Bemused by the forthcoming and fundamental change in the UK’s relationship to the European Union, I found there was something profoundly helpful in the latest theological consultation between the Evangelical Church of the Palatinate (EKP) and the United Reformed Church. I was grateful to join the small group of URC people who travelled to Neustadt, near Mannheim, for a meeting with EKP counterparts. Our discussion was inspired by the bi-centenary of the 1818 re-uniting of Reformed and Lutheran Christians in southern Germany. Celebrating that historic reconciliation and enjoying a flourishing contemporary Anglo-German relationship was suggestive of so much to which we can cling while we wonder what it will all be like come March 2019.
Papers were presented and discussed by our own Donald Norwood and John Bradbury and by the EKP’s Klaus Bümlein and Christoph Picker. Norwood and Bmlein reminded us of the union histories of the URC and the EKP. Bradbury and Picker then explored contemporary implications of ecclesial union amidst political separation. John’s thesis exposed the irony that Christians gain their definitive identity by being ‘in Christ’, and yet how the uniting of those who are ‘in Christ’ but who come from differing traditions can bring about a bewildering loss of identity. He suggested that if the Church in all its diversity can nevertheless hold together as ‘part of the Church Catholic, the whole body with Christ as the head’, might it not have something to say to the ‘fast-moving and complex world in which we find ourselves?’ There was also an eloquent challenge from the German representatives, urging British Christians prophetically to engage the issues that leaving the EU raises. We were reminded passionately of how the EU was conceived as a peace-sustaining instrument; now, though, those who hold Europe’s political power and influence cannot possibly have personal experience of how that peace-sustaining felt so vital in the post-WWII years. We recognised that it nonetheless remains imperative, alongside the need for Europe to offer common answers to important issues that are shaping our future: Picker emphasised ‘affluence and security, climate change, social justice, sharing and globalisation’.
In a post Brexit world, the United Reformed Church’s continuing engagement with the European Church seems as vital as ever, both for the church’s sake and for identifying the best way of navigating the new waters through which Europe must now voyage. And it is not just as a denomination that we might sustain links to the church across La Manche and Die Nordsee. Hearing reports from EKP and URC congregations that enjoy being twinned – some over several decades – the consultation also stressed how timely the development of more such local engagements would be. Details are available from Philip Brooks at Church House.
In the sermon at our closing communion, Pfarrerin Erdmute Dünkel highlighted how the praying person who cherishes unity, ‘looks through the here and now into another, a larger future …, guided by a vision, a hope, a dream.’ It was a trenchant word of theological perspective as our altered relationships within Europe become ever more imminent.