London and Berlin parishes celebrate 20 years of friendship

25 October 2019

Joanne Grenfell

The Revd Tom Pyke and the Revd Dr Christine Schlund

The Revd Tom Pyke and the Revd Dr Christine Schlund

TWO inner-city parishes, in London and Berlin, which both suffered heavy bombing during the Second World War, have celebrated 20 years in partnership.

In 1999, the parish of Christ Church on the Isle of Dogs in east London, and the parish of the Sophienkirche in Berlin, set up an exchange programme for Christians to learn about the traditions of and relationship between the Church of England and the German Protestant Church.

The then Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, invited a small group of clerics from the diocese to visit Berlin in response to the Meissen Agreement, in 1988, through which the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, proposed that closer relations should be established between the C of E and the German Evangelical Churches.

The Vicar of the Isle of Dogs, the Revd Tom Pyke, said on Wednesday: “It was started when the downfall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany were still both fresh in the memory, and the agreement itself was only seven or eight years old.

“After the closure of its docks, the Isle of Dogs was to experience intense regeneration, on a scale that was similar to that experienced by the Mitte district of central Berlin, as it recovered from the steady decay it had experienced in the GDR period. A small delegation visited Berlin to dream about what might be possible.”

On Saturday, 75 people attend an anniversary lunch in Christ Church, Isle of Dogs

The Revd Jutta Brueck was one of the first to volunteer when she was a curate of Christ Church, where her husband, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley (now the Bishop of Edmundsbury and Ipswich), was then Vicar. Ms Brueck, who is German, said: “I stayed with Harmut Scheel in the Sophiengemeinde. Berlin [now the Ev. Kirchengemeinde am Weinberg].

“Harmut was very welcoming and I used the weekend there to tell people about the Church of England, which was completely unfamiliar to them. When I mentioned the Anglican Church, their minds turned to Anglo-American bombers. Hartmut thought that there could be scope for a parish-link, given some of the similarities between our parishes — both urban, undergoing a great deal of change, valuing music, working with young people — and was interested in building on my visit.”

The first exchange took place in November 1999. A return visit was planned the following summer and visits have continued annually since, with the exception of 2012, when the Olympics came to London.

On Saturday, 75 people attended an anniversary lunch in Christ Church, including the Pfarrerin (pastor) of Ev. Kirchengemeinde am Weinberg, the Revd Dr Christine Schlund, and 24 others from her parish.

Bethany ParsonsOn Saturday, 75 people attend an anniversary lunch in Christ Church, Isle of Dogs

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, who also attended, congratulated the parishes. She said that it was “important to celebrate friendship and community building across borders, whatever else is happening in the world”.

This year, 28 people from Berlin visited the Isle of Dogs during Harvest festival. Dr Pyke said: “Recruiting for the exchange is completely open. Often it begins with families being asked to open their homes to a guest. Hosts may be members of the congregations of Christ Church or St Luke’s, Millwall, or they may simply be good neighbours.”

Visitors stay in the homes of parishioners from Thursday to Sunday. They discuss community issues, explore the area, visits other churches, celebrate, sing, pray, and worship together.

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