes the plea for forgiveness, to which the congregation responds “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
After the proclamation of God’s word which concludes with the sermon, a prayer for reconciliation follows. As the wall is dismantled and the stones are laid in the form of the cross, a song of reconciliation or a hymn of the glory of the cross is sung.
For worship services in small groups, an alternative liturgical action could be either to expand upon or to replace the wall with personal testimonies. These testimonies in the first part should name situations which have been hurtful to others. In the second part concerning the faith response, stories about reconciliation and acts of healing could be told.
Following the creed, four intercessory prayers are offered. After each petition, three people light their candles from a central source of light (for example a Paschal candle) and remain standing around the cross until the section headed “Christ’s commission.” After the commission, the twelve pass the light throughout the congregation until each person has a lighted candle. The service concludes with a blessing and sending out.
Order of Service
Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us
I. Gathered in Jesus' Name
Hymns for Gathering (will be chosen locally)
Procession with Bible/Lectionary
Psalm 98 (sung)or a hymn of praise
II. Divided by our Sins (Confession)
Invitation to confession
(As each sin is named the corresponding stone is brought forward to build the wall. Following a moment of silence, the stone bearer [R] makes the plea for forgiveness as the congregation responds “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”)
Sung response: “Lord, forgive us”. (Local committees choose their own sung responses)
Sung response: “Lord, forgive us”.
Sung response: “Lord, forgive us”.
III. Be reconciled to God – Hear God's Word
First Reading: Ezekiel 36:25-27
Responsorial Psalm: 18:25-32 (sung)
Response: I love you, O Lord, my strength.
With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
Response: I love you, O Lord, my strength.
It is you who light my lamp;
Response: I love you, O Lord, my strength.
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-20
Gospel Reading: Luke 15:11-24
IV. Respond in Faith – Live Reconciled
(As the wall is dismantled and the stones are laid in the form of a cross, a song of reconciliation or a hymn of the glory of the cross is sung.)
V. Respond in Faith – Proclaim Reconciliation
(After each petition, three people light their candles from a central source of light (for example a Paschal candle) and remain standing around the cross until the section headed “Christ’s commission.”)
Spoken/Sung response: Lord, hear our prayer.
Spoken/Sung response: Lord, hear our prayer.
Spoken/Sung response: Lord, hear our prayer.
The Lord's Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
VI. Ambassadors for Christ – Ministers of Reconciliation
(The twelve pass the candlelight throughout the congregation until each person has a lighted candle.)
Blessing and Sending
“Sonne der Gerechtigkeit”, by Christian David (“Rise, O Sun of Righteousness”, translated by Frank W. Stoldt), or other song to be selected by the local planning committee.
When Paul was converted to Christ he came to a radical new understanding: one person has died for all. Jesus did not just die for his own people, nor merely for those who sympathized with his teachings. He died for all people, past, present and future. Faithful to the Gospel, many Christians down the centuries have laid down their lives for their friends. One such person was the Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe, who was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Auschwitz and who in 1941 willingly gave up his life so that a fellow prisoner could live.
Because Jesus died for all, all have died with him (2 Cor 5:14). In dying with Christ our old way of life becomes a thing of the past and we enter into a new form of existence: abundant life – a life in which we can experience comfort, trust and forgiveness, even today – a life which continues to have meaning even after death. This new life is life in God.
Having come to this realization, Paul felt compelled by the love of Christ to preach the Good News of reconciliation with God. Christian churches share in this same commission of proclaiming the Gospel message. We need to ask ourselves how we can proclaim this gospel of reconciliation in view of our divisions.
God our Father,
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been freed from the need to create our own meaning and from living only out of our own strength. Rather, we live in the life-giving power of Christ, who lived, died, and rose again for us. When we ‘lose’ our life for his sake, we gain it.
The prophets were constantly faced with questions concerning the right way to live before God. The prophet Micah found a very clear answer to this question: “To do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” The author of Psalm 25 knew that we cannot do this by ourselves and cried out to God for guidance and strength.
In recent years, social isolation and increasing loneliness have become important issues in Germany as in many contemporary societies. Christians are called to develop new forms of community life in which we share our means of livelihood with others and nurture support between generations. The Gospel call to live not for ourselves but for Christ is also a call to reach out to others and to break down the barriers of isolation.
