Saturday, 31 October 2009

Twenty years ago today - experiences of a spirituality of civil society

On October 31 1989 I was in Wittenberg.
Dr B is busy this evening typing up part of my diary from that day for Holy Disorder. (see below)
At morning prayers yesterday I mentioned where I had been 20 years earlier. We sang Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott and I told the usual Wittenberg joke of how during the 1983 Luther jubliee the local communist party leader had commented on how nice the restored mosaic round the top of the church tower looked - it says "Ein Feste Burg". Apparently he said to the church leaders "We want to put something similar over the top of the local party headquarters, maybe you could suggest something." One of the pastors apparently quickly replied "oh why don't you take the first line of verse two of Luther's great hymn" - it starts "Mit unsre Macht ist nichts getan" - rendered less forcefully in many English versions but basically meaning "Our power is as nothing". Six years later when I was in Wittenberg there was still no mosaic over the communist party headquarters!

Last night as a sort of bedtime story Stephen read me part of a practical theology dissertation based on deep analysis of the structure and content of the Wittenberg Gebet um Erneuerung. It was amazing to hear and read that and to realise quite why it was when I returned to the UK everything seemed a bit boring and much less meaningful. German had become the language in which God moved me. I had seen what seemed like a whole population pile into churches, sing Taizé chants, be moved by the Psalms and awakened by the words of the prophets and gospels. It explains to me also why even today I'm a hopeless believer in the transformative power of the liturgy.
When we left the church in Wittenberg in a candlelit procession on October 31 1989 we hoped things would proceed peacefully, but we didn't know for sure. The researcher rightly points out that the songs which were sung actually gave people courage to walk out of the church on that candlelit procession, our closing hymn that night was Bewahre uns Gott behüte uns Gott, sei mit uns auf unseren Wegen - Keep and protect us God, be with us on our way...
In the morning of October 31 it was usual for visitors from around the world to make their way to Wittenberg's Schlosskirche even under communism. Wittenberg became quite international that day and it was no coincidence that the evening Prayers for Renewal service was planned to be followed by a demonstration from the town's churches to the main square.
Re-reading my diary you can really understand why the five new Bundesländer have Reformation Day as a public holiday.

From my East German Diary dateline 1 Nov 1989
The Gebet um Erneuerung in the evening was preceded by a certain amount of tension - what if there was violence, how would we cope? ... It went well. Over an hour before the start, the church was full and the courtyard outside was packed. Hans Treu, the dean of Wittenberg, had written a very good meditation and had led the intercessions so there was no clapping or speechifying. As we sang the Kyrie, suddenly the atmosphere changed and in the gallery, people started lighting their candles. It was very moving. The demonstration was terribly orderly. I was one of two people carrying a banner reading, "You can't fill a hungry soul with prosperity". We were very near the back. I felt rather uncomfortable that I and not a GDR person was carrying something. Our candles dribbled wax everywhere, of course, making weird and wonderful sculptures on our hands.
In the distance it looked as if a small group of police were watching the demonstration from the corner, but as we got closer it turned out to be a group of Soviet soldiers who had turned up to watch us. Someone had even handed one of them a candle. One of the students greeted them in Russian and they returned the greeting with a smile. It was a small sign of the kingdom of God.
The market place was full, the local council had supplied (spontaneously) a proper P.A. system. It was all a bit calm, still a church service really. People no doubt expected a bit more. Some shouting at the town hall, "Come out". We sang a bit more, things were read about Luther and Melanchthon. Demokratischer Aufbruch and Demokratie Jetzt read their programmes out. DA sees socialism as the dominant force in the GDR. DJ sees no role for socialism except with a (modern) democratic set-up. DA is like a left wing Social Democratic Party and DJ like a left wing Free Democratic Party. It's all really weird. No doubt they will all start splitting rather than merging in the coming years. There's supposedly a meeting of the United Left coming off soon, which really of course means a meeting of the Un-United Left. Once everyone had finished talking and it was agreed that we'd meet again next week and invite the Burgermeister as well. The market place was covered in candles, really very pretty. Many were on the steps of the Rathaus where the 7 Theses (thank goodness not 95!) had been attached to the door as a reminder of Luther.
It was stressed throughout the evening that this was not a church/state conflict but a people/state conflict. Quite an important difference but for how much longer can the church speak for the people, will it be able to give up that role? ...
Discussion over supper indicates that the local newspaper carried pictures and a full article about yesterday's demonstration, over 8000 people they reckon. In Prague many arrests have been made in the past fortnight. Havel is in jail again. If the world markets are about to go through a sticky patch then it's really worrying to think what the effect on Glasnost and Perestroika might be.


janetlees said...

It's very moving to read this Jane, especially after being in Wittenbury this summer. there are some things that never leave us and that mark us and shape us continually. for you it is 20 year ago in Germany, for me 16 years ago in south Africa. But it can seem like yesterday and like a htousand years at the same time.

sparkling said...

Es ist immer wieder sehr bewegend Erinnerungen an die letzten Tage der DDR zu lesen. Letztes Jahr war ich bei meiner Cousine , die in der Nähe von Leibzig wohnt. Wir haben auch eine Stadtrundfahrt gemacht und waren schließlich in der Nikolaikirche.
Es ist kaum fassbar, dass diese friedliche Revulotion wirklich möglich war!
Ich dachte, ich träume, als meine Cousin im November 1989 mit ihrem Mann und den Kindern vor unserer Wohnungstür in Wilhelmshaven stand. Sie waren spontan mit ihrem Trabi gekommen - das hätte ich nie für möglich gehalten!

Jane said...

Thansk JAnet and Petra for your comments.
Petra that is an amazing story you tell - I think that was what the wall was about - we never beleived it was possible - just like we didn't believe it was possible for Nelson Mandela to be elected president of South Africa.
We have lived through amazin times ...