“We have to go out to the people”

Irmgard Schwaetzer held the office of president of the Protestant Church for almost eight years. Now the EKD synod decides on its succession. The pharmacist and FDP politician looks back and makes recommendations for the future.

Interviewer: You are now stepping down as president of the Protestant church. With what feelings do you do?

Dr. Irmgard Schwaetzer (outgoing EKD president): Naturally, there are mixed feelings. But in the foreground there is great gratitude for seven very full, interesting, great years with wonderful encounters with many people, between whom trust has grown, and also with a very intensive content-related work. After all, it's about looking at the future of the church a little bit and also opening ways for us to reach people with God's message in the future.

Interviewer: Ecumenism in Germany will continue to be important in the future, as will the relationship between the Catholic and Protestant churches. We are speaking now just before the Ecumenical Church Congress. Looking back: Did developments during your term of office go as you had hoped??

Schwaetzer: To a large extent, yes. I remember with great gratitude the joint pilgrimage that members of the Council of the EKD and the Bishops' Conference made to the Holy Land in 2016. I remind you of the ecumenical services in 2017, the year of the Reformation celebrations. In all this time, so much trust has grown, and that can still be felt today. And I hope that it will remain so in the future.

Interviewer: The topic of sexual abuse, abuse of power, has shaken both churches and is still far from being dealt with. A huge loss of image and trust for both churches. How do you think the churches can regain trust??

Schwaetzer: That can certainly only happen if two things happen in any case, and one is that we openly, transparently do everything we can to ensure that our churches will provide a sanctuary for people we have to look out for, for whom we have taken responsibility. That is just not the case in quite a few places in the past.

And the second is the reappraisal. That has to happen credibly. In the Protestant Church, the major scientific reappraisal studies began last fall. However, it will take some time before we see the first results. They will focus on the causes of sexual assault, of violence against the vulnerable, on the specifics of the Protestant church and the diaconate, and on the extent of it.

Independent commissions are in preparation, which will of course include the strong participation of those affected. This will also be a difficult process for the Protestant Church, because it will have to relinquish its power of interpretation, and that will certainly not be easy.

Interviewer: Let's look at another problem common to both churches, namely that fewer and fewer people are going to church. The Corona pandemic has reinforced this despite many digital offers. In the long run, leaving the church could really endanger the institution of the church, whether Protestant or Catholic. How do you see it? Do people still need the churches at all to be able to live their faith??

Schwaetzer: Well, the surveys tell us that more and more people are not comfortable with the way the church meets them. On the other hand, we noticed during the pandemic that, above all, pastoral care was a very big ie. That many people with their worries, with their fears, with their questions were then looking for it, also partly waiting to be addressed.

I think that this is something that has been reinforced by the pandemic, although we have already experienced this through the Reformation anniversary. We have to go out to the people. It's not enough to say we invite you all, we have to be there where people have problems.

This is a change of perspective. And we want to carry this change of perspective into the future with new approaches in pastoral care, but also in parish work, where an enormous number of creative solutions were developed and tried out during the pandemic.

Interviewer: That is then certainly one of the major tasks for your successor. What is the next step for you?? Betray the?

Schwaetzer: For now I am happy to have more time to go again, if you are open, also hopefully to museums and to listen to concerts. To perceive the rich cultural life of Berlin. But I think I will have other tasks as well. But that is then a somewhat later concern.

The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.

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