God our Father,
Encountering Christ turns everything upside down. Paul had that experience on the road to Damascus. For the first time he could see Jesus for who he really was: the Saviour of the world. His point of view was changed completely. He had to lay his human, worldly judgment aside.
Encountering Christ changes our perspective as well. Nevertheless, we often linger in the past and judge according to human standards. We make claims or do things “in the name of the Lord” that in reality may be self-serving. Throughout history, in Germany and in many other countries, both rulers and the churches themselves have misused their power and influence to pursue unjust political goals.
Transformed by their encounter with Christ, in 1741, the Christians of the Moravian Church (Herrnhuter) answered the call to regard no-one from a human point of view by choosing to ‘submit to Christ’s Rule’. In submitting ourselves to the rule of Christ today, we are called to see others as God sees them, without mistrust or prejudice.
Triune God, you are the origin and goal
of all living things.
We often live out of the past. Looking back can be helpful, and is often necessary for the healing of memories. It can also paralyze us and prevent us from living in the present. Paul’s message here is liberating: “everything old has passed away”.
The Bible encourages us to keep the past in mind, to draw strength from our memories, and to remember what good God has done. However, it also asks us to leave the old, even what was good, in order to follow Christ and live a new life in him.
During this year, the work of Martin Luther and other reformers is being commemorated by many Christians. The Reformation changed much in the life of the Western Church. Many Christians showed heroic witness and many were renewed in their Christian lives. At the same time, as scripture shows, it is important not to be limited by what happened in the past, but rather to allow the Holy Spirit to open us to a new future in which division is overcome and God’s people is made whole.
Paul encountered Christ, the risen Lord, and became a renewed person—just as everyone does who believes in Christ. This new creation is not visible to the naked eye. Instead it is a reality of faith. God lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit and lets us share in the life of the Trinity.
By this act of new creation, the Fall is overcome and we are brought into a saving relationship with God. Truly amazing things can be said about us: as Paul said, in Christ we are a new creation; in his resurrection death is overcome; no person or thing can snatch us out of the hand of God; we are one in Christ and he lives in us; in Christ we are “a kingdom and priests” (Rev 5:10) as we give thanks to him for overcoming death and we proclaim the promise of the new creation.
This new life becomes visible when we allow it to take shape and live it out in “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” It must also become apparent in our ecumenical relationships. A common conviction in many churches is that the more we are in Christ, the closer we are to each other. Especially on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we are reminded of both the achievements and tragedies of our history. The love of Christ compels us to live as renewed beings in actively seeking unity and reconciliation.
Triune God, you reveal yourself to us
Reconciliation has two sides: it is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. It draws us in so that we desire it: within ourselves, with one another, and between our different confessional traditions. We see the price and it scares us. For reconciliation means renouncing our desire for power and recognition. In Christ God graciously reconciles us to himself even though we have turned away from him. God's action goes beyond even this: God reconciles not only humanity, but the whole of creation to himself.
In the Old Testament God was faithful and merciful to the people of Israel, with whom he established a covenant. This covenant remains: “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). Jesus, who inaugurated the new covenant in his blood, was a son of Israel. Too often in history our churches have failed to honor this. After the Holocaust, it is the distinctive task of the German churches to combat antisemitism. Similarly all churches are called to bring forth reconciliation in their communities and resist all forms of human discrimination, for we are all part of God’s covenant.
Merciful God, out of love
Reconciliation between God and human beings is the key reality of our Christian faith. Paul was convinced that the love of Christ compels us to bring God’s reconciliation to bear in all aspects of our life. Today this leads us to examine our consciences in relation to our divisions. As the story of Joseph demonstrates, God always gives the grace needed for the healing of broken relationships.
The great reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, as well as many who remained Catholics, such as Ignatius of Loyola, Francis de Sales and Charles Borromeo, sought to bring about renewal in the Western church. However, what should have been a story of God’s grace was also marred by human sinfulness and became a story of the rending of the unity of God’s people. Compounded by sin and warfare, mutual hostility and suspicion deepened over the centuries.
The ministry of reconciliation includes the work of overcoming divisions within Christianity. Today, many Christian churches work together in mutual trust and respect. One positive example of ecumenical reconciliation is the dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Mennonite World Conference. After the dialogue results were published in the document “Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ”, the two organizations held a penitential service together in 2010 followed by further reconciliation services throughout Germany and in many other countries.
