By Professor Morwenna Ludlow
Two weeks ago I was privileged to visit Hannover as a member of the Meissen Kommission – a group continuing the ecumenical agreement between the Church of England and the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (the union of Protestant churches in Germany). On Sunday I was invited to read and distribute communion at a service in the Marktkirche, the central city church of the Lutheran community in Hannover.
Almost exactly 80 years ago, in October 1943, the roof and much of the Marktkirche nave was destroyed in a British bombing raid, which also destroyed much of the central city. And yet there we were, singing hymns together in alternate English and German verses. An English Bishop celebrated; a German one preached. Almost exactly two years ago the same group of German and English Christians were worshipping with us in Exeter Cathedral which was, as you will know, damaged in a German bombing raid. The war is never a central part of our discussions over the days we meet. But the end of the war was the context for the Meissen agreement and it means we never take our relationship for granted.
Another important background for our meetings is the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some of our members come from the former East German regions. Life still is different there, not least because of the growth of far right political movements. We spent one day discussing threats to democracy in Europe and further afield: what are those threats and how can the churches respond? It was good to be reminded by our German colleagues that no-one should take democracy for granted, whether one is looking back to the old GDR or forward to the next election.
Of course, recent events in Israel and Gaza also coloured our conversations and fed into our prayers together. In the current situation we all should be especially aware of the fragility of peace and democracy. But it also made us very conscious of the value of what we had in our meeting together. And for me the importance of that lay not just in the reports that will be sent back to our respective churches. It also lay in the simple things: being together, eating together, praying together and, especially, singing together. For we began and ended each working day with simple services of morning and evening prayer which always — in true Lutheran fashion — involved singing. It didn’t matter how well one could sing. It didn’t matter that I scrambled the German words. What mattered was that we sung together. No-one dominated the conversation while the others listened; no-one talked over those with quieter voices; no-one insisted on always having the last word. We started and ended together and we started and ended in silence.