Federal president joachim gauck hailed the merger of the north elbian (hamburg/schleswig-holstein), mecklenburg and pomeranian churches as a new chapter in the trusting coexistence of east and west germany, but at the same time warned against illusions about the state of inner unity. "Change of mindset takes a long time," said gauck in his opening remarks after the solemn grounding service in the ratzeburg cathedral.
Two generations, about 40 years, are necessary "to pass from the status of dependence and oppression to the status of a free man". "We want to be happy that this unification has come about," said gauck, who deviated several times from his pre-distributed redemanuscript. It could be that some expect too much from the new organizational entity. "There has been a long phase that has made us different."Which need not be divisive, but one must be aware of them.
Gauck referred to the repressive measures against the churches in the GDR, an experience that did not exist in the west. Churches in east and west had to do very different things, said gauck, who used to be pastor in rostock. At the same time, the head of state, who in many passages explicitly presented himself as a christian and not as the president of germany, emphasized his trust in god. Christians had to take responsibility to be a blessing in this world – "that’s why we want to pray and that’s why we want to act".
The chairman of the council of the protestant church in germany (EKD), rhineland prince nikolaus schneider, described the successful merger as a "century’s work" and a "herculean task". He referred to the different traditions, mentalities and the so different historical experiences. The new state church stretches from flensburg to the polish border. For the first time since german unification, state churches from eastern and western germany have united.
In his sermon, mecklenburg bishop andreas von maltzahn recalled the peaceful revolution in the germany in 1989 as an obligation for the future. The church must strengthen democracy and at the same time point out gaps in justice in society. "We discovered then: "we are the people"" (…) we have shed the leaden garment of bondage. (…) since then we know: the conditions don’t have to stay as they are."The church must be the placeholder of such hope.
"Evangelical lutheran church in northern germany," is the official name of the northern church. With almost 2.3 million christians, it is the fifth strongest of the remaining 20 state churches in germany with 24 million protestant christians. The unification process took five years.
The ratzeburg cathedral was filled to capacity with 700 guests; around 3,500 people followed the ceremony and the subsequent graveside speeches on a video screen in front of the town hall square – in bright sunshine. At noon the "ratzeburger mahlzeit" took place in a park-like setting, the palm garden in front of the cathedral.
Bread, sausage, cheese and strawberries were served at 600 tables set with 5000 women. Each table was occupied by a member from one of the 1045 congregations of the three former state churches – this was a symbolic way for church members to get to know each other. According to the organizers, almost 15,000 visitors came to the city by afternoon.
Schleswig-minister-president peter harry carstensen (CDU) expressed his appreciation on behalf of the governments of mecklenburg-vorpommern, hamburg and schleswig-holstein. The north church is a forward-looking and groundbreaking step. Own interests and traditions were put aside in order to give the members of the churches a new spiritual home: "if people feel as secure in their church today as they did yesterday, then they have done everything right."