Saturday, February 14, 2015

Margot Kässmann

reformation luther 500The Rev. Dr. Margot Käßmann is a Lutheran scholar and theologian who has served as a parish pastor, as Landesbischöfin (bishop) of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Hanover in Germany, and as presiding bishop of the EKD/Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland―the Protestant Church in Germany that's a federation of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Christians. She's currently touring the USA as the EKD's special envoy for the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

desert spirit's fire: I readily admit to being a theology geek, but I'm also kind of (just sort of) a church geek, too, now and then watching from the sidelines designated leaders of at very least the big ole' (formerly big, currently pretty ole') mainline church bodies in this country, a loose assortment of which includes ELCA, PCUSA, UMC, UCC, DoC... Presiding Bishops, General Assembly Moderators, etc. often make political rounds during their terms of office, but theirs still is mostly church-insider renown, nothing that people who don't do much serious church would be aware of on any level. They sometimes travel internationally, but I've never known any to embark on a tour like Margot Käßmann's.

After family dinner on the Thursday after Epiphany 4 at Church Around the Corner (aka Clairemont ELCA) we heard Dr. Käßmann reflect upon culture, religion, politics, and ecumenism. She told us a Reformation Truck traveling around Europe already had visited Rome, Dublin, Amsterdam, and Geneva.... and wondered about topics such as the future in the gospel of churches of continental European Reformation heritage, especially paired with rampant secularization and the reality of religious "nones" everywhere. In Germany, totally (no exaggeration!) religiously unaware younger citizens are a huge part of the legacy of the totally secular DDR/GDR... however, because of urban anonymity, people living in the cities tend to be far less religious than those in towns and villages, where Christianity still carries some influence.

desert spirit's fire: Aside from a few pastors and church geeks, does anyone in the whole entire USA/Canada ecclesiastical complex even know Reformation 500 will happen in 2017? How would my southern Californian neighbors react to a Reformation Truck rambling through the streets? A few years ago it surprised me that a church lady at the Sunday adult bible studies I usually attended and often facilitated at the nearby PCUSA did not even recognize the word "ecumenism!" More broadly than basic awareness of the 16th century continental European Reformation as a world-shattering and culture re-orienting event along with awareness of its upcoming anniversary, how many people can articulate the gospel in speech or with their lives? We've talked about religious "nones" a bit online and mentioned them in Thursday evening bible study, but why are there so many not religious (not spiritual, not new age, not anything) in the USA? Is it mostly a Millennial-Gen Y phenom? Year of birth notwithstanding, is there a religious intensity difference between North American rural, suburban, and urban areas? Farmlands and mega-cities? Is level of educational attainment a factor?

In the wake of more than one ecumenical (Roman Catholic-Protestant rather than exclusively Protestant, or evangelisch) Kirchentag, Käßmann talked about Roman-Catholic mainline protestant relations that finally includes affirmation of our shared baptism as it dreams of future shared protestant/RC eucharistic possibilities.

desert spirit's fire: we don't have a USA-Kirchentag equivalent, and our mainline church bodies are somewhat free-standing rather than federated, but USA mainline protestant churches have had a flurry of Full-Communion agreements that in essence affirm Table and Pulpit fellowship along with interchangeability – "orderly exchange" – of ministers of Word and Sacrament. Many have been between a pair of denominations, and in cases such as the now so long ago 1997 Formula of Agreement amongst four denominations of similar theological perspectives yet differing polities. Not surprisingly, we're talking mainline, and like everywhere all over the world, there are many small or very small denominations, a lot of loose federations of local churches, some covenanting agreements, plus a literal plethora of autonomous unaffiliated congregations that apparently answer to no one but the very local leadership in that particular place. In 1973, in a document not dissimilar to a Formula of Agreement, Reformation Churches in Germany concurred with the Leuenberg Agreement.

Roman Catholic-Protestant?: regular and intermittent conversations on quite a few levels; enthusiastically shared social activism and humanitarian service; an occasional guest preacher; Roman Catholics and Protestants unofficially – sometimes surreptitiously – receiving communion in each others churches—but no official Eucharistic sharing whatsoever.

reformation 500 LutherDr. Käßmann articulated all five (3 Reformation era, 2 actually from the 20th century) theological Solas in contemporary terminology and reminded us the Reformers insisted on every Christian's baptismal vocation lived out fully in the world and for the world. Martin Luther famously insisted on an educated, scripturally-literate laity, and Käßmann reminded us "educated faith is the best barrier against fundamentalism".

desert spirit's fire: In response to God's baptismal charge and call, we faithfully and visibly need to engage the world on as many levels as the Holy Spirit and our hearts convict us to do. We need appealing, attractive, and challenging scripturally-based adult education opps for all the countless peeps who still insist they had two years (one year, three years) of confirmation classes back in middle school or high school. I'd say educated faith is the best barrier against fundamentalism of every kind.

Our guest speaker reminded us that just as people and churches of the 16th century had a global worldview, we also live with an international perspective and because of its worldwide organizational structure, the Roman Catholic Church is not nearly as fragmented and divided as are the multitudes of protestantisms.

desert spirit's fire: But even aside from internet near-saturation, for us in the 21st century, that ecumene – οἰκουμένη – that entire, known inhabited world is lots larger, more expansive, extends further. So what now?!

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