God of all goodness, we give you thanks
What if? What if the prophecies in the Bible actually came true? If the wars between people stopped and if life-giving things were to be made out of the weapons of war? What if God’s justice and peace reigned, a peace which was more than simply the absence of war? If all of humanity came together for a celebration in which not a single person was marginalized? What if there really was no more mourning, no more tears, and no more death? It would be the culmination of the reconciliation that God brought about in Jesus Christ. It would be heaven!
Psalms, canticles, and hymns sing of the day when the whole perfected creation finally arrives at its goal, the day when God will be “all in all”. They tell about the Christian hope for the fulfilment of God´s reign, when suffering will be transformed into joy. On that day, the Church will be revealed in her beauty and grace as the one body of Christ. Wherever we gather in the Spirit to sing together about the fulfilment of God’s promises, the heavens break open and we begin here and now to dance to the melody of eternity.
As we can already experience this presence of heaven, let us celebrate together. We may be inspired to share images, poems and songs from our particular traditions. These materials can open up spaces for us to experience our common faith in and hope for God’s Kingdom.
Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Lamb of God, the heavens adore you,
[German: "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," author: Philipp Nicolai (1599); English: "Wake, awake, the night is flying" (third stanza), translated by Catherine Winkworth]
(published under the sole responsibility of the local ecumenical team from Germany)
THE ECUMENICAL SITUATION IN GERMANY *
Working Together in a Changing Society
Of the 81 million inhabitants in Germany today, 50 million are Christian. Most of them belong either to the Roman Catholic Church or to one of the Protestant regional churches which together make up the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). Although small by comparison, there are also “Free Churches”, the Orthodox Church and, indeed, all major Christian traditions are present in Germany today.
Centuries ago, Germany consisted of many kingdoms and principalities but was united by a common church. The Reformation, led among others by Martin Luther, resulted in schisms within Western Christianity and ultimately in wars between Catholic and Protestant forces. The Peace of Augsburg (1555) temporarily put an end to these conflicts by stipulating that the people of a kingdom or principality were to adhere to the faith of their ruler. Those who believed differently were forced to convert or move to a different region. These provisions applied to Lutherans and Catholics, but not to the followers of Calvin and the Anabaptists, who were thus subject to persecution. The Peace of Augsburg held for over six decades until the outbreak of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Peace was re-established by the Peace of Westphalia which affirmed the Peace of Augsburg, this time, however, with provision for Calvinists. As a result, the German people lived in regional denominational isolation. Confessional diversity within a sovereign land was unthinkable, and, driven by the horrors of war, mistrust and animosity between the denominations were rampant.
The 19th century saw the advent of other churches and denominations in Germany, among them the Baptist and Methodist as well as old-confessional churches (the Old Lutheran, Old Reformed and Old Catholic churches). Their rise was often due to inner church protest movements. As a result, these churches were relatively small in number and mostly disinclined to ecumenical relations.
After World War II, the situation of the Christian churches in Germany changed significantly. About 12 million people of German ancestry fled or were expelled from Eastern Europe. When they were settled in Germany no consideration was given to the question of which Christian tradition they belonged to. Protestants came to live in Catholic areas and vice versa. As a result, Protestants and Catholics came in closer contact with each other.
Post-War economic and industrial growth created a demand for labour, resulting in agreements between the German government and many Mediterranean countries concerning “guest workers”. In this way people from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia came to Germany, which increased the confessional and religious diversity of the country. This saw in particular an increase in the Orthodox presence in Germany. Although it was initially thought that they would return to their home countries after a couple of years (hence the name “guest workers”), many stayed and left their mark on German life and culture. The 1980s saw an increase of immigrants with German roots from the former Soviet Union, many of whom were Orthodox, Baptist or Jewish. In recent years war, terror and social unrest in the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Ukraine and many other countries have generated a large flow of refugees. While most of these flee to neighbouring regions, there are increasing numbers of migrants seeking refuge in Germany and in other European countries.
