Kirchentag: ‘a platform for debate and dialogue’

Obama and Merkel and Kirchentag group newsBerlin and Wittenberg played host to the 2017 German Protestant Church Assembly, or ‘Kirchentag’, and a team from the United Reformed Church joined more than 145,000 at the event to mark 500 years since the Reformation.

Led by the Revd David Tatem, Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, the URC had a stand in the ‘Marketplace of Opportunities’ space which was home to 603 exhibitors. A dizzying array of almost 2,500 events and talks ran alongside an arts’ programme, from 24 to 28 May, to explore the theme of ‘You see me’.

A highlight for many was the appearance of former US President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel who spoke at the Brandenburg Gate on ‘Being Involved in Democracy: Taking on Responsibility Locally and Globally’. Kirchentag President Christina Aus der Au and Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, of the Evangelical Church in Germany, moderated the discussion.

In his first major appearance since leaving the presidency, Mr Obama told the estimated 70,000 crowd: ‘My own public life began working with churches in poor communities in Chicago and I think that for those of us who are interested in creating a better world; it requires a sense of purpose and a sense of faith – a belief that we can change things for the better, that we can treat people with kindness and tolerance, that we can bridge the differences that exist between nations and between religions and that we are unified by a benevolent God.’

The Kirchentag has been held every two years since 1949 and this year’s event involved participants from 105 countries; some 30,000 produce the various activities with a further 17,000 behind the scenes in administration and organisation.

Kirchentag group newsThe URC stand featured the ‘scrap church’ installation from last year’s Greenbelt festival and this proved to be extremely popular. It also sparked discussions with representatives from churches across Europe and around the world, many of whom were keen to complete a questionnaire on what they would keep, improve or get rid of in their church. Some considered it from the perspective of their own local church while others looked at the Church in general. They then wrote their hopes and dreams for the future on star-shaped stickers and put them on the large U, R and C letters at the stand.

Commenting on the role of the Kirchentag and the URC’s place within it, David Tatem said: ‘The Kirchentag is an important example of the Church deeply engaging with a very broad spectrum of issues; cultural, political, scientific, social and spiritual. It provides platforms for debate and dialogue in which politicians, theologians, scientists and pastors and many others engage and with real seriousness.

‘It is vital for us UK Churches, in the present climate, to be demonstrating that our ties with European fellow Churches will deepen and not become looser. In the light of the Kirchentag, it is also important to show that the URC shares the approach and underlying principle of engagement and dialogue. Over the years a good number of people from the URC have been participants in the Kirchentag and have drawn inspiration from – and been challenged by – the scale of the event and the example of the movement which influences the whole of German society.’

The Revd Bernie Collins, URC mission committee convenor, added: ‘I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about our Church partners in Europe, and to broaden my awareness for serving the URC mission committee in its range of responsibilities. Seeing the welcome and participation by civic and national governments across the city, in the event arenas and the media – and hearing about the development and spread of the Kirchentag – gave an impression of the important and valued place of the Church in Germany and more widely.’


Photo Credit: DEKT