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franciscan - January 2005

© The Society of Saint Francis, 2004

A Gleam of Hope for our Church

by Sister Mirjam Zahn CCB

At one time we were discussing financial issues in the main administrative office of our Lutheran Church in Munich, quite businesslike.  The head of the department was friendly and helpful, even if he could not promise any major support - as hardly anybody can in our times. But when we stood up to say Good bye he took my hand and said: "Your Community is a gleam of hope for our church!"

What a change!

If you had told this story 55 years ago to our founders (Rev. Walter and his wife Hanna Huemmer) and the small group of young men and women, who had just started the common life as Communitaet Christusbruderschaft Selbitz (CCB), they might not have believed it.

To begin such a way of life as a religious order in our Lutheran Church of Bavaria was quite a strange story for everyone. The local people were afraid to meet a 'sect' in their midst and Rev. Huemmer had many talks with the church leadership in Munich because of this new movement in the very north of their 'pasture'.

Even in 1959 Walter Huemmer wrote in an article (Bruderschaft als Herausforderung an die Gemeinde, 22.04.1959):  "The word brotherhood (in that time 'brotherhood' was the term for a religious community, even for a mixed one like CCB) has remained an absolutely irregular noun within the Protestant declination and confession!"

 In the same paper he quotes Martin Luther:

"All brotherhoods should have the one brotherhood, the congregation of the holy, in their mind, which is guided by the Holy Spirit himself.  They should respect only this one brotherhood, not look for anything of their own with any of their deeds, but for the sake of God's will they should perform them… They shall serve as free servants for the whole fellowship of Christianity."

Indeed, the process of accepting this kind of vision of common life in the Lutheran Church took a very long time.  The 'Protestant mind' was hesitant to do or create something 'special', that might be understood as a tool for justification by works, or a higher level of holiness.

Nevertheless, after World War II, "God commanded - and it was done." The development of our community and of several others in the Lutheran Church is based on a clear call from God (and it would be interesting to compare the biographies of these communities in their first years), on the long monastic tradition of Christianity, and on the vision of Martin Luther himself.

And today?

To some extent I still see two sides of the profile of the religious life in our church - one from inside and one from the outside.

The view from inside comes out of the heart of the everyday life with its dynamic and power.  It can see lots of good reasons why communities are really important for the inner life of the Church.  Many writers have published excellent papers and books about this issue in our country over the last 50 years.  And I am sure that we can exchange and share 95% of it among religious communities in Christian churches all over the world.  Our reason for being is the same as in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox Church.  More than once it happened that people from these other churches told us: "Since I got to know your community I developed a new relationship to my own church."

I would say: We are not a typical Lutheran religious order for the Lutheran Church, but free servants for the Church of Jesus Christ in our world - with Lutheran roots.

How and where can one observe these roots in our daily life?  

For instance at Sunday Service:  we celebrate it according to the Bavarian Lutheran liturgy (though another German speciality is that Christians from the Reformed tradition often think they are in a Catholic service because of the liturgy).

Typically Lutheran might also be the priesthood of all believers.  It happened recently, when a teacher came with some 15 year olds, a girl asked at the end of the visit in front of all the others: "Can I confess here?"  First the guiding sister asked back to make sure that it was a serious request and then confirmed it.  Immediately two others followed and took the chance…

Then there is an outside view.  When you look on something from the outside you see a shape with its borders, a surface - and nothing more.  If that is all when looking at a Lutheran monastery, you might think: O.K., they must have some identity problems!  Why are they so Catholic? (The Germans do not know the Anglicans well enough to include them in this comparison). What need is there to have all these imports from the Roman Church, like the monastic vocabulary (Postulant, Novice, Prioress, Gregorian Chant), to do the sign of the cross, etc.?  Aren't they very far away from the basic life of our Church?  Aren't they too special, or assume themselves that they are?"

We hear such questions from many people in church.

And to be honest, at least in our biography as CCB we had times when we thought we were very special (not to say better).  We needed to go through a rather difficult change from the first to the second generation to come down to earth and to experience the very ordinary behaviour of us as humans who had to find a new guideline and structure after the era of the founders. This period left us with a good deal of humility.

But there are also efforts to bring the inside and the outside perspective together:

The synod of the EKD (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland - Protestant Church of Germany) declared in a public paper 1990: "The Synod thanks the religious communities for the ministry which they offer as a sign on behalf of the whole Church.  It also includes its request, that these communities might see themselves further on as part of the larger community of the Church, maintain the exchange with parishes and church-groups, offer a place of refreshment for the interested, the seeking and the burdened, take upon themselves the ministry of intercession for the Church and the world, and keep awake the remembrance  of the ecumenical perspective of the Christian calling.  The Synod asks the member-churches (of EKD) that they may also in future bestow their attention to these religious communities."

A regular meeting of church leaders and theologians, who live in religious communities, has continued for about ten years.  They discuss the relationship between Church and religious communities in the Protestant world.

Clerical newspapers show more and more interest in the religious life. Recently there was a series about different Protestant monasteries in Bavaria.

Lutheran bishops from Africa (e.g. Zimbabwe and South Africa) tell us: "It is so important for us to know that there are men and women in our Church, who dedicate their life to God in devotion."  They invite us to share our life with their people - and to be open for also accepting African sisters.

Regularly teachers, priests or other responsible persons in parishes come with their groups to offer an encounter with a Lutheran monastery.

That man in the Church office in Munich had been just once in our house, for a few hours.  It was encouraging for me, that he nevertheless could speak about a "gleam of hope for our church".  This is what we desired from the very beginning : to be in the Church, with the Church and face to face with the Church. - I need not say, that I mean the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ! f

Sr. Mirjam Zahn CCB is a sister in a Lutheran community.  Educated both as a kindergarten teacher and a business economist she has been the community bursar since 1997, and is actively involved in ecumenical work. 


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