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Country Report from Germany

for the Edmonton 2001 Conference

by Rosmarie and Rudolf Lauber

Marriage situation in Germany.

In Germany, today more than one third of all marriages are interchurch marriages involving protestants and roman catholics. In the southern parts of Germany (such as Baden-Württemberg), the percentage of interchurch marriages is even almost 50%.

Network of German Interchurch Couples and Families.

Weekend seminars for interchurch families have been held in Germany annually since 1970 (for example at the monastery in Neresheim). But a national forum - the „Network for Interchurch Couples and Families" (in German: Netzwerk konfessionsverbindender Paare und Familien) - was launched only in October 1999. There was an interesting development of terminology. Instead of the former term „Mischehe" (mixed marriage), two different terms are in use today: „Konfessions-verschiedene Ehe" is the general term for marriages of two different denominations, while „konfessions-verbindende Ehe" refers to marriages in which both spouses remain active members of their tradition and yet participate in each other’s worship, thus bridging the gap between the denominations.

The German Network, at this time, comprises about 180 couples and individuals. The first national meeting was held in Freising (near Munich) in January 2000, the second annual meeting in January this year in Heilsbronn (near Nuremberg). Next year’s annual meeting will be on February 1 – 3, 2002, in Rothenfels (near Frankfurt) with the theme „The Eucharist in ecumenical perspective".

Sharing the Eucharist

In most protestant churches, everybody is invited to receive Holy Communion at the Lord’s supper, and the catholic spouses of interchurch couples may receive, according to their conscience decision. In the catholic churches, the practice depends very much on the local priest: We estimate, that in 90 % of all parishes, guest participation of non-catholic spouses at the eucharist is accepted on a regular basis, and in some parishes they are even invited to receive by the priest. However, there are still parishes and priests, where there are problems.

Because of this fact, an ecumenical group in Nuremberg formulated a document in 1996 on the subject of eucharistic hospitality for interchurch marriages and families (in German: Zur Frage der eucharistischen Gastfreundschaft bei konfessionsverschiedenen Ehen und Familien). This document was sent to the German Catholic Bishops Conference. The ecumenical commission of the Bishops Conference answered in 1997, stating that „interchurch couples and families may be allowed officially to receive communion in the catholic church on a regular basis in accordance with the local priest, if the separation at the Lord’s table would be felt as a pain by the couples".

However, this answer of the ecumenical commission has to be enacted by the bishops in their dioceses, and until today only two bishops (Bamberg and Vienna, Austria) have enacted it. Now the Bishops Conference is discussing a general regulation for all dioceses in Germany. It has been announced to be published this year.

Church Conventions (Kirchentage).

In Germany, there have been large protestant and catholic Church Conventions (in German: Kirchentage) in alternating years since world war two. The last Catholic Church Convention was held in the year 2000 in Hamburg with more than 50 000 participants, and the latest Protestant Church Convention was held in June this year in Frankfurt with about 100 000 full-time participants.

An important fact is that these conventions are - at least in principle - lay meetings, organized by special lay bodies. Therefore they are independent of the established church hierarchies.

These conventions have become more and more important ecumenical events. In this year’s Protestant Convention in Frankfurt, several catholic bishops (for example Cardinal Lehmann) were present in discussion forums, and many catholics participated in the convention.

Our Network was present also in Frankfurt with a stand on the topic: „Interchurch Couples and Families".

On May 28 – June 1, 2003, there will be the first German Ecumenical Convention (instead of the separate protestant and catholic conventions) in Berlin, to be organized by the protestant and catholic lay bodies together. It is expected that more than 100 000 participants will attend. There are many discussions at the moment going on whether ecumenical hospitality at the Berlin convention will be possible.The Network already started with preparations to be present there with a stand, with a discussion forum and with a special service for interchurch families.