26 June 2011

Kirchentag in Dresden

Where your treasure is... "there will your heart be also" - the banner of two hands forming a heart welcomed the 120,000 registered participants of the biennial German Protestant church convention to Dresden for 5 days in early June. There were some 2300 events to choose from in a 630 page program book. These included worship services, bible studies, speeches, workshops, panels, exhibits, "marketplaces", films, musical concerts of every kind, and much more. Kirchentag is also a favorite event of German politicians and people in government who appear on panels, give speeches, dialogue and debate on current topics, both theological and political. Popular issues at this event ranged from the nuclear energy debate, German involvement in Afghanistan, Muslim integration in Germany, to more spiritual and theological topics.

Highlights for me during the event included the first evening's "sea of lights" - the huge crowd holding candles on bridges and banks of the Elbe River and singing with a choir, the bible studies with Bärbel von Wartenberg-Potter and Margot Kässmann, panels discussions with the mufti of Sarajevo, panels on peace and security issues ("R2P"), one on "brother bull - sister chicken", the concert with Giora Feidman, and random encounters with other Kirchentag participants.

At the
"marketplace" I was able to visit with many of our BVS project partners in Germany. I also enjoyed spending time with the two current BVS volunteers in Germany,

Susan Pracht at Church and Peace (Laufdorf) and Kendra Johnson at Peace Brigades International (Hamburg).

One of the most amusing parts for me was randomly meeting other Kirchentag participants or passersby. I met so many strangers with whom I had surprising connections. One of the nicest encounters while waiting for a late tram was with a woman who turned out to be from a congregation in the regional church district of Westphalia. She wasn't as impressed by my mention that her church had apologized to the Brethren three years ago during our 300th anniversary (for persecutions way back then), but more by the fact that I'm married to Andreas. OH well. One of the funniest encounters was in the S-Bahn train back to my housing when three very inebriated German guys asked if I was at that "God thing." A nice conversation ensued.

Afterwards, I heard a German radio conmentary summarizing the Kirchentag and concluding that "it would be wishful thinking that the Dresdeners would get baptized in the Elbe River..." (Because only 20% of the locals belong to a church.) Later I read that the Lutheran bishop of Saxony said that "many citizens experienced the church in a very different way during these days than they expected. The Dresden Kirchentag strengthened us Christians, and to others it hopefully gave an insight into what a life with God means."