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Country Report from Germany

for the 2nd World Gathering of Interchurch Families in Rome 2003


The religious situation

Germany is the country, where the reformation with Martin Luther began. Until today, it is a country of mainly two denominations: The Roman-Catholic and the mostly Lutheran Protestant denomination. There are also christians of Free Churches, Old Catholic, and Orthodox Churches, but they are a minority.

After world war II millions of refugees from eastern Europe moved into Germany. Due to this fact and due to other reasons, there are now Christians of both church affiliations in most parts of the country. The consequence is that in many areas more than 30% of all marriages are interchurch marriages (in some areas more than 50 %!).

In the eastern part of Germany (the former „German Democratic Republic“ DDR) the comunist political system, which ruled for more than 40 years, caused the population to become unchurched. The Christians of all denominations are a minority there, while more than 80% of the population do not belong to any christian church.


The situation of the interchurch families

Starting in the 60s of the last century - after the Vatican council - there was an ecumenical flourishing. A characteristic indication is the fact that a change of terminology occurred: The former rather negativ term „Mischehe“ (mixed marriage) was substituted by the neutral term „konfessionsverschiedene Ehe“ (inter-denominational marriage). Since a few years, the positive term „konfessionsverbindende Ehe“ (marriage binding together the denominations) is more and more in use.

Today, in many parishes, the roman-catholic local priests are acting up to the limits set by Cannon Law, and sometimes they are neglecting these limits. There are a great number of parishes, where it became normal practice that interchurch couples receive the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper.

But although there is such a high percentage of interchurch families, this fact has not been recognized in the services. There is no special pastoral care for these families. In some parishes - depending on the local priest - it is still difficult for interchurch families to take part actively in the congregational life, because interchurch marriage is supposed to be a difficulty.

In February 1997 the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops‘ Conference issued a letter stating that the local priest should decide whether an interchurch couple could receive the Eucharist regularly, if a separation at the Lord’s table would be felt as a high burden.

But this document of the Ecumenical Commission has never been communicated to the pastors. Only two bishops (of Bamberg and of Vienna) enacted the document officially within their dioceses.

Many interchurch couples are not informed about the regulations of the churches. They still think that receiving together the Eucharist and/or the Last Supper is strictly forbidden. In many cases this is then the reason why they don’t participate in the congregational life at all.

In its spring meeting 2002 the German Bishops‘ Conference discussed again the question as to whether protestant christians in interchurch families could be admitted to share in Holy Communion at the Catholic Eucharist. In a press statement, Cardinal Lehmann, the chariman of the German Bishops‘ Conference, declared: „The outstanding question for our church situation is the status of the inter-denominational marriages or - as one more and more says nowadays - marriages binding together the denominations. Clearly we cannot deal with these in the same way as with the recognized situations of distress, notably of danger of one’s life, imprisonment or death. Inter-denominational marriages are a particular life situation for christians, whose communion in marriage is grounded in baptism and rooted in the sacramental nature of their christian marriage. There must be further exploration of how far the profound ecclesial character of communion in marriage may justify exceptional admission to the Eucharist. This is not so much a matter of unique occacions celebrated in the life of the family, such as First Communion, but more a matter of the constant striving of the couple to live their path of faith together“.

It was planned to issue a decision of the Bishops‘ Conference before the Ecumenical Church Convention 2003 (Ökumenischer Kirchentag Berlin 2003). But it was also intended to consider the expected encyclical „Church and Eucharist“. Therefore, there will be considerable delay. It must be suspected that due to this delay those interchurch couples will become resigned who still are serious with their belonging to the church.

The German Network of Interchurch Couples and Families

Since 1970 weekend-meetings for interchuch families had been organized in different parts of Germany, for example in the Benedictine monastery of Neresheim. These meetings aimed at exchanging experiences and at getting encouragement. But only since 1999, we have a national forum for interchurch couples and families. On October 29, 1999 - the day before the signing of the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification - the „Network of Interchurch Couples and Families in Germany“ was founded in the city of Augsburg.

The aims of this Network are:
• To be the voice of the interchurch couples in the Church
• To make the reality of life in an interchurch family and the experiences fruitful for the Church.
• To induce the awareness that the interchurch marriage may serve as a model for the unity in reconciled diversity.

We did not intend to found a formal association. Therefore, the work of the Network is done within the legal organization AÖK (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökumenischer Kreise = Working Group of Ecumenical Initiatives). The German Network comprises groups of interchurch families, couples or individuals. There is no formal membership, but only a loose connection via an adress list (actually about 400 adresses). The adress list is maintained in a voluntary office. All activities of the Network are coordinated by a governing board of 9 persons. Everything is done voluntarily. The Network is financed by voluntary contributions and donations.

Annual conferences

Since 1999 we had every year annual conferences of the Network, where roman-catholic and protestant speakers have been invited to present papers on a subject, which then was discussed by the participants of the meetings.
The places, years and subjects of the annual meetings were:

• Freising (near Munich) 2000: „Interchurch marriage (not)welcome? Are we a burden or a chance to the churches?“
• Heilsbronn (near Nuremberg) 2001: „Daily religious life in an interchurch family“.
• Burg Rothenfels (near Franfurt) 2002: „Celebrating the Eucharist - theological and practical aspects in an ecumenical perspective“.
• Burg Rothenfels 2002: „Differing understanding of ministry - an obstacle or a challenge for us?“

Presence of the German Network at Kirchentagen (Church Conventions)

In Germany there exists a long tradition of helding so-called „Kirchentage“ (church conventions) which are planned and organized not by the churches, but by catholic or protestant lay bodies. These „Kirchentage“ are big events of 3 to 4 days, with between 50 000 and 100 000 mostly young participants to hear talks, to be engaged in round table discussions, to untertake Bible studies, and to celebrate services. In addition, many associations, groups and initiatives present themselves at stands in a „market place“ (now called Agora, the greek word for marked place). In alternating years, there is a protestant Kirchentag or a catholic Kirchentag (called „Katholikentag“). The last „Katholikentag“ was held in 2000 in Hamburg with more than 50 000 full-time participants, and at the last protestant Kirchentag in Frankfurt there were more than 100 000 participants.

For the first time in history, the catholic and protestant lay bodies organized in this year 2003 together an „Ecumenical Kirchentag“ in Berlin. More than 200 000 full-time participants came to Berlin, so more than were previously at catholic and protestant conventions together!

Our German Network had been present already with stands in previous church conventions. Now at the Ecumenical Kirchentag in Berlin, we had a stand at the Agora, which was always crowded by interested people, mostly living in an interchuch family. But also quite a number of pastors of different churches came to our stand.
Besides, members of our Network were present also at round table discussions. And we were reponsible for a service held in a church under the theme:"A ship called the local church - interchuch couples, you are the pilots of the ecumenic activities“.

Internet presence
You may get more information about our Network in the internet:
http://netzwerk-oekumene.de