The 2017 Kirchentag celebration which coincided with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the birth of Protestantism has taken place across Germany.
Bishop Nick Baines, Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, the Area Bishop of Huddersfield, and Archdeacon Beverley Mason all spoke at the four day event which was attended by former US President Barack Obama. Organised by the Deutscher Evangelischer Church, some 150,000 Christians took part in celebratory events in Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Erfurt and Wittenburg.
At all Kirchentag events, prayers were offered for the victims and families of the Manchester Arena bombings.
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Kirchentag concluded with a massive open air Eucharist and celebration on sun-baked meadows beside the river Elbe overlooked by Martin Luther’s church at Wittenberg.
Bishop Nick and Archdeacons Peter Townley and Bev Mason were there with a visiting group from the Diocese of Leeds together with Rev Andrew Cromarty of Hipswell Parish (pictured right) and Rev Ruth Dowson of Bingley and heard the South African Anglican Bishop of Cape town, Thabo Makgoba call passionately for Christians to unify against the problems of the world.
This year’s special anniversary event was spread across different cities with many people staying in Berlin rather than take special shuttle trains to the historic town where Protestanism was born 500 years ago.
However some 100,000 attended the huge gathering - the culmination of five days celebrating confident Christianity in a country where faith and politics are proudly interwoven.
Speaking after returning to Huddersfield, Bishop Jonathan said:
“The Kirchentag auf dem Weg in the lovely city of Erfurt may have been a smaller event than the one in Berlin, but there was a great atmosphere in the town where Martin Luther went to university and first became a monk.
“I was privileged to stay at the Augustinerkloster, the former monastery in which Luther lived and prayed, and even more privileged to give a greeting to the assembled crowd in the Cathedral square at the end of the opening service. There was a great wave of sympathy and support for the people of Manchester, as I was asked to lead a prayer for all affected by the recent bombing there.
Over the next few days I gave a Bible study in a former Stasi prison, on the radical implications of the Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel, attended a study led by the German Minister for the Environment, and joined in a panel discussion with the local Protestant and Roman Catholic bishops on the legacy of Martin Luther.
“And in between I met many people who were really interested in and concerned about the future of Britain and Europe.”
Archdeacon of Pontefract Peter Townley who organised the Diocese of Leeds trip said:
“Yet again the Kirchentag was well worth attending.
“It was good to be with a group from the Diocese of Leeds and again we’ve been given a vision of the wider church and how we’ve all got a part to play in extending the work of the church of God.”
Saturday in Berlin was dominated by an evening service at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtnis-Kircke in the heart of the city.
Bombed in the Second World War, a new church was built beside the surviving ruined spire which stands as testament to horrors of the past and the ultimate triumph of Christian good.
But tragedies will always occur and a shrine of flowers, crosses and candles is still in place against the church wall opposite Breithsheid Platz where a lorry was deliberately rammed into Christmas Market crowds, killing 12 and wounding 56 on December 19, 2016.
The service was a celebration of the ongoing commitment of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutchland and the Church of England to the Meissen Commission, which was has worked for unity following the signing of the Meissen Agreement in 1992.
Bishop Nick, who co-chairs the Commission delivered the liturgy, while Landesbischof Ralf Meister gave the sermon.
“I am deeply grateful for the way in which we look at each other in the Church of England and the Evangelical Church in Germany.
“And how we, in a broken world which seeks division rather than reconciliation, keep building our bridges towards full church fellowship,” said Herr Meister, who reflected on the bombing at Manchester Arena and the Christmas Market attack.
“Dear Anglican brothers and sisters, we thank God that you exist and that you carry the name of Jesus Christ,” he concluded.
Bishop Nick began his visit to Kirchentag at an Ascension Day ecumenical service in the market square in Halle, near Leipzig where he preached the following message to thousands of people:
“The friends of Jesus were bereft after his death, confused by his resurrection appearances, and uncertain about the future.
“The risen Jesus meets them where they are and takes their questions and confusions seriously.
“Before his death he had asked them to have their lives turned upside down - the way they look at God, the way they see God, the way they think about God and the way they live in the world in a new way.
“The Ascension is not about Jesus leaving them; rather, it is about him being present differently. As the souls of Roman Emperors were said to visibly as end to the heavens (enabling them or be regarded as gods), Jesus goes body, mind and spirit - hence the claim to be Lord of heaven and earth, thus displacing the limited Caesars.
“The Ascension now asks the friends of Jesus to cease being observers (like the audience at a drama) and get onto the stage as participants playing their particular role in the great drama that is the story of God and his world.
“The theme of the Kirchentag was 'You see me' (the words of the desolate Hagar in Genesis). The Ascension asks us who we think Jesus is.”
Bishop Nick also held a Bible study session in the town of Jena which focussed on the reconciliation of Esau and Jacob (Genesis 33) and at which he said:
“This story cannot be understood without some rehearsal of the story leading up to it.
“Jonathan Sacks, in his excellent book Not in God's Name, offers a new reading of this text. The central point is that Jacob steals the blessing (and vocation) due to his elder brother Esau.
“The narrative tells us how Jacob struggles over decades with the consequences of wanting to be Esau.
“So, the question for us is: do we accept the blessing God intends for us, or do we spend our life trying to be someone else?
Bishop Jonathan continued his Kirchentag visit with a podium discussion with a Roman Catholic and an Evangelische Kirche bishop at the Augustinerkloster in Erfuhrt.
Friday at Kirchentag saw Bishop Jonathan lead a Bible study session in Erfurt worked around the Magnificat and the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth.
Delivered in German, he spoke of the pressures and conflicts between state and religion in economic and political contexts from biblical times to current crises in Europe and the the Middle East.
Christian witness in the Middle East and the struggle for identity was the title of a debate at the Messe Conference Centre attended by Archdeacon Beverley with Rev Ruth Dowson and Shelagh Patrick, both of All Saints, Bingley (pictured right).
The Messe Centre is a massive exhibition space which was packed with thousands of empowered Christians visiting hundreds of Christian charity, fair trade, education and social initiative organisations.
"One speaker reminded us that Syria was the cradle of organised Christianity. It was on the road to Damascus that Saul had his encounter with Jesus and conversion moment. He then went on to establish the church in Antioch, so Christianity has been in Syria since the beginning," Shelagh said.
Rev Ruth said the afternoon event had been thought-provoking and fascinating: "People were speaking on a day when Christians on a bus in Egypt had been blown up.
"That is an aspect of everyday life there.
"These people are all Arabs and the talk was of religion, culture and language, not about ethnicity."
Archdeacon Bev said:"Here we had people coming and speaking for the voiceless.
"We need to listen and hear what they say and be proactively engaged at every level including the political.
"These people need accompaniment."
Day Two (evening)
Kirchentag 2017 takes place in ten cities and Bishop Nick was at the opening Ascension Day service in Halle, near Leipzig, on Thursday evening. He spoke to crowds in the historic marketplace beside the Marktkirche where Handel was once the organist."Wir sind nicht von der Angst getrieben, sondern von der Hoffnung gezogen!" he told the crowd - ("We are not driven by fear, but drawn by hope!") You can read, in German, Bishop Nick's Address, here
Bishop Jonathan took part in a similar opening service at the cathedral square in Erfurt - the city linked to the Diocese of Leeds.
In Berlin, Archdeacon Beverley Mason (left) took a unique Anglo/German/Caribbean Eucharist service at the Auenkirche in the suburb of Wilmersdorf.
Called 'Liturgies goes Karibik' and organised by Barbados-born singer Judy Bailey it featured a full band and Christian dance music together with readings and prayer. Judy's partner Patrick translated instantaneously Bev's sermon on the Road to Emmaus in which she told how God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit defeat all doubts.
Bev was helped by Revd Ruth Dowson from All Saints, Bingley (pictured left) during the two hour evening service in the church packed with some 200 dancing Volk.
Speaking after the Auenkirche service Bev said: "This was such a creative way of catching the heartbeat of God and captured the liturgy in a way accessible to people of all traditions - deeply moving."
Day Two (earlier)
Former US President Barack Obama has joined with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in calling on Christians to act positively for a better and tolerant world.
Addressing tens of thousands at the Kirchentag event at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on this morning he said:
"We can't isolate ourselves.
"We can't hide behind a wall.
"We have to act on what we believe is true and right.
"But God does not speak to us alone and we have still to listen to those who disagree with us.
"The strength of your faith is that you can engage with people of different opinions and your faith provides persistence.
"I do not assume God is speaking through me, but through all people.
"We must respect the ability of others to possess religious truth. There is no perfect answer.
"The issue is not too much religious motivation, the danger is to fail to recognise other faiths.
"In my own faith I find it useful to have a little bit of doubt and try to be humble."
Archdeacon of Pontefract Peter Townley and Archdeacon of Richmond and Craven, Beverley Mason were amongst the cheering crowds.
"He spoke with passion and humility and gave the thousands there, most of them young people, a vision and enthusiasm to make a difference for good and be citizens of the world in which we all have a vital role," Archdeacon Peter said.
"There was such power in what Barack Obama said, and such power amongst those hearing it," Archdeacon Beverley added.
An estimated 170,000 Christians will gather in Berlin this weekend with many attending events at the Messe Exhibition and Conference Centre.
It has been the strong hub for the Kirchentag, hosting lectures, seminars and debates since Thursday. A series of exhibition halls each the size of a football pitch are filled with people and exhibits. Including Reformed Coffee!
The Kirchentag is bedecked with banners proclaiming "Du siehst mich" - the German language quotation from Moses 16, 13 which we have as "You see me".
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