By Claus Grue*
Last Sunday, the “Twin Consultation” on “Reformation – Education – Transformation” wrapped up at the Francke Foundations in Halle, Germany.
Held six months after the first consultation in São Leopoldo, Brazil, the five-day session in Halle became a vibrant meeting point and a juncture between different religious contexts from the global North and South. The non-religious heritage of the communist German Democratic Republic and the oppression of religious institutions and worshippers endured during 40 years of totalitarian rule, added an extra dimension to the consultation.
"What does it mean today to be a reforming church, what can we learn from each other and where do we go from here? These are key questions that have been raised and debated at these consultations,” explains Rev. Dr Eckart Warner, chaplain at the Francke Foundations and co-organizer of the second consultation.
He sees the consultations as an important initiative to bring people from different contexts together to share perspectives from all over the world.
"That can facilitate a more dynamic church,” he points out.
His counterpart and colleague from Brazil, Prof. Dr Rudolf von Sinner, agrees and says that the consultations have exceeded his expectations: "They have complemented one another in the way we envisioned and beyond. In São Leopoldo the consultations were held in a tent, which was a much more precarious setup than here. It gave a transformative atmosphere, an atmosphere of a young country on the move, while this consultation is held on Luther's home turf where it breeds tradition and ancient history,” he explains.
Different setups in two vibrant – yet very different – places have been an intentional choice to create a dynamic atmosphere where contrasts are brought together under a common theme: Reformation, Education and Transformation.
"In the South, you often have a huge frenzy around religion. In Brazil, for instance, religious life is rich and visible, while the North is more secular. People here, in the former German Democratic Republic, mostly don't consider themselves as religious. And from an African perspective none of us might seem very religious at all. So there is an initial contrast between North and South, which is being highlighted at these consultations,” Sinner says.
Both agree that it is good for people in Europe to see that religion can be present and that dynamic forms of living the Gospel can be inspired and developed.
"At these consultations new questions have been raised and we've learned a lot from each other,” Warner says.
From his personal perspective, the ecumenical nature of the consultations opens up new horizons and provides opportunities to be spiritually connected. Also, the history of the Francke Foundations adds an extra dimension.
"I bring with me the importance of being self-confident in my faith and a number of reflections on what kind of language we use when we talk about spiritual needs,” he concludes.
Prof. Sinner expresses the importance of the consultations in a different way:
"The contemporary realities - and thus the realities of the churches - are different, which it is important to see and discuss globally. We must live reformation as a process that goes back to the roots and heads forward to practice what is adequate.”
In addition to compelling stories and experiences from people all over the world, he brings back "an incentive to live out the faith in a more courageous and relaxed way, but also with a clear sense of the need for secularity as a way of enabling different expressions of faith to live together in peace and mutual respect.”
*Claus Grue is a communication consultant at the World Council of Churches