17.05.10 09:17 Age: 2 yrs

Ecumenism is beacon of hope for the churches


"Walls can fall from one day to the next", said WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit at the Kirchentag. Photo: Juan Michel/WCC

Hope and tenacity are essential for the ecumenical movement stated the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the Second Ecumenical Kirchentag which took place in Munich, Germany, from 12-16 May.


"Despite all the paradoxes and contradictions that we experience with them, the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches are bearers of hope for many churches and people in minority situations, for churches involved in struggles for liberation, for churches who are in disagreement with one another," said Tveit at a panel discussion "Ecumenism: provocative and hope-inspiring" on Friday 14 May.


"That you may have hope" is the theme of the "Kirchentag" (German for church convention), which was attended by some hundred thousand Christians from all over Germany as well as about 4000 visitors from around the world. It was the second ecumenical faith festival of this kind in Germany – the first ecumenical Kirchentag took place in Berlin in 2003. The Kirchentag in Munich was the first with full and equal participation from Orthodox churches and the German Evangelical Free Churches.


Many speakers at the Kirchentag reiterated that having hope in ecumenism is justified. "Walls which divide people can fall: walls between States, peoples, religions, churches," said Tveit at the opening celebration at the Theresienwiese on Wednesday. "Quite often these walls are in our own heads."


This reminder of the hope for Christian unity comes at the right time for many church members who are frustrated with slow ecumenical progress, because for instance interconfessional celebration of communion was not possible even at this festival of Christian unity in Munich.


The journalist and writer Klaus Harpprecht in a paper with the title "Forget Ecumenism", which was read out at the discussion on Friday, asked whether before their execution Christian resisters to the Nazi regime wasted much time worrying about whether they would receive final consolation from a Protestant or Catholic prison chaplain. Through the positions they support, the leadership of the churches disregard the witness of these martyrs completely, said the 83-year-old who could not be present in person for health reasons.


Dialogue of equals


The Roman Catholic theologian Prof. Dr Dorothea Sattler however did not agree that the many prevailing frustrations were a reason to break off the discussion. "It is not up to us to decide yes or no for ecumenism. To live ecumenically is what God calls us to do."


She called for "an ecumenical dialogue of equals … for it is not the good on one side and the bad on the other. Times when such things were said are long past."


The two highest representatives of the majority churches in Germany, Archbishop Dr Robert Zollitsch, chairperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference, and Praeses Dr Nikolaus Schneider, chairperson of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany – both emphasized the experience of (ecumenical) fellowship at the local level and the importance of churches speaking with a common voice in society.


"We are really growing together and getting to know one another through the lived out ecumenism in parishes," said Schneider.


"Those who work well together also find more in common in their hearts and convictions" added Zollitsch. On the questions of communion he said "I still have the hope that God is planning a surprise for us, in my own lifetime, when we will be able to say: we have been granted more than we ever dared to hope for."


"Walls can fall from one day to the next", said Tveit referring to the falling of the Berlin wall in November 1989 being for many people completely unexpected. "That is why continually in the ecumenical movement we need to remain tenacious until the walls fall down which prevent us from celebrating communion together."


"There are theological reasons for the current ecumenical situation but there are even more important reasons for us to proceed," said Tveit in the final part of the discussion. "It is both a theological and an ethical duty for us to show that we share everything we have received from God. The world needs this signal."


"Here in Germany, I have found a passion, but also a hope for tomorrow," he added. "I share this hope."


At the Kirchentag, Tveit and other WCC representatives have participated in ecumenical celebrations and events on issues of social justice, overcoming violence, mission and the changing ecumenical landscape.


Full text of the general secretary's contribution (in German)


Audio-recording of the panel discussion (in German)


Further information about WCC activities at the Kirchentag


Website of the Second Ecumenical Kirchentag


WCC member churches in Germany