Partnership’s Pentecost Communion Service

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On Saturday 30th May, a virtual Pentecost Communion service between the United Reformed Church (URC) and the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz (Protestant churches of the Palatinate region of Germany), was held via Zoom.

The service was led by the Revd Philip Brooks, URC Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, and Pfarrer Martin Henninger, Minister of the Lutherkirche in Frankenthal, who is also the Convener of the Friends of the URC of the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz, a partnership that pre-dates the URC, going back to 1957. 

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The General Secretary of the URC, the Revd John Proctor, gave the following address:

Pentecost is about God reaching out to the world, and good news reaching into people’s lives. Pentecost is about the breath of God blowing strong and the grace of God spreading wide.

A sound came from heaven. They were all filled. God is reaching out.

People from every nation under heaven. We hear them in our own languages. Fresh good news is reaching into human living.

What was spoken by the prophet, now coming into view. Word becoming visible. Promise taking shape in the story of earth.

God’s Spirit poured out, on sons and daughters, on the young and the old. A torrent of grace flowing across God’s world.

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord … without boundary or limit or quota. A beckoning, inviting, empowering message.

God is reaching out … in the name of Jesus … like a mighty wind … across the earth … in generous and abundant strength and power and love … gathering people of all kinds in hope and promise. God is reaching out.

Pentecost is a message with wide horizons, with a broad reach, with a confident, hopeful, outgoing perspective. Can we think like this, believe like this, act like this, in these present days of restriction, division, social distancing and fear? Maybe we can.

A few weeks ago was the 75th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, church leader and Christian martyr in Germany, a person of great courage and faith. A few days before his last Pentecost, in 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his fiancée Maria:

“… I want this Pentecost to be blessed for us both. Blessing – when God is near and God is active – is something you can see and feel. Blessing reaches out to other people - it wants to be passed on. People who are blessed are themselves a blessing … There is nothing greater, is there, than being a blessing for others? Not just a helper, a companion, a friend, but a blessing. That is much more … That is what we want to pray for. That is how we want to celebrate Pentecost.”

Even in days of division, restriction, fear and threat, Pentecost is a season of blessing. God blessing the world with the Spirit. The church receiving that blessing and passing it on. God reaching out into the world, and good news reaching into people’s lives.

May you be blessed at Pentecost. May you be a blessing in God’s world.

Address from the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz

Oberkirchenrat Manfred Sutter (MS) and the Revd Anja Behrens (AB) from the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz gave the following address:

AB: I see the disciples in front of me. Nothing is as it has been. They intended to walk with Jesus, to listen to his words and seek the kingdom of God. And now they sit in a house in Jerusalem, windows and doors closed. Lifeless. They haven't really understood that Jesus is risen und returned to his father. They are wrapped up in their mourning, doors locked.

MS: This seems similar to our situation today. We are restricted to the house. From one day to the other a small virus has changed our lives completely. In Germany we may leave our homes but still are asked to avoid social contacts. In Great Britain life is even more restrictive. We, too, sit behind closed doors from fear of infection. Removed from our day to day lives. Everything closed down. And like then the question today is: What is going to happen?

AB: What is going to happen? That was the question many people asked themselves after World War Two. So many dead, so much destruction and so much hate. And still, out of this difficult situation grew the partnership between the United Reformed Church and the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz. Out of this crisis, surmounting enmity congregations found new ways, ways of reconciliation, ways out of their numbness, and in the course of time grew a wonderful friendship, a network of connections.

MS: This has been a miracle after all the destruction and hate. But God's Spirit moves people. God's Spirit has enormous power then and today. She doesn't want us to remain stuck in our numbness. She gets in through closed windows and doors. The disciples start moving, tongues as of fire awaking excitement, loosening their tongues. The disciples go out and proclaim Christ's message. Jesus' call continues though, new and powerful. The disciples again become able to look beyond themselves, are filled with joy and everyone is able to understand the word of God as spoken to him or her. Barriers of language are no more. God's Spirit overcomes all boundaries and brings people together.

AB: What a great joy it is today at Pentecost to celebrate worship together, in this special unaccustomed way. How good it is to see one another. For many it is a joyful reunion with their brothers and sisters of faith. Physically we may be apart, and the Brexit is separating Britain from the rest of Europe, but God's Spirit unites us, our common faith overcomes space and time. We are celebrating worship via zoom and when I was able to join in a zoom service three weeks ago I was very moved to see you and to celebrate with you, to listen to God's word and to share bread and wine. To me, it worked. I felt connected through this meal of love. God's Spirit moves borders.

MS: I must admit I had been sceptical about celebrating the meal of love in a service conducted by zoom. But your report, Anja, and your enthusiasm by which you told me about this special way of encounter overcame my reserve. To celebrate worship together at the same time but in different locations, to see one another and experience the closeness – this reminded me on the wonderful encounter we had in Frankenthal last November. Then we celebrated the fall of the wall and our partnership overcoming boundaries. Who would have thought back in 1957, when the Covenant of Pulpit and Table was signed, that we would grow together so closely? Who would then have thought, that at Pentecost 2020 we would celebrate a zoom-service together and digitally share bread and wine? The Spirit of God makes people inventive, especially during times of need and crisis. Especially then the Spirit creates a space for God. And there is a space for God, because we feel our own emptiness. God moves in and creates something new and wonderful.

AB: It is an experience we at present make also in our church life. There are completely new and creative ways of being church: streamed services, telephone meditations and worship. Church doors had to remain locked for many weeks, but the Spirit of God aroused new creativity. Ministers and congregations found new ways of staying in contact in spite of Corona and contact restrictions. We neither know where this virus came from nor what the future will bring. But in spite of uncertainty we sense how wonderful God's ways are even today and how the Spirit moves among us.

MS: And we discover for ourselves what is really important. Neighbourly help starts blooming when a boy goes shopping for the elderly lady next door, when hotels open their doors for the homeless, when we use pen and paper to write cards and letters in order to stay in contact. As we ourselves become more sensitive, our own sensitivity for others grows. Remember the first disciples: After Pentecost the first congregation was founded and immediately the care of widows and orphans, of the poor, the stranger and the disadvantaged are given priority. God's Spirit is giving our love with our hands and feet. She frees us to life renewed.

AB: So, let us stay together on the way, moved by God's Spirit through the times and the times of crises. That's how I experience our worship today. As a visible sign of partnership in our Covenant of Pulpit and Table, as a Pentecostal Event pointing us to the future, strengthening our trust, nourishing our faith, giving wings to our hope and urging us to love. Amen.

Published: 2 June 2020

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