Blog from the Living Letters visit to Germany

The Living Letters blogs are written to share about visits to specific countries or regions around the world, organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence initiative along with assistance from local coordinators, churches and other organizations. The Living Letters blogs are personal narratives from members of the "Living Letters" team and do not necessarily represent the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

05.6.08 Here I sit in Frankfurt airport my thoughts advanced to the journey home. Being always mobile and having bags and stuff to carry around is something which all of us in the Living Letters delegation have gotten used to by now. Being together in the hefting and careening our luggages in and out of trains and cars and vans has been as much a part of our trip together as much as discussing and listening and sharing. As a letter at the end of my journey, it's a little difficult remembering life "outside the envelope." In many respects, this trip has been an ideal situation. We were simply asked to travel, listen, learn and share of ourselves and our own contexts. This is the nature of peacemaking: respectful and equitable human exchanges. Without this, all other peacemaking work cannot stand. --Thomas -- P.S.. Many many thanks to the WCC and all those who made this trip possible.

Posted By: Thomas on Jul 08, 2008 03:06AM

How do you formulate a peace declaration? What would you do? Why would you do it? With whom would you want to make a statement about peace and how would you choose them? Does creating peace in your personal life seem important to you? What does 'peace' mean to you in 2008? Is it just the absence of war? Or does it entail something more? A component of justice or spirituality perhaps? How can spirituality be part of the Decade to Overcome Violence? Can the DOV exist without spirituality? Is there such a thing as a "Just War?" Can torture be justified in the name of national defense? How do you deal with structural economic violence? Do you even know what that means? What gifts can "the poor," "the needy," "the marginalized" offer you?

Posted By: Thomas on Jul 02, 2008 12:29AM

\"At the end of the day faith is a funny thing. It turns up when you don\'t really expect it. Its like one day you realize that the fairy tale may be slightly different than you dreamed. The castle, well, it may not be a castle. And its not so important happy ever after, just that its happy right now. See once in a while, once in a blue moon, people will surprise you , and once in a while people may even take your breath away.\"
Dear Living Letters,
I thank you for taking your time to share with us a few glimpses of this adventure of solidarity. It is a great blog and I look forward for more updates. Greetings. Marcelo Schneider

Posted By: Marcelo Schneider on Jul 03, 2008 03:45PM

The ecumenical movement includes the whole world, no exceptions. So when people find out that the Roman Catholic Church is not a full member of the World Council of Churches, the obvious questions of cooperation and participation are often asked of both sides. Enter the grassroots ecumenical movement. There are so many good and valuable projects happening on the grassroots level in Germany that even to list them here would be a laborious task. Katerina and I cannot stop talking about how much there is to report on and how little we're actually able to convey in our blog writings. We're floating in an ecumenical sea of hard-working, innovative, committed people who have their fingers on the pulses of local parishes and communities and whose projects are massive icebergs floating in the sea and reaching deep into real people's lives. We've only been able to catch glimpses of the tops of these icebergs. There are thousands and thousands of stories of struggle and success which are just waiting to be heard. So we lend an ear whenever we can and listen to what they are so eager to tell us. One successful story of grassroots ecumenical peacemaking I can share with you is that of Justitia et Pax, which is a movement within the Roman Catholic Church concerned with the creation of justice and peace in the world. They have been deeply involved in striving for social justice in issues (such as migration) for a long time and have taken up the Decade to Overcome Violence banner. Wherever in the world you may find a Roman Catholic diocese, most probably will you also find Justitia et Pax, struggling for peace and justice. It's a concrete example of cooperation and success within the Decade to Overcome Violence which I feel speaks to the power of peacemaking on the grassroots level. Our ecclesial manifestations may be different in ways, but our goal is the same: overcoming violence together. May it be so. Because of all these stories, of which Justitia et Pax is only one, it's easy to say that the hardest part of every encounter we've had is saying goodbye. One only wants to linger longer in each room and share stories with everyone. But the train rolls on to Berlin.... ah! And today was my birthday! 26. It's one I'll always remember. Thomas P.S. - The picture is of Katerina (far right) and me (far left) with some local German youth who's company was a breath of fresh air.

Posted By: Thomas on Jul 01, 2008 07:03PM

Hey! It was great to hear about the Living Letters and I enjoyed the splendid evening with you guys. I hope you\'ll have some more inspirating days and fly back with a bag not only filled with heavy paper, but with a lot of crucial experiences and new ideas.
Take care,


Posted By: Rike on Jul 02, 2008 11:22AM

It was indeed an amazing evenig, just a bit too short. But it was a great experience too get to know the Living Letters. I think you do a VERY important job. May God bless you and give you strength for the last days in Germany and for the follwing days for reflection and reporting. Take care of you!
ps: It was an honour to be a breath of fresh air! :)

Posted By: Julia on Jul 03, 2008 08:24AM

Whether you know it or not, today was a very special day in the Armenian Orthodox Church. Today was the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ so we were very fortunate and honored to be invited to celebrate with them in the morning with the holy liturgy and a large lunch and coffee and dessert and more dessert and coffee and lunch! It was more like a party, with families and children and youth from the Armenian community in attendance.

As with all the people we've met here in Germany, but especially from the Armenian community, we received a very warm and familial welcome. Their arms were open to us as they welcomed us to worship with them in their church and be with them at their tables. They wanted to make known to us that our visit there made them feel not alone Our visit to their community created for them the feeling that they are not alone. That they are part of the larger ecumenical family. So often, when describing their lives and situation in the world, they used words like uncertainty, fear, hurt, and unsafe. They emphasized that even in their everyday lives they see false portrayals and pictures of their community, through the use of negative media.

