press release

A Lesson in Reconciliation

Church and Society Board of Directors Gathers in Berlin, Germany

For immediate release
Contact: Tricia Bruckbauer

A Lesson in Reconciliation: Church and Society Board of Directors Gathers in Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany – The General Board of Church and Society has concluded the spring 2018 meeting of the Board of Directors, which occurred March 15-18. For the first time in the agency’s history, the board met outside of the United States in Berlin, Germany.

General Secretary, Susan Henry-Crowe, opened the meeting with a reflection on “crossings.” Crossings from east to west and south to north, from poverty into possibility and war into peace. This message framed the meeting as a time to listen to the stories we would encounter, and learn from history and the people we would meet. Henry-Crowe challenged the board members to consider what 12 million United Methodists might be able to accomplish if working together for justice and peace. Following the general secretary’s address, the business of the meeting commenced.

At this meeting, the board took action on the following:

  • Approved $20,000 in Human Relations Day grants in the Florida and East Congo Annual Conferences, and
  • Approved $30,000 in Peace With Justice grants in the Oklahoma, North Georgia, Northern Illinois, Missouri, Congo, North Katanga, Zimbabwe, Tanganyika, and Central Congo Annual Conferences, and
  • Supported the March for our Lives to end gun violence, and called upon young people, including church youth groups, to participate in marches near them on March 24, 2018. For further information about board support of this movement, click here, and
  • Passed a statement of support for the rights of migrants across the globe, which you can read here.

Apart from formal actions, the board was updated on the process for revising the Social Principles. The draft of the revised Social Principles will be available for public comment after Easter. After the comments are received, the board will take action in the spring of 2019 to approve a final draft for consideration at the 2020 General Conference. The board also received a report about a new reporting mechanism for staff and their work.

Lonnie Chafin, chair of the finance committee, shared that the meeting location necessitated a larger budget than normal to accommodate the logistics of traveling to Germany. However, the per-person cost of the Berlin meeting was only $300 more per person than an average meeting in the United States. The board met virtually in the fall of 2017 to accommodate the cost of the spring meeting.

Meeting in Berlin offered the board opportunities to engage with German United Methodists, learn of their ministries with refugees and migrants, and worship together.

Retired German bishop Rosemarie Wenner led the board on a tour of the Berlin Wall and shared insights about the Church as a tool for reconciliation and peace. The board gathered in the Chapel of Reconciliation, which sits in what was known as the “Death Strip” between East and West Berlin when the city was divided. The chapel sits on the site of the destroyed Church of the Reconciliation, which was separated from its parishioners when the Wall was erected and stood “in the way” of Soviet desires for complete control. A German guide shared that it is “sometimes important for the Church to interrupt the way the world is moving.”

Board members also had the opportunity to hear from a representative from the office of Responsibility of the Religions for Peace in the German Federal Foreign Office. Dr. Silke Lechner shared how the German government is collaborating with leaders from all faith traditions to help build diplomacy and peace.

A panel highlighting perspectives from non-governmental organizations, local United Methodist churches, and a Syrian refugee herself, gave the board some context for the current state of the migration crisis in Germany and in Europe. This panel was an opportunity to learn from churches ministering with migrants and hear from those directly impacted – either migrants themselves, or those working to aide migrants in adjusting to a new life.

On the last day in Berlin, the board split up to worship at three United Methodist churches in the city: Kreuzkirche Berlin-Lankwitz, Christuskirche Berlin-Kreuzberg, and Gemeindezentrum Versöhnungskirche Berlin-Marzahn. The board was able to hear from clergy and lay people about what United Methodist life is like in what one pastor referred to as “the most secular city in the world.”

After church, the board traveled to the neighborhood of Neukölln where the group split into four groups to take a walking tour led by refugees from Syria. Learning from tour guides Mahmoud, Samer, Firas and Hamdi, the board heard about life in Syria as the war broke out, the journey to Germany, and their life in Berlin now. Unexpectedly, one of the tour guides spoke to his group in Arabic for the first five minutes to simulate what life in a foreign country is like for refugees. The many challenges of leaving a home country, families and jobs behind were highlighted, as well as explanations of how the German government is helping resettle refugees and how much more needs to be done.

Board member Lanella Smith of North Carolina Annual Conference questioned what the board might learn from these tours and take back home, “If we built more bridges and less walls then what are the possibilities?”

Taking inspiration from the Chapel of Reconciliation, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward reflected at the conclusion of the meeting on her desire for the Church to be “in the way” of injustice in our world.

“This experience in Berlin served as a beautiful opportunity for the board to be inspired by what the Church has done and is doing in Germany,” offered Susan Henry-Crowe. “As we struggle around the world to address conflict and crisis, we have been shown examples of compassion, justice-seeking, and reconciliation. I hope that all board members will take back what we have learned and apply it in their own contexts.”