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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Meissen Unplugged - a new vision for German and English Churches

Canon Nathaniel with his colleague planners of Meissen Unplugged
The Revd Canon Dr Leslie Nathaniel of St Thomas Becket Anglican Church in Hamburg recently participated in the planning of a major ecumenical consultation called Meissen Unplugged. (The Meissen Agreement between the German Protestant Churches (EKD) and the Church of England permits eucharistic hospitality between the two traditions, but not interchangeability of ministers).  The Meissen Unplugged consultation enabled English and German Church partners to look to new initiatives and opportunities for shared mission in the context of the social and political changes in Europe. It was a fruitful engagement and the results of the exploration will be fed into the formal Meissen Commission.

Some key challenges that the consultation addressed included:

  • the looming fact of becoming a minority church in both Germany and England
  • how to respond to populist movements of division and separation; what is the prophetic role of the Church?
  • how to build greater intergenerational confidence and witness in responding to situations of conflict and change

Drs Christa Grengel and Mary Tanner
Several eminent Lutheran bishops were present and gave key leadership. Dame Dr Mary Tanner of the Church of England and the Revd Dr Christa Grengel of the EKD, who were the co-secretaries of the dialogue that led to the Meissen Agreement in 1991, gave a moving presentation of the Meissen story, which had its origins in seeking reconciliation between the German and English peoples, after the war. 

It was Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie who, on a visit to Dresden in the 1980s, was so deeply moved by facing the people he once faced when he was a tank commander in the 1940s, that he urged a dialogue to begin. So Meissen combines the quest for unity of the churches with the quest for greater unity mong nations.  Thus it was sad to realise that when the Meissen discussions began, one partner Church, the East German Protestant, was in a country which was not part of the EU, but now, another partner Church, our own Church of England, will soon find itself in a country outside that union.   

There is still specialised theological work to be done, particularly on the matter of episcopal succession as a visible sign of apostolicity. But we realised that today people are not waiting so much for theological statements from the Churches, but words, messages and signs of hope. As one participant said, "mission and ecumenism are twins" and must walk together. 

St Thomas Becket Church hosted the consultation for a choral evensong on Friday 13 April as well as a festive ecumenical eucharist on Sunday 15 April, at which I was the presider and Bishop Gothart Magaard of Sprengel Schleswigun Holstein was the preacher. 

It is good to have one of our priests, Fr Leslie, with such ecumenical and theological expereince exercising key leadership in interchurch dialogue. 

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