How do your ecumenical relationships help you sustain a sense of hope in these challenging times?
Bishop Springhart: Experiencing and sharing ideas for the ecumenical community, or just visiting churches at different places in the world, my experience is it always nurtures my hope because it opens my perspective toward a much broader variety of ways to live as a church, and how to live in the Christian context. There is such a broad variety of vital churches all over the globe existing in really different social contexts. Those move the European churches to a broader perspective. What really gives me hope is that it’s not us who makes sure there is a future—but that’s God’s thing and God’s love. We have to shape it but we don’t have to create it and make it happen. It gives us freedom and inspiration.
What is your vision for the WCC 11th Assembly—and beyond?
Bishop Springhart: I share so much excitement about it. Of course for me it’s very special because I was installed as a bishop in April, so I enter this big ship in the very last minute, though I followed it before, of course. My vision for the assembly is that it will create a space for a broad range of discussions about the hot topics, for celebration and sharing faith and worship, and for enabling encounters between people from different parts of the world. If you share these individual perspectives, then the big topics gain a face. I also hope we come to a common movement and common understanding of flowing along the path toward unity and reconciliation. We will face topics where it will be difficult to share. We need an openness to the spiritual dimension. There is a unity that is bigger than being united in every single idea.
Another vision from my side is that we will keep the courage to name and address complex situations, not to come to a black-and-white view of the crucial challenges of our time. We as churches are stronger when we keep the horizon open. There are complexities and approaches on many sides. The assembly could offer a space to do this and experience this. Then it will become a space of real sharing. For my own church, my hope is that our hearts and minds will be open and wide for the different ways of spreading the gospel and the power of faith.
What special gifts does your church bring to the global ecumenical fellowship?
Bishop Springhart: We bring an experience of how reconciliation and real cooperation can develop. No one would have thought that after two World Wars when German and French soldiers fought against each other we could come to a friendship and strong community between France and Germany. We now have a common German-French congregation at the German-French border and a common chapel, the Chapelle de la Rencontre. This might seem as a small thing but at one time no one thought that could ever happen. I remember my father, who was born in 1945, telling me he was surprised French people had hair because he thought they only had helmets!
We also have experience with how to facilitate cross-border churches and cross-border social events. That’s important for the WCC as it aims to come to a consensus. Of course we are proud that, in our founding document, there is this wonderful sentence that we are friends with Christians all over the world! This is why ecumenical relationships have specific meaning in our church.
There is another important aspect which I think we can bring into the ecumenical fellowship: the gratitude for the open hearts and hands after the War that facilitated a new beginning and the path to reconciliation. I think of the churches that were built after the war—the so-called “emergency churches.” (Notkirchen).
They were built like a tent and had a wooden structure delivered from Norway or Switzerland. Then they built these churches with the stones from the destroyed houses. Otto Bartning was the architect who developed the design to construct these churches, so the main structures are exactly the same. These churches exist until today—and it was the ecumenical community that helped build them by providing money and materials.
Exactly one year after the end of the war, they could begin the building of a new church in the city of Pforzheim, not far from Karlsruhe. When 80% of the city was completely destroyed, the gratitude for this strong sign of reconciliation says a lot about the power of Christian relationships even in countries where there is war. I think I will express this gratitude at various occasions.
The Landeskirche in Baden will also bring a strong focus to the peace question, and a strong notion of peace. Questions of climate change and ecological questions play a big role in our church. Gender justice does, too.
What can we pray for you?
Bishop Springhart: Being new in this position, what I hope that can be a part of prayer is that I can keep up my personal sense of humor and theological strength in the conversation. I pray for wisdom, leadership, and for being clear. I pray to keep up or keep open the spaces for common conversations. For me, it’s very important that people realize that they can come or approach me in their vulnerability. My goal is to also contribute to a church where vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness. That requires a lot of energy and a lot of courage—the courage to love oneself, one’s church, and the world.
For my church, I pray to keep our hope and vision rich and vivid, not to go into “depression mode.” I pray we stay open for the Christian communities, and that we have the courage to share our visions and learn form the ecumenical community and be open to learn, to really learn. It’s most important to stay open and positive for God’s future for our church. We need to have faith that there will be surprises from God’s side. We pray to find creative, inspiring ways of being church with less money and less members. We need a lot of energy! We need to be stubborn in hope and joyous in faith.
WCC congratulates Rev. Prof. Dr Heike Springhart, bishop of Landeskirche in Baden (WCC news release 17 December 2021)