The Wittenberg Exchange

What have Westcottians been up to over the summer? One of the many overseas opportunities in which ordinands participated was the annual Wittenberg exchange.  Alec Corio writes about the group’s experiences in the heart of the Reformation.

Ecumenicism, beer and sausages 

From the 16th to the 23rd of July members of Westcott House participated in an ecumenical exchange with 8 vikarsfrom the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland who are currently engaged in practical formation for ministry at the Predigerseminarin Wittenberg. 5 Westcott students were able to visit Wittenberg and enjoy the hospitality of the Predigerseminar between the 16th and the 20th, and a further 8 members of the Westcott community became associate members of the exchange and helped to welcome our German guests to Cambridge between the 20th and the 23rd.
Those of us who went to Wittenberg stayed in the Predigerseminar‘s luxurious temporary home at the Cranachs’ house, which is hosting the Predigerseminarwhile a permanent site is built for it next to Wittenberg’s Shlosskirke. As well as visiting the museum at Martin Luther’s house, and an outstanding temporary exhibition dedicated to the life and art of Lucas Cranach the Younger, we spent time in the churches where the doctrines of the Reformation were first explored by Luther, Philip Methanchthon and Johannes Bugenhagen. We were particularly privileged to be invited to read and lead the intercessions at the Sunday morning Eucharist in the Schlosskirke, on whose doors Luther is said to have posted his 95 theses in 1517.
While in Wittenberg, we participated in a series of discussions with the vikars focussing on the challenges confronting the Church, and particularly the need for evangelism, in secularising societies. Here the differences in our experience of governmental attitudes to the Church, and the underlying resonances between ministry in former East Germany and in England, provided rich material for shared theological reflection. In Leipzig, which we visited on a day trip, we experienced a creative local response to the challenges of ministry in former East Germany. The Church social worker attached to Philippus spent several hours explaining how their social enterprise project, which was at first intended to provide jobs for disabled people, has also brought the church building back into use for worship, and a congregation is once again growing there.

In Cambridge and on a day trip to Bury St Edmunds, we were privileged to hear from some outstanding visiting speakers, who helped us to further engage in the process of shared theological reflection. Adrian Chatfield, Tim Stevens, Frances Ward and Ed Kessler were all generous with their time and wisdom. From Corpus Christi College, Sibella Laing led a walking tour of sites in Cambridge associated with the Reformation, and Christopher de Hamelastounded our guests by casually bringing out dozens of manuscript letters from Luther and even the original draft of the 39 articles from among the treasures of the Parker Library. 
In addition to these activities, we also enjoyed a lot of shared worship, showing our German guests the idiosyncratic delights of Anglican liturgy and struggling to find enough different songs to sing before meals in the Lutheran tradition. The meals we shared were very impressive, and an essential part of the growing fellowship we experienced throughout the exchange. The barbeques, ice cream, steamed puddings and, above all, the beer we consumed helped to bring us together in friendship and dialogue. Short visits to German brauhauses and an extended tour of the Greene King breweryin Bury St Edmunds lubricated our ecumenical experience.   
The exchange has led to a series of growing personal friendships with with our German exchange partners, based on our shared enthusiasm for beer, sausages, and even the religious history of the 16thcentury; on Leen and Jenny’s insistence on awarding Alex a series of increasingly extended and ridiculous nicknames; and on their surprising enjoyment of my repeated renditions of Flanders and Swann’s Hippopotamus song. Friendships have also deepened among those Westcottians who participated in the exchange, and we have certainly grown in our knowledge of each other’s gifts – though not all of these are theological. I have gained a new appreciation for my colleagues after witnessing Laurence’s ability to fall asleep in a variety of increasingly preposterous positions on public transport, and seeing Joe’s increasing excitement at the varied rolling stock of the German railway system.

Though the relationship between Westcott House and the Presigerseminarhas been growing for the last 5 years, this year’s exchange involved a greater number of participants, and established a more ambitious programme of shared theological reflection, than ever before. I hope that it has given a firmer basis to the friendship between our institutions, especially as we look forward to the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

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