Bishops encouraged to break down barriers

Bishops Harald Rückert and Rosemarie Wenner of Germany recount the role the Christian faith played in the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago. During the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C., bishops were challenged to remove barriers of various kinds. Photo by Heather Hahn, UM News
Bishops Harald Rückert and Rosemarie Wenner of Germany recount the role the Christian faith played in the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago. During the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C., bishops were challenged to remove barriers of various kinds. Photo by Heather Hahn, UM News

At the same meeting bishops celebrated the toppling of the Berlin Wall, they also agreed to work toward removing modern-day barriers to refugees seeking safety and freedom.

United Methodist bishops held a special service Nov. 5 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall and the peaceful revolution that led to reuniting East and West.

“People risked their lives to make change happen,” said retired Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of Germany. “The churches played a very important role.”

Wenner led the service alongside Bishops Harald Rückert, also of Germany, and Eduard Khegay of Eurasia. The three grew up on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain — Rückert and Wenner in what was then West Germany and Khegay in what was then the Soviet Union.

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In 1989, churches such as St. Nicholas Church in dowtown Leipzig provided a safe place for dissatisfied East Germans to pray and discern a better future. From the church, these Germans launched weekly nonviolent demonstrations that pressured politicians for freedom.

Faith kept peaceful protesters going even amid fears they might face a bloody crackdown like that Chinese demonstrators had experienced earlier that year in Tiananmen Square.

Thus a barrier first erected in August 1961 began tumbling down on Nov. 9, 1989 — with more peaceful results than the collapse of Jericho’s wall in the Book of Joshua.

However, it doesn’t require stone or graffiti-covered concrete to set up powerful barriers between people.

During their meeting on Nov. 6, bishops also made plans to help remove modern-day roadblocks faced by refugees forced from their countries by war, violence or persecution.

The United Methodist Immigration Task Force offers a toolkit for engaging elected officials on resettlement.

The Immigration Task Force recommended U.S. bishops take action by sending letters to their governors and city officials urging them to welcome refugees. The task force also asked that local churches likewise join the letter-writing campaign, which the group has named “Room in the Inn.”

The bishops raised their hands in support of the recommendation. 

“The joy, confidence and passion in God who wants walls that separate people to come down … is heavily challenged in these days,” Rückert said. “You hear ‘America First,’ ‘Russia First,’ ‘Germany First.’ The joy, confidence and passion in God to bring people together is even challenged in our United Methodist Church.”

However, he said, faith in God helped bring people together then and can overcome divides again.

“With God, we can leap over walls.”

 

excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS.

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