Today’s post is a translation of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Wir sind Botschafter der Versöhnung,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. It appears here and on UM News by permission. The translation is by UM & Global’s David W. Scott.
Methodist guests from all around the world visited the Karlsruhe UMC on Sunday, September 4. The weekend in the middle of the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Assembly is expressly intended for excursions and congregational encounters. The participants and contributors traveling from the whole world are thereby given the opportunity to get to know the respective life of the churches of the host city and host country.
For the United Methodist Church of the Redeemer, that Sunday was all about international Methodist encounters. Both the morning church service and an evening reception brought together Methodists from four continents, German churchgoers, and guests from other UMC congregations who came just for that day.
It’s about the world, not about one’s own mood
In connection with the theme of the ecumenical gathering (“Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”), Ivan Abrams made “reconciliation” the centerpiece of his sermon. The General Secretary of the World Methodist Council and bishop of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa encouraged the churchgoers to undertake every effort to heal relationships by offering forgiveness and pardon. This is a biblical command, Abrahams stated clearly!
The South African theologian also referred to Karl Barth, who attributed a central importance to the topic of reconciliation in his extensive theological works. Reconciliation, according to Barth, is not negotiable, but rather stands as a command of the highest order. “We are ambassadors of reconciliation,” Abrahams summarized this command. Therefore, it is about more than just personal well-being. The goal of reconciliation is to renew and transform society and the world.
Being able to sing even amid hopelessness
Christians should not, however, passively wait for better times. Rather they must orient themselves with the almost humorous-sounding sentence that the US American writer and activist June Jordaan (1936-2002) formulated: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Abrahams stressed that again: “We are the ones to bring about change.”
Methodists have always been excellent at displaying this attitude, according to Abrahams. They have had an untamable spirit and could always strike up a song, even in the face of hopeless situations. “The future belongs to us; let us willingly serve it!” the General Secretary of the World Methodist Council challenged his Methodist siblings from around the world.
Two archenemies as examples of real-life reconciliation
At the evening reception, for which many of the international Methodist guests returned to the Church of the Redeemer, Harald Rückert took up the thoughts of the morning sermon. The UMC bishop responsible for the Germany Central Conference combined his greetings and a short report on the situation of church and Methodist work in Germany with the special geographic location of the city of Karlsruhe. Today, people give scarce any thought to the nearness of France, which lies across the Rhein not far from Karlsruhe. It is almost no longer perceptible that Germany and France once faced each other as enemies, even archenemies.
It is like a miracle that, in this originally hostile relationship, reconciliation happened after the second World War. This change can serve as an impressive example of what reconciliation can achieve. Rückert expressly connected that with the situation in which The United Methodist Church finds itself. The worldwide discussion within the church over questions of sexual ethics is tearing the church apart. Many cannot at all imagine that reconciliation with one another is still possible. The example of the region of Karlsruhe, where two deeply hostile nations once faced each other, can offer encouragement, according to Rückert. Today there is no longer even a visible border between the formerly hostile nations. The example underlines the biblical truth: “Reconciliation is possible!”
With these substantive messages, Methodist guests encountered one another morning and afternoon and made new contacts or deepened existing ones. The General Assembly of the WCC thus served as impetus for “worldwide Methodist ecumenism.”