Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A heart for the Kirchentag in the East

Over the next three days here in Dresden people are hanging the bright green Kirchentag scarves around their necks and setting off to huge and much smaller events throguhout the city. It seems busier than ever at this Kirchentag and it's not just an impression. Today's press conference confirmed that there are more participants at this Kirchentag than at Bremen, Cologne or Hannover. Over 117,000 people have bought three day tickets and there are over 6,800 foreign visitors.Some are even saying that this is truly the first Kirchentag for the whole of Germany, for a united Germany.
Tonight Dresden has more than 250, 000 people in the streets for the evening of encounters. The atmosphere is great even if the weather is a little cool, at least it isn't raining though. I wonder whether it is the city itself which also attracts people, many have come on a cycling pilgrimage to get here. Set on the Elbe and as a symbol of post war reconciliation, it's a beautiful but also a very meaningful place.
Dreasden also refers to itself as being in heart of Europe. The Czech and Polish borders are not far away at all. So this Kirchentag is trying to particularly open up contacts with the churches and academies in central and eastern Europe. There's a great programme at the Three Kings Church organised jointly by the Prague ecumenical academy and Dresden's church house. It's wonderful to walk the streets and be in the hotel lobby and hear Czech, Hungarian and Polish being spoken. and tonight the city centre is pulsing first to the sound of the different opening services and now to concerts. Later tonight there will be an open air performance of a specially commissioned piece of music based on the Kirchentag theme and thousands of candles will be lit.
One of the other moving things about being in Dresden is seeing the memorials in the streets to the peaceful revolution in 1989.
The WCC general secretary has also spoken today of how churches in Dresden promoted reconciliation between former enemies after the Second World War. They also supported peace and justice groups during the time of communist rule and in doing so had helped advance the peaceful revolution of 1989 which brought down the Berlin Wall and eventually united East and West Germany.

Being here also reminds me that the East of Europe is important to me. It's good to be back. This may be my last Kirchentag for a while so it's good to be in what I like to think of as "my" part of Germany. Really pleased too that it is already such a success.