3 - 2001
German churches - 10 years united
"Accepting the Challenge of Mission"
Interview with Manfred Kock
President of the EKD Council
In 1991 at the Synod in Coburg, the reunification of the Protestant churches in East and West Germany in the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) came into effect. In the following interview the current EKD President, Manfred Kock, shares his thoughts on the opportunities and the deficiencies of the reunification process.
Is church union complete now, after ten years?
It is a long process, the growing together of the EKD member churches in East and West, and it is still not complete. Yet when we look back at its beginnings, what we are experiencing today is a much more normalised life together, which we would hardly have dared to dream about twelve years ago.
What is still lacking?
We still need more time to tell each other our different stories, so we can understand each other better. We have to deal with some disappointments due to false expectations - for example, that with the political change, the end of the DDR, Germany would become more Protestant. It would be important to make personal sharing easier to arrange between member churches, especially those in East and West. A condition for that, which is really needed, if we are to overcome the division, is to reduce the gap between levels of income.
Has the EKD benefited, during these ten years, from the East German Christians' particular experience as a minority in a secular milieu?
Christians in the eastern member churches have had encounters with people for whom the church has become a completely unknown world. This has given them a store of experience which is indispensable for the whole church. These experiences do not match the situation in the West point by point, but the churches working in some large cities in the West could find them especially beneficial.
Do you think the contribution of the churches to German national reunification has not been sufficiently appreciated?
We ought to be self-confident enough to say that the Protestant church has done an irreplaceable service in helping to shape our reunified country. I am thinking of the many, intense and long-lasting partnerships between local churches in East and West, despite the complicated situation with the border in the Cold War. Without these contacts having been kept, the political reunification would not have been achieved so smoothly.
I am thinking of the many critical citizens' movements, which found shelter under the church's roof and were enabled to carry out their actions. I am thinking of the candles and prayers, which helped the change to take place without violence. And I am thinking of the many committed Christians who took on political responsibilities during the time of transition, and helped reunification to take shape; they were contributing the competence in democratic processes, which they had gained in doing the practical work of the church, especially in Synods, the "parliaments of the church".
What are the main problems, which the EKD has, overall as well as particularly in the West or in the East?
The church has to meet the challenge to do mission, each regional church in its own situation. In any case, whether in West or East, we have to accept that it costs us something to bring the Gospel to people. Everywhere it is important that enough people profess their membership in the church and speak out publicly about their faith. - This doesn't mean that we always have a solution for every problem. That is why sometimes it is Christians who have the courage to ask questions loud which no one else dares to ask. The greatest danger I see is that of "blank spaces" appearing, where the church has withdrawn from the society and its surroundings are not even aware that it still exists. But we are a long way from the point where the percentage of Christians in the population has declined so much that they are no longer in a position to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
This interview, conducted by Stefan Cezanne, was published on 25 June 2001 by the Evangelical Press Service.