In former Eastern Germany the churches, most especially the Protestant church, played a key role in the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin wall (1989) and the downfall of the Communist government. Even that, however, did not prevent the Christian faith from losing its significance in East Germany. The British newspaper, The Guardian, went so far as to describe East Germany as “the most godless place on earth”. The rule of the Communist government was by no means the only reason for the lack of religiosity there; the Christian faith had been on the decline in East Germany even before the communists came to power. The atheism there is not at all aggressive in nature, like that of the so-called “new atheists”. Instead, it is characterized by a deep-rooted indifference to any kind of faith. When people in Berlin were asked whether they considered themselves to be believers or unbelievers, one person responded: “I’m neither, I’m normal”.
Today Germany is home to people of many different cultural backgrounds and of different – or no – beliefs. About one third of the population belongs to one of the Protestant regional churches in the EKD, one third is Roman Catholic and just under one third does not adhere to any faith. 1,7% of the population are Orthodox Christians, another 1,8% are members of one of the free churches. These are mostly churches which have strong historical and theological links to the Reformation but do not have ties to the state like the Roman Catholic Church and the EKD. 4,9% of the people in Germany are Muslim, 0,1% are Jewish.
The churches in Germany have not yet overcome all their differences, but they have learned to work together. During the rule of the National Socialists there were Christians who collaborated with the government. Others, however, offered resistance and were imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. The common experience of living and suffering under the dictatorship of the Nazis brought Christians of different traditions closer together. Today, German churches do a much better job of cooperating in order to fulfil the mission of the Church and witness to the Gospel in word and deed. Because the Roman Catholic Church and the EKD each have many members, they also make up a large part of the ecumenical cooperation that takes place in Germany.
Much of the ecumenism in Germany occurs at the grassroots level, for example the Prayer Week of the Evangelical Alliance and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Neighbouring parishes and congregations often organize ecumenical activities like Bible study, discussing theological topics, celebrating festivals, creating a common website, visiting people who are new to the community and distributing leaflets at a local train station that contain information about the Christian churches. This kind of work is usually done by volunteers who are members of the local churches. In some regions congregations and parishes enter into local ecumenical partnerships, signing a formal agreement that shapes their cooperation. These agreements are usually based on similar written agreements between the leaders of the churches concerned.
Ecumenical co-operation also occurs on the level of church leadership. For example, a group of Catholic and Protestant bishops from the EKD meets twice a year to discuss current topics that affect the churches. Another group discusses theological issues – such as the concept of human dignity. In addition to these bilateral meetings, there are also regular meetings between representatives of the Orthodox Bishops’ Conference with Roman Catholic and with Protestant bishops, respectively, and between the Association of Free Churches and the EKD.
Large church conventions or gatherings for the members of a church are a typical feature of the German Christian landscape. For Catholics they are called Katholikentage, and for Protestants, Kirchentage. Both take place every two years, and are organized by the Central Committee of German Catholics and the German Evangelical Kirchentag (DEKT), respectively. In principle, they are primarily gatherings for the members of one church, but for many years now members of different churches have attended or have even been invited as guest speakers.
In 2003 and in 2010 all the member churches of the German Council of Churches joined together to organise a similar convention on an ecumenical level called an Ökumenischer Kirchentag. Many issues that are important to German society were discussed (the global financial crisis, climate change, ethical questions concerning human life, justice, etc.). Of equal importance were the many Bible studies, theological discussions, and ecumenical worship services. Holding these gatherings, especially the ecumenical Kirchentage, is an excellent opportunity for Christians in Germany to demonstrate not only that they are still active, but also that they are prepared to work together and to engage the rest of German society in dialogue.
The Council of Churches in Germany
The Council of Churches in Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen, ACK) was founded on 10 March 1948, i.e. a few months before the World Council of Churches was established. The founding members were the EKD, Mennonites, Baptists, Methodists and the Old-Catholic Church. In 1974, ten years after the Decree on Ecumenism had been adopted by the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Germany joined the Council of Churches. The Orthodox Church, too, became a member in 1974. After the reunification of Germany the West German and the East German Councils of Churches merged. Both councils had had different structures and membership, so it was necessary to form a new ecumenical body with new statutes. Today the Council of Churches in Germany has 17 member churches. In addition, six churches are guest members and four ecumenical organizations have observer status.
In 2003, during the first Ecumenical Kirchentag in Berlin, representatives of all member churches of the ACK celebrated an ecumenical service and signed the Charta Oecumenica produced by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Episcopal Conferences of the Roman Catholic Church. The ACK also published its own text which reflects on the meaning of the Charta Oecumenica in the German context and on how the Charta can be put into practice in Germany.
In 2010, during the second Ecumenical Kirchentag in Munich, the ACK established an “Ecumenical Day of Creation”, thus implementing one of the recommendations of the Charta Oecumenica. The Ecumenical Day of Creation is intended both to be a common witness to our belief in God as Creator and to remind us of our joint task in preserving God’s creation. This Day of Creation is to be celebrated each year on the first Friday in September. The initial celebration of the Ecumenical Day of Creation was held by the ACK in an Orthodox church in Brühl. Today the Day of Creation is observed in cities all over Germany. The ACK encourages all German Christians to celebrate this day and publishes suggestions for worship services and additional material well in advance of September so that people can use it to plan their own celebration.
Another topic to which the Council of Churches has devoted much time and discussion is that of Baptism. In 2007 eleven member churches signed an agreement on the mutual recognition of Baptism. Five members of the Council of Churches, among them the Mennonites and the Baptists, felt unable to sign. Since then, the ACK has worked further on the issue of Baptism. The subject was discussed by the General Assembly of the ACK, and a public conference was held in March 2014. The ACK also held a consultation with the Finnish Ecumenical Council on the same topic.
Articles 10 and 11 of the Charta Oecumenica recommend intensifying dialogue with representatives of the Jewish faith, and they encourage encounters between Christians and Muslims. Accordingly the ACK has worked together with one Jewish and two Muslim organizations in an initiative called “Weißt du, wer ich bin?” (“Do you know who I am?”). This initiative offered advice and financial support in encouraging people of all three faiths to get to know each other and to engage in common activities at a grassroots level. A young Muslim woman was employed to coordinate this effort. Funding was also given by German and European state institutions.
The ACK has also given much thought to the document “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World”, and has set up a task force to coordinate work on the subject. In 2014 a conference was held that gave representatives of the member churches of the ACK and of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) the opportunity to discuss matters relating to witness and interreligious dialogue. As a result, the EA and the ACK have developed closer ties, and the EA has asked to join the ACK with observer status.
One of the main ecumenical challenges Germany faces is maintaining a platform on which churches that are smaller in number can meet with the two large churches face to face. The Roman Catholic Church and the EKD are about the same size and have the same kinds of resources at their disposal. For that reason their cooperation comes naturally and covers a wide variety of topics – everything from inter-church marriage to questions concerning the relationship between state and church. Many times, however, they work together on a strictly bilateral basis, the result being that other churches and even the ACK itself often do not have their due say in ecumenical matters. Doing justice to the fact that there are more than two churches in Germany and encouraging and enabling multilateral discourse and cooperation are some of the ACK’s central goals.
Another challenge is the frustration that many people feel, especially those who have laboured for a long time at the grassroots level, when they cannot see any progress in ecumenical matters. This frustration is felt most sharply when it comes to sharing the Lord’s Supper across confessional boundaries, known as Eucharistic sharing. In Germany there are vast numbers of couples who belong to different churches. They not only yearn to be able to take communion together, but many also feel deeply that the ecumenical movement should be bearing more fruit than it is, and are dissatisfied when they see stagnation instead of bold steps forward.
Many people in Germany today have no real knowledge of the Christian faith, and they do not seem interested in understanding, let alone embracing it. If the churches take their mission seriously to “go to all nations and make them my disciples” (Mt 28:19) it should be a priority for them to engage these people in dialogue. Instead of dealing with this challenge individually, the churches should face it together, learning from each other’s experience and encouraging each other. Focusing on their common faith can only strengthen the bond among the churches. Also, trying together to communicate the Christian faith in an understandable way can lead the churches themselves to a deeper understanding of their own faith. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation can be seen as an opportunity to remind the public – Christians and non-believers alike – of what the Christian faith is all about: God’s love in Christ for us humans and for all creation. That is why the churches in Germany have decided to make the anniversary a celebration of Jesus Christ (“Christusfest”).
* This text is reproduced under the sole authority and responsibility of the Council of Churches in Germany (ACK).
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WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
In 1968, materials jointly prepared by the WCC Faith and Order
KEY DATES IN THE HISTORY