Manfred Kock, former chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), turns 75 today. He was the highest representative of Protestants in the Federal Republic from 1997 to 2003. During the same period, he was also president of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, Germany's second-largest state church.
Manfred Kock likes to preach often. After eight years in retirement, his schedule is still pretty full: the former chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) also gives many lectures and writes texts for commemorative publications and commemorative days. "I personally get involved with the powers and gifts I still have to help out in our church on a voluntary basis," he says modestly. On Wednesday, the popular theologian, who was the top representative of German Protestantism from 1997 to 2003, turns 75.
He still does a lot, "but nothing I don't feel like doing anymore," says the former president of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland at his home in Cologne. He is often asked to speak about ethical conflicts and questions of faith. The topics of his tenure are still relevant today: ecumenism, Christians and Jews, war and injustice, bioethics and euthanasia, immigration and integration, change in the welfare state. His demeanor is always characterized by what was already his strength in top church offices: he takes a clear stand and yet at the same time appears thoughtful and balancing.
Kock has been good at keeping interests and currents in the EKD together, says his successor as Rhineland president and EKD council chairman, Nikolaus Schneider. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) also appreciates Kock's services as a moderator and bridge-builder in ecumenism – in the past often together with the then chairman of the Catholic German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Karl Lehman – and in the dialogue between cultures.
Kock has long stayed out of the day-to-day business of his church, but doesn't mince words when in doubt. In 2010, he thus confronted his successor in office, Margot Kabmann, who was criticized for her statements on the Bundeswehr's Afghanistan mission. In January of this year, he defended his church's liberal stance on homosexual pastors against criticism from several former bishops, earning himself a series of critical calls and letters. "But there used to be more strife," he says calmly.
Not a fan of talk radio
Even without the rhetorical brilliance of a Wolfgang Huber or the charisma of a Margot Kabmann, Kock knew how to use the media. Unlike some other ministers, he was not afraid that the press would "get to him," on the contrary: "The interest of the media must be served in order to convey what we as a church have to say," he is convinced. However, he does not think much of "exuberant talk show presence".
Kock still fulfills his youthful desire to help people today as a pastor – back then he still wanted to become a doctor. The son of a civil servant from Burgsteinfurt in Munsterland likes to talk to people about faith and their doubts. He not only preaches from time to time in important churches like the Berlin Cathedral, but also holds a service once a month in a nursing home for the elderly.
The church needs as much closeness to people as possible and as little bureaucracy as possible, he is convinced. The most important task for the future, he says
World responsibility: "Reformation is needed today in our dealings with the poor of this world."The question of how future generations can live on earth is also important. "We can't create paradise, but we could have a lot of things much better."
Youth pastor in Cologne
He studied theology at the 14. September 1936-born Kock in Bethel, Munster and Tubingen. He took up his first pastorate in a miners' congregation in Recklinghausen in 1962. In 1970, he moved to Cologne as a youth pastor, where he became a parish priest six years later and became head of the Stadtkirchenverband in 1988. Kock became at home in the cathedral city, appreciating the fun-loving mentality of its inhabitants and its "generous God".
In his final years of service, two leadership posts demanded everything of him: when Peter Beier, then president of the Rhineland, died suddenly in 1996, Kock was named his successor. Barely a year later, the presumed interim candidate at the helm of the second-largest state church surprisingly also made the running in the election for EKD Council president, when he prevailed over Bishop Huber. In 2003, he stepped out of the limelight, first as Rhenish president and then as the highest representative of German Protestants.
Since then, Kock says, he has managed to cut back and stay in good health. With his wife Gisela – the support of his marriage was always vital to him – he regularly visits exhibitions, goes to the opera and concerts. Kock also enjoys the time he has gained for his three children and six grandchildren – and that he can do something with his two siblings from time to time: "In the past, that was hardly possible because I had to work as a pastor when other people had the day off."