In short, we did not need to define our roles as Living Letters, they did it for us. For them, we were glad to become a source of comfort and solidarity. A sounding board representing a wide picture of the ecumenical movement, against which they could share their fears and suffering. It's important to communicate that these fears come from extremist groups, not majorities. Like all of us, the Armenian people with whom we spoke want to live and work with moderate people in other faith communities who are willing to talk. The question is: How can we strengthen them to cooperate and communicate with each other? And strengthen each other? Once again, there are so many other things we wish to share and talk about. The conversation is only just beginning.

In the afternoon we found out when visiting the Melanchthon Academy of Cologne that life is like a teeter-totter. You cannot play alone, because if you do, you always stay down. By learning of a program started in Cologne called "Weisst Du Wer Ich Bin?" (Do you know who I am) we explored new ways of how Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities can live together in peace. The people here in Cologne are trying to create places where Jews, Muslims and Christians can coexist peacefully. The evening consisted of detailed conversations about civil conflict resolution and a lovely music-filled reception. Katerina & Thomas

Posted By: Thomas & Katerina on Jun 29, 2008 11:02PM

Hello all!  

After another long but wonderful day, Katerina and I are happy to be alive and resting in our lovely accommodations in Cologne, Germany. We have made the trip from Frankfurt today by train and it's hard to imagine that we have only been together one full day. The people we met in Frankfurt were so full of excitement and warm love for us that we can only carry that on into our own group dynamic which is being created.  They were also very eager to share the immense amount of work which they have so thoughtfully put into their own contexts that I personally could only be in a spirit of awe and praise. The program today consisted of listening and sharing experiences of overcoming violence in very concrete ways such as, overcoming forced prostitution, confronting domestic violence by giving counceling to victims and perpetrators, developing thelogies of peace, examining religion's role in conflicts through inter-religious dialog, and lending peace to the market by building just democracies.   (We all took part in building more of a peaceful and just market by drinking fair-trade coffee provided by our gracious hosts!)  

As we sit here both yawning, Katerina and I agree that the topics we covered today could provide discussion to all of us for years on end. But we are realizing that while our role as living letters includes affirming and celebrating the real work which has been done, it also includes bringing people together who would not normally meet and interact.  There have been many conversations taking place on the fringes of our meetings together between new friends who share the same goal: creating a peaceful world.  Our visit worked as a motive for people to gather and strengthen each other.  

Also, Cologne is beautiful.  The people are very much alive and in the spirit of getting together for conversations and beers and laughing, and bachelor parties.  We were very happy to join them tonight for dinner on the banks of the Rhein.  (Although, not for the bachelor party.)  

Special thanks goes to the local organizing committee for giving Katerina some tender loving care and medicine for her fever and headache.  

Bis bald!

Thomas & Katerina  

Posted By: Thomas & Katerina on Jun 29, 2008 02:03AM

Hope you continue to enjoy the vist. Keep blogging I want more updates. Have even linked to you on my blog.
Alles Gute


Posted By: jane stranz on Jul 01, 2008 06:02PM

The very nature of a letter assumes that the author must live without knowing or seeing the reaction of his or her audience. There is a disconnect between the author and the audience which the author must live with. She or he must accept the fact that the letter might have many unexpected and unseen consequences which depend entirely on the audience. We as living letters are not any different except for one thing, we are experiencing the initial reactions! Our human interactions and shared experiences as these living letters will impact and stay with all who are involved having lasting effects long after the meetings are over.

We as living letters are here because we feel that when a part of the Body of Christ is hurting, we're hurting just the same. We are here to share our own experiences with other christians but more importantly, we are here to learn from them and gather experences which will help us identify commonalities with others and common ways of acting. We're here for a week of intensive learning. We want to learn how to involve people in the process of making peace through raising awareness about the DOV. It's our experience that the Decade to Overcome Violence is not very well know in our two corners of the world.

It's been our first day, and already we have been welcomed with open arms. Hugs and kisses were the norm. The tour of Frankfurt has made us feel as if this were our home and during the evening prayer service and program we were treated like dignitaries, right down to the food.

We would like to end with a Psalm which was used during the evening prayer service.

God, plant peace in the hearts of all people,
that they may not trample the seeds of peace,
as do the foolish.

Katerina & Thomas

Posted By: Katerina & Thomas on Jun 27, 2008 11:52PM

Living Letters are small ecumenical teams that make the message of peace and solidarity palpable on their visit to churches in a foreign country:

"You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not
on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." 
                                                    (2 Corinthians 3:3,RSV)

On this blog, two members of the team visiting Germany will share their impressions, personal reflections, observations, experiences and photos:

Aikaterini Pekridou, from the Church of Greece, is a PhD student in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Department of Theology. Her specialization is missiology and ecumenical theology with a research focus on human sexuality. She participated in the International Conference on Violence and Christian Spirituality 2005 and the International Conference on Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Peace 2007. Currently, she is involved in the preparation of a spring 2009 meeting, in which biblical and systematic scholars will be invited to discuss a theology of peace in the various strands of the Orthodox tradition. This meeting will be part of the contribution by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies to the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011 and to the ecumenical declaration on just peace.

Thomas Yonker, is a member of the Disciples of Christ, USA. He is currently working in online marketing for a sports retail store in Columbia, Missouri. During an internship with the World Council of Churches in 2005, he helped to prepare the book Em Tua Graca - Resources for praise and prayer and served on the WCC staff during the assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil. As an active member of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Columbia, he has been on many service and work trips with the college-age youth group at the church. He is about to take up work as a volunteer English tutor with the Refugee and Immigration Services Center of the local