Here is the first of two reports I have found about May's Ecumenical Kirchentag. This first one is from the last edition of Churches Together in England News.
Looking out of the window for inspiration, several England flags wave at me from upstairs windows and a man with an England tee-shirt walks past. Dare I confess to a total indifference to football?! Does it date from when my brother, a besotted eight-year old, whiled away the tedium of car journeys with loud and enthusiastic commentaries on imagined or remembered games?
But I recently passed Manchester City's stadium before a game was due to start and had a strong sense of the spectacle and excitement of the game. Even from the car I felt the theatre of it all, the exhilaration of being part of a huge crowd. I'm not normally a crowd person myself but suddenly I understood the drama and – almost! – wanted to share it.
Football crowds? Ideal Home exhibition? Greenbelt? Spring Harvest? All those comparisons jostle for attention as I struggle to convey the experience of the second ecumenical Kirchentag. It was my first Kirchentag, although I have wanted to go for some time. I knew it would be big – but this big? If you are a numbers person, then some people said 130,000 people, some 230,000 people. I don't do numbers, but we took Munich over – local people offered hospitality and all the hotels were full. Everyone seemed to be wearing the distinctive Kirchentag travel pass or boasting the orange Kirchentag scarf. They stopped the traffic for us as we walked away from the exhilarating opening service, following the bands (a clever way of lessening the log-jam as they took different routes) and enthusiastically waving at bemused residents of upstairs flats as we went.
What shall I write about? The opening service with all those people, big screens ensuring we had a sense of what was happening? The various morning bible studies? The vast market-place, filling huge exhibition halls and showcasing every aspect of church life – mainstream and marginal, well-known and whacky? The various seminars all over the city, some in small rooms, some in exhibition halls? We managed to get to the one which included Angela Merkel speaking about social inclusion and were very impressed at the way people spoke affectionately of her – she has been a constant participant for years. We listened to Hans Küng – was I really in the same (vast) room as him? All styles of worship were available. I remember particularly the open-air Orthodox service, a thousand tables set on a dual carriageway, each set for ten, with a cloth, earthenware tumblers and jug of water, a bowl of oil, apples and a large cloth-covered loaf of bread. Half-way through the service, we turned our chairs to face each other round the tables, shared apples, bread and oil and, afterwards, shared scripture together too.
I've come home with scarves and bags, leaflets and badges. There's the Coventry cross I made from nails and the wooden angel which will grace my Christmas tree next year. I've come home with a myriad of memories and ideas. There's the thought, for example, that although the Kirchentag is aimed at Christians, with its mixture of worship, education and entertainment, nevertheless it was a powerful witness, demonstrating the vitality of the Church, young and old alike. It was good to be part of that.
But what has gone deep for me came from a seminar on inter-communion. Obviously the issue has been aired fairly regularly in my ten years as Field Officer. I've heard the arguments and counter-arguments, the explanations and the anger. Each time I participate in the celebration of Eucharist and am unable to receive bread and wine, my commitment to work for unity is strengthened. Each time I receive communion at Mass while my friends and colleagues receive a blessing, it hurts, and I know with every fibre of my being that our disunity is not what God wants. But I came away from the Kirchentag ashamed. I listened to a Jesuit from Oxford talking about his various friends who are in Inter-Church marriages. Philip spoke simply of their deep and constant pain, united in marriage – which surely supersedes ecclesial disunity – yet unable to receive communion together. In ecumenical circles we don't like not being able to receive communion together. It's uncomfortable and contradicts the fellowship we experience. For some of us, it's an affront, for a common table is a grace on the way to unity. For others, a common table is the fruit of full ecclesial unity, so it's a sharp reminder that despite the genuine fellowship and friendship, ecclesial disunity is real. But our discomfort is as nothing compared to the pain of those who 'live in [their] marriage the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian unity' (Pope John Paul II at York, 1982). And, in the midst of the complaints and misunderstandings, I forget that. So I am ashamed. Yes, I want to be able to receive communion with my friends, but that is as nothing compared with the deep desire of inter-Church families. I can do so little, but I can remember them, remind other people of them, and keep them in my prayer. For me, that is the abiding fruit of the ecumenical Kirchentag.