On 25 May the former U.S. President and Chancellor Angela Merkel will engage in a conversation on the topic of "Being Involved in Democracy: Taking on Responsibility Locally and Globally". Kirchentag President Christina Aus der Au and Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, EKD Council chair, will moderate the discussion at the Brandenburg Gate. The event is being jointly sponsored and planned by the Kirchentag and the Obama Foundation.
Heinrich Bedford-Strohm invited President Obama in May 2016 to visit Germany for the Reformation anniversary. Bedford-Strohm: “President Barack Obama’s attending the Kirchentag in Berlin, which will ring in the Reformation Summer, underlines the international character of our 500th anniversary celebrations. The churches form a global civil society network of over two billion Christians. Together, as people of faith, we live from the firm hope for a better world. Anyone who is pious also has to be politically minded. I am looking forward to enthusiastic debates during the Reformation Summer 2017.”
Christina Aus der Au is also delighted about the two prominent participants in the Kirchentag. “The United States is strongly marked by the Reformation and its historical impact. At the same time, the Protestant churches and communities there have developed in their own way. President Obama and Chancellor Merkel have said that their dedication as politicians is also an expression of their Christian faith. The Kirchentag movement lives from people who work for justice and solidarity on the basis of their faith. It will be really interesting to hear what the two of them say to us Christians in Europe.”
Another prominent international leader has accepted the invitation of the Kirchentag and the EKD and will take part in the huge Festive Service on 28 May in Wittenberg. The preacher at the service on the Elbe meadows before the gates of Wittenberg will be South African bishop Thabo Makgoba. The archbishop of Cape Town and successor of Desmond Tutu, he is highly regarded as a religious leader and moral authority far beyond the borders of the Republic of South Africa.
“Protestantism has not remained a European affair - it has shaped societies and nations all over the world,” says Christina Aus der Au. “We are thrilled that Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has agreed to preach at the Festive Service, coming as he does from a country that has a very intensive history of Protestantism.”
Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm is a personal friend of the primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, and is overjoyed at his acceptance. “Thabo Makgoba has become an example for many people, not only in Africa,” he says. “This due to the passion with which he so authentically and visibly lives out his Christian faith in a country that is rich and yet deeply divided.” In the view of the EKD Council chair, “We can really look forward to his sermon.”
The Ascension Day weekend will be one of the highpoints of the Reformation anniversary in 2017 and usher in the Reformation Summer. Over a hundred thousand participants are expected to attend the 36th German Protestant Kirchentag in Berlin and Wittenberg from 24 May. On the way to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, many people will stop over at the six “Kirchentag on the Way” programmes in eight Central German cities (from 25 May). Then all the groups of participants will meet up in Wittenberg for the great Festive Weekend, featuring the opening of the World Reformation Exhibition “Gates of Freedom” and the Festive Service on the Elbe meadows.
Read this press release in German
Photo Credit: Obama White House/Pete Souza