Tuesday, November 08, 2011

An Ecumenical Visit to Germany and the UEK (Union of Evangelical Churches)

Peter Makari, Karen Thompson and I have been here in Germany for the last four days attending meetings of our German partner church the UEK /EKD (Union of Evangelical Churches/Evangelical Church in Germany). This is a relationship that has a long history. While here, I've learned that its beginnings go back much further than I had previously known.  I realized this on Friday night when we gathered for an evening meal during which story-telling about the UEK/UCC relationship was interspersed between the courses of the meal.

Max Korany
Several people attending the gathering had been asked in advance to talk about their experiences with the United Church of Christ over the years.  The evening program was facilitated by Max Korany, who also serves as the chairperson of the UEK/UCC Forum in Germany.  Several of the people who spoke had served UCC local churches. Their reflections focused on how these experiences had been formative and inspirational for them. We heard from Elga Zachau, who served in the Central Atlantic Conference, and spoke about the UCC as a just peace church.  Barbara Rudolph told us about her year serving in a small  rural parish in the Wisconsin Conference, where issues of human sexuality and sexual orientation were openly discussed to the surprise of all, including her.   Markus Saverwein spoke on the welcoming informality of the people he encountered when he arrived in New York as a parish ministry intern and of his supportive pastoral mentor, Brian Kraus.  

Krista Grengel, Reinhard Groscurth, and Peter Makari
While these pastors spoke of time spent with the UCC in the United States, two of the stories came from people who had participated in the partnership for many years—in one case, long before the founding of the United Church of Christ in 1957 and before the full communion agreement of 1979.  Reinhard Groscurth provided a chronological overview of the UCC's relationship with the German churches, pointing out that the earliest contact was in 1936 when E&R leaders reached out to the German church out of concern about issues of racism surrounding the Olympics, which were to take place in Germany that year.  Reinhard went on to name several additional key dates leading to the establishment of full communion between the two churches.

Christa Grengel, who also participated in the talks leading to full communion, spoke to us about key UCC leaders with whom she worked during the process. She pointed out that people like the late Scott Libbey, who served as Conference Minister in South Dakota at the time, and Fred Trost, retired Wisconsin Conference Minister, were instrumental in helping the churches of the former GDR (German Democratic Republic/ East Germany) feel less isolated from the rest of the church. She told us that the relationship "brought us out from behind the wall."

By the end of the evening it was more than clear that this full communion relationship, known in German as Kirchengemeinschaft, is the result of deep commitment to peace, justice and the visible expression to God's gift of church unity that is valued by the UCC and its ecumenical partner in Germany, the UEK.

No comments: