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5 december 2018

Hoofd en directeur benoemd bij Theologie van de Vredeskerken

Newly endowed Chair and Executive Director for 'Theology of the Peace Churches' installed at the University of Hamburg, Germany.

With an academic ceremony on 30 November 2018 the Faculty of Evangelical Theology at the University of Hamburg celebrated the stabilization of the Center for Peace Church Theology. This was made possible by the institution of a new endowed chair and the appointment of Prof. Fernando Enns as well as the introduction of Pastor Dr. Marie Anne Subklew as executive director.

The 'speaker' of the faculty, Prof. Martina Böhm, noted in her welcoming remarks that the Center for Peace Church Theology, founded in 2006, is now entering a second and important phase. In the entire landscape of German academia, the Center, with its distinct research focus, is absolutely unique and demonstrates a strong enrichment of the Faculty of Theology at Hamburg University.

In their addresses, the moderator of the Association of Mennonite Congregations in Germany (AMG), Pastor Doris Hege, and the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Northern Germany, Gerhard Ulrich, both stressed the growing relationship of trust between Lutherans and Mennonites. The delegation of the pastor from the Lutheran Church, Marie Anne Subklew, to the Mennonites and her subsequent delegation to the Center in Hamburg by the Mennonites were more than merely a visible sign of reconciliation between the two church traditions. Further impulses for their 'common way of Just Peace' can be expected to come from the Center.

Theological impulses originating in the historic peace church of Mennonites extend far beyond Mennonite circles themselves, stressed Kees Blokland, the chair of board of trustees of the Mennonite Seminary at Free University Amsterdam/Netherlands. This is a vital contribution within the current conflict-laden situation in Europe. Blokland expressed the expectation that the cooperation between the two harbour cities of Amsterdam and Hamburg would be strengthened by the appointment of Fernando Enns to the new endowed chair, who will continue to spend half of his time at his professorship in Amsterdam with the same research focus.

In his presentation, Dr. Enns used the process of reconciliation between Lutherans and Mennonites to illustrate his thesis that reconciliation is the foundation as well as the destination of the ecumenical movement. In 2010, the Lutheran World Federation asked the Mennonite World Conference for forgiveness for the atrocities that had been done to the Anabaptists during the 16th century. Luther, Melanchton, and Bugenhagen had asked their governments to persecute them. In his paper, Enns pointed out that it had been the gift of reconciliation in Christ which made this plea for forgiveness and the granting thereof possible. He then raised the question how this crucial element of 'inaccessibility' (Unverfügbarkeit) of any reconciliation might be interpreted in the secular realm, or whether this is a unique point of reference in theological discourse.

In a second presentation, Marie Anne Subklew focused on incidences of distortion in the recent past. In 2017, the Evangelical Church of Central Germany issued a Word of Repentance and acknowledged its guilt for the entanglement with the former socialist government of East Germany. It was a first step on a way towards possible reconciliation. Subklew used biographical witnesses to illustrate the distress of those pastors who had decided to flee from the pressure of the government. The plea for forgiveness of the churches in East and West and their striving for reconciliation provided a genuine field for theological-ethical reflection.

The following interdisciplinary panel was moderated by the assistant researcher of the Center, Julia Freund. The director of the Institute for Peace and Security Research at the University of Hamburg, Professor Ursula Schröder, pointed to the fact that there can be a profitable intersection in the analysis of processes of reconciliation between political sciences and theology. Shröder argued that interdisciplinary learning ought to be encouraged. Nevertheless, reconciliation always remains a vulnerable process that can fail under altered political circumstances. As an example, she pointed to the conflict in Northern Ireland, where the ecumenical dimension was of enormous importance.

Psychologist Prof. Alexander Redlich, together with Bishop Ulrich, stressed the need to first endure the disparate narratives of a common, painful history before a shared new future can emerge. 'Reconciliation is never enforceable!', Ulrich said.

The academic celebration in the magnificent environment of the university library’s atrium was appropriately framed by music performed by Gwendolyn Lichdi (flute) and Sophia Whitson (harp).
On the following day the board of trustees of the Center for Peace Church Theology assembled. The chair, Prof. Dr. Wolfram Weiße, former director of the Academy of World Religions of Hamburg University was discharged with great appreciation for all his support. The former pastor of the Mennonite Church Hamburg-Altona Bernhard Thiessen was elected as his successor. The members of this consultative board of trustees is appointed by the Foundation of the Association of Mennonite Congregations in Germany (AMG).

Photograph taken by Matthias Bartel

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