The Assembly of Ecumenical Churches in Germany goes virtual

Frankfurt, Germany — Instead of comfortable shoes, attendees of the Third German Ecumenical Convention, or kirchentag, will need stable internet connections.

Organizers had hoped to attract more than 100,000 visitors to some 2,000 public events from May 13-16, German Catholic news agency KNA reported. With the COVID-19 pandemic, that has changed.

“As people cannot come to Frankfurt, the ÖKT will come to their homes,” said Thomas Sternberg, Catholic convention president, using his German acronym.

Bettina Limperg, the convention’s Protestant chair, said when her motto, “Schaut hin” (“Take a look”) was devised in 2020, organizers still hoped to have an in-person convention. Now most people will peek at computer screens.

KNA has announced that the kirchentag will open on Ascension Day with an ecumenical service in a parking lot with a view of the famous Frankfurt International Banking Center skyline. It will be broadcast live on German television. The exact location will not be made public beforehand to avoid crowd gatherings during the pandemic.

The digital program, with around 80 events each day, will focus on 10 main topics, including church and power, international responsibility and the climate crisis. One hour will be devoted to each topic. There will also be a virtual meeting place on the ÖKT website, where people can meet informally.

Attendance at local convention church services will be limited to people from the Frankfurt area, with pandemic restrictions. There will be denominational services on May 15 and a final service a day later at a shipyard on the River Main.

Responding to an ongoing demand between Catholics and Protestants in Germany, Limburg Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said there would be no joint communion services by clergy of different denominations. . However, he recently reaffirmed that “those who in their conscience believe that what is celebrated in the other denomination may receive Communion.”

Germany has many intermarriage – Catholic and Protestant – and the possibility of receiving Communion in each other’s churches has long been a matter of concern. In 2018, a Catholic-Lutheran couple who had been married for 24 years told Catholic News Service that many couples like them “have experienced rebuffs and coldness from churches, which has strained their marriages and led to estrangement. from the church”.

German Catholic and Protestant theologians and bishops had published an assessment of the topic in May 2020, and it was to be discussed at the autumn plenary assembly of German bishops in Fulda at the end of September.

However, on September 18, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expressed strong objections to the assessment, saying differences between Catholics and Protestants in understanding the Eucharist and ministry were “still so serious” that ‘They ruled out attending each other’s services, KNA reported.

Lutheran Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairman of the German Protestant Church Council, said the kirchentag would “send a strong signal for ecumenical relations”. He said people should not be discouraged by obstacles in the way of “mutual hospitality to the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper.”