Where to go for ecumenism? © Harald Oppitz (KNA)
Many "faux pas" lurk at meetings of Christians of different denominations. An "ecumenical etiquette guide" helps avoid awkward behavior. The handbook also provides an overview of theological differences.
Hate speech on the Internet and other verbal lapses are booming. There the call for the "Knigge" becomes again louder. The much-cited book takes its name from the Lower Saxon nobleman Adolph Freiherr Knigge. 230 years ago, the author, who was influenced by the Enlightenment, published his advice "On how to deal with people" and helped shape the behavior of many generations. Inspired by this, the Working Group of Christian Churches in Saxony-Anhalt has published an "Ecumenical Etiquette", which is now appearing in a second and revised edition.
One occasion for the first edition was the 2017 commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation. The Protestants expressly did not want to organize it as an exclusive jubilee celebration, but invited representatives of other churches as well. There were no "faux pas" or at least none that attracted attention. But: "The encounter of Christians of different denominations continues to be overshadowed by a sense of strangeness," the brochure's publishers admit. At the same time, Jurgen Dittrich, Dorothea Lasker-Merker and Brigitte Schmeja emphasize: "If there is such a thing as a different 'church smell,' it plays a greater role in personal encounters than people realize."
"Ecumenical etiquette" gives advice for dealing with differences
Like the influential historical model, however, the "Ecumenical Etiquetteers" do not limit themselves to mere rules of etiquette. "They are embedded in a larger context that opens up the framework of why some behaviors lend themselves and some rather do not," writes the executive director of ACK Germany, Verena Hammes, in her foreword.
Even "hot potatoes" such as the differences in the "Holy Meal" are not left out of the handbook. In the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is usually reserved only for members of one's denomination, while most Protestant churches invite all Christians to their communion meal.
On this ie, the guidebook recommends – as it does throughout – ecumenical sensitivity. "Demonstrative participation that forces communion in doubt harms the cause of ecumenical fellowship," warns Church Etiquetteer: "If you are a guest and unsure whether you are invited to the communion, check with the leader in charge of the service beforehand."
Promoting acceptance and understanding
Another controversial topic is the blessing of same-sex couples in some Protestant regional churches. Here, too, the handout warns "not to set one's own understanding absolutely and to appreciate accents of other churches in the sense of ecumenical learning". The authors emphatically oppose "superficial attributions with terms such as conservative, liberal or progressive".
In return, they demand acceptance for women pastors and bishops, as exists in liberal Protestant churches. "Women in the spiritual office are entitled to the same respect as other ordained clergy, even if their own church rejects the ordination of women."
Last but not least, "Ecumenical Etiquette" is also a style guide for worship attire – quoting a single time from its prominent predecessor: "Do not dress below and not above your station; not above and not below your wealth; not fanciful; not colorful; not without need splendid, shining, and precious."