Church, what for? The question is short, but has an immense number of aspects – and is difficult to answer. At the New Year’s reception of the Diocesan Council in Lüne Monastery, an attempt was made.
Church departures at record levels, the number of churchgoers in sharp decline, trust in the institution at rock bottom – what is the point of having a church at all? Will reforms bring it back to the top? What can be its task in the future? How is it perceived from the outside? The speakers at the New Year’s reception of the Diocesan Council looked at these questions in very different ways. And yet the answers – as expected – remained fragmentary.
Hiltrud Lotze, honorary mayor of Lüneburg, said that the churches were an “indispensable part of urban society”. This is true even today, she said, when the majority of people no longer belong to a Christian church. “Churches and communities never revolve around themselves, but are there for the people. Churches are places of togetherness and orientation – especially in times of crisis,” she said.
Bernhard Kotsch, German Ambassador to the Holy See, who was connected by video, described the Catholic Church as a “special player” in the international context. The Church not only has representations in the world’s capitals, but also has a unique network of parishes, schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions – connections that are also used by other governments. The funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI showed how important the Church continues to be. From Germany alone, the Federal President, the Chancellor and the heads of the Bundestag, Bundesrat and Federal Constitutional Court travelled to the funeral service.
Maria Hermann, a consultant in the Strategic Innovation Department of the Episcopal General Vicariate, took a far more fundamental approach to the question. The theologian said that the situation in which the question of what the Church is for is asked is “fleeting, uncertain, complex and ambivalent”. In order to deal with this situation, curiosity is needed: “God sees people, is curious about them. And people ask for God, at least for meaning. For hope. For the future. And at the latest since the great mystics, it is also clear: people ask for God and the divine – in the world – also in the counterpart in other people. And somehow also within themselves.”
Professor Detlef Pollack, sociologist of religion at the University of Münster, also spoke about the difficult situation of the church. He pointed out that the Catholic Church is only perceived as trustworthy by slightly more than ten percent of Germans, whereas doctors are perceived as trustworthy by almost 90 percent, and the Federal Constitutional Court by more than 70 percent. In almost all European countries, belief in a personal God has declined to a greater or lesser extent in recent decades, but at the same time belief in a “spirit or life force” has increased significantly, Pollack reported. Can reforms save the Church in this situation? The Protestant theologian is in favour of change, but questions whether the declining church loyalty is not more due to the declining religious demand than to the state of the church.
This is a thread that Bishop Heiner Wilmer takes up. He had grown up with the teaching of the Church Father, Tertullian (Cathcon: who ended his days not as a Catholic but a Montanist) according to which man is religious by nature. “I’m not sure that’s true,” the Bishop said. It is difficult to give people a sense of transcendence, he said. Like Pollack, the Bishop sees the need for reform. But he also says: “This will not bring back what we have lost in recent years.”
READ ON BELOW…Only 10 percent of Germans think the Church is trustworthy