After ten years, there was a change at the top of the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia on Saturday, with Christian Stablein succeeding Markus Droge as the capital's bishop.
The big show is not Christian Stablein's thing: Berlin's future Protestant capital bishop has made a name for himself in the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia (EKBO) through modest appearance and expertise. On Saturday, the 52-year-old succeeds Markus Droge (65), who is retiring after ten years as a bishop.
As provost of the EKBO, Stablein had already been Droge's deputy for a good four years. With the management tasks of a regional church of 940.000 believers in over 1.200 congregations he is thus well acquainted with. It may have been an important reason why the regional synod elected him to the bishop's office seven months ago.
"One who asks how the congregations are doing."
Like Droge, Stablein also comes from western Germany. In Hanover's regional church, the native of Lower Saxony, who is the father of four children, was active as a pastoral counselor and in pastor training. After his election as provost of the EKBO, he then became theological director of the consistory, the highest administrative authority of the state church. After the rather luckless Friederike von Kirchbach, he succeeded in reprofiling the office of provost in the EKBO. The marriage of same-sex couples introduced by the regional church or the debate about the admission of children to the Protestant Lord's Supper would be inconceivable without the profound theological work of the provost, who is also a member of the synod of the Protestant Church in Germany.
When it comes to such controversial topics within the church, Stablein doesn't push ahead with his own position, but listens first. "A bishop is an eye-catcher," is how he sums up his understanding of ministry. "One who asks how the congregations are doing."If you take a close look at the EKBO, you will also notice that the church is facing great challenges. Since 2004, it has lost almost 300.000 parishioners since 2004, and there is no sign of a turnaround.
In his own words, the new bishop does not have a "master plan" in his pocket, but he does have some unconventional ideas that are also being discussed in other Protestant state churches. So he is considering offering "dormant memberships" as a temporary alternative to the radical break of leaving the church. It's meant to create open spaces for dialogue with people who have become strangers to their own church.
For Stablein is also aware that the traditional congregational structure is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. He pleads for a closer networking of all institutions of his church in a region, i.e. of parishes, schools or hospitals, as the Catholic Church also strives for with "pastoral spaces. The goal, according to the new bishop, must be that the church is "always and everywhere present, where it is in demand".
Challenges in the new office
In his new office, however, Stablein will also have to deal with a topic that the church, like other social institutions, has long touched only with pointed fingers. It is abuse by church employees, an ie that the Protestant church has now had to put at the top of its agenda, following the Catholic church's lead. "It hits the church much harder in the marrow of its own identity than it does other institutions," Stablein is aware of. At the same time, he promotes a differentiated view of the situation: the Protestant church in the territory of the GDR was far less influenced by a misunderstood liberalism that encouraged abuse in the West German state churches.
Right-wing populism is also a growing challenge for Stablein, like his predecessor in office. After the "open anti-Semitism of the past weeks," he asks himself "what we have also missed". The church must make it even clearer "that anti-Semitism is in no way possible for Christians," emphasized Stablein, who is also chairman of the board of trustees of the Berlin "Institute Church and Judaism".