The agony of choosing a bishop

The vacancy caused by the resignation of Bishop Maria Jepsen lasted almost exactly eleven months in the Evangelical Lutheran diocese of Hamburg and Lubeck. This Friday, the 140 members of the North Elbian Synod are called upon to settle the succession of what was once the world's first female Lutheran bishop in the "Michel". There are two candidates.

Unlike in 1992, however, the election of a woman to the office of bishop will not be a sensation this time, but inevitable, because the list of candidates includes only Petra Bahr and Kirsten Fehrs. However, it should also be exciting this time: Will the cultural representative of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Oberkirchenratin Bahr, or Hamburg's Propstin and Hauptpastorin Fehrs be bishop at Pentecost 2012, when the new Nordkirche is officially launched?

Both embody a similar type down to their appearance – petite, blond short haircut, glasses – and come from the same generation of female theologians. While 44-year-old Bahr has a background in journalism, holds a doctorate and has worked, among other things, in evangelical peace research, 49-year-old Fehrs has stronger roots in the region. In pastorates, also in the countryside, she acquired experience in personnel and congregational development, as well as in adult education.

Missionary opportunities in everyday situations
Since 2006, Kirsten Fehrs, who was born in Wesselburen in Schleswig-Holstein, has been the main pastor at St. Jacob's Church in Schleswig-Holstein. For some years now, the church has been making a name for itself as a pilgrimage church. Accordingly, Fehrs, who is married to a Protestant pastor, sees missionary opportunities in everyday situations. So occasionally people asked at Sankt Jacobi where they could get foot ointment. "And that, although we are visibly not a drugstore." Behind the misunderstanding, Fehrs sees an existential concern of people: "How can I go my way and deal with the pain that accompanies the way?" Being open to that need and getting people talking is what the pastor considers a strength of the church.

Petra Bahr, as the EKD's cultural commissioner, would be better placed in the arts section. "The battle for culture instead of the battle of cultures" is the name of one of her theses. Bahr, who comes from Ludenscheid, regularly appears as an author in the "Zeit" supplement "Christ und Welt" (Christ and the World). And this week, the theologian announced in "Die Zeit" how much the Bible means to her. She simply couldn't leave a dusty copy she had discovered in a Berlin antiquarian bookshop. "The Holy Scriptures on the floor, that almost hurt physically. I picked them up, wiped them clean and bought them. She should have it better with me. I owe her so much."

As a pastor of the Protestant Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, she is familiar with the diaspora. "It's easy to leave the church, but whoever enters the church always has a history." Such key experiences interest the theologian, who has adopted a now three-year-old boy with her husband.

A maximum of four ballots
Ahead of the eagerly anticipated election, which will feature a maximum of four ballots, however, the candidates did not explain the reason for Jepsen's resignation on 16. July 2010 forgotten: The equally contentious and popular bishop was reacting to allegations of abuse against a pastor, which she is said not to have followed up on consistently enough in 1999. Jepsen rejected the accusations against her, but saw an irreparable loss of trust in her person.

There is still an unbelievable horror about the fact that sexual violence has been inflicted on children and young people in the church's shelter, says Provost Fehrs. Shame is not enough here: The victims must be helped, prevention, but also therapy is needed – also for the church itself. A difficult task for the future bishop, whatever her name will be.

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