Friday, July 30, 2010

Two Vignettes from Stuttgart

LWF Vignettes, worship setting moments
by Robin J. Steinke

A Living Ikon

I have been singing in the LWF Assembly Choir throughout the week. It has been a wonderful way to engage in the public witness of LWF as we pray together “give us this day our daily bread. On Thursday we experienced the moving service of forgiveness with the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. Bishop Younan carried olive oil from the Middle East which was distributed in small bowls throughout the assembly hall for use later in the service.

The entire assembly processed together from the assembly hall, where the formal action to ask for forgiveness was adopted, to the Chapel space singing Veni Sanctu Spiritus-a kind of physical journey to repentance-. This hymn reverberated throughout the tunnel as we sang from deep in our hearts. When we slowly and solemnly gathered in the “Reithalle” for worship, nearly every seat was filled and many were standing in the back of the hall. The Very Rev. Protopresbyter Constantin Miron (which means oil), Ecumenical Patriarch of Germany was crowded into a seat right next to me and the choir. He did not have the green assembly worship book so I stood next to him and said something like, “When you are sitting this close to the choir-you are in the choir so please join the choir and sing with us.” So I shared the worship book and he joined with the choir. He had a wonderful deep bass voice. There we were, an ordained Lutheran woman in a clerical collar and the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch singing praise to God with the whole communion of saints.

At the appointed time in the worship service we were to dip our finger in the small bowl of oil and turn to the person next to us and mark the sign of the cross on the top of their hand and say “God gives you a new heart and a new spirit” and the response was “Thanks be to God”. This was from the Ezekiel text for the day. Several of us were to start this with the choir. I went to begin this rite with the Mennonite choir and gave and received the sign of the cross with oil.

When I returned to my place in the choir, Bishop Miron reached for my hand and took his own oil crossed hand and placed the top of his oil marked hand on the top of my hand and said “with this I seal it”. It was a gift of blessing from this Orthodox Bishop. I received this blessing from one who did not need to do this. I was stunned at his public respect and gift of blessing. It may be that the public act of confession and forgiveness with the Mennonites bore witness to God’s reconciling and redeeming project for the world in a way that this Orthodox brother in Christ extended to me an ecumenical blessing. I continue to reflect on the powerful time of shared blessing and rejoice in the glimpse of God’s promised future of wholeness in the body of Christ.

Stiftskirche Marks History with Bell

I was in the “Stiftskirche” or college church on Sunday morning, July 25th singing in the choir again. The bishop of Baden W├╝rttemberg, Bishop July preached with the Bishop of Lund and Dr. Ishmael Noko presiding. This was again a deeply moving service, broadcast across all of Germany.

The pastor invited all assembly participants to climb the bell tower following the service. Housed in this towed is an enormous bell which is only rung twice a year. Once at the beginning of lent and again on the commemoration of the bombing of the church and its nearly total destruction in 1944. The day of commemoration just happened to be July 25th. Many of us were in the bell tower as it was rung to remember the devastation of another era.

As one who also lives on another battlefield where we too commemorate the end to violence unleashed on our seminary campus, it was a powerful reminder of the need to for ongoing attention to our call to bear witness to God’s promise of peace for the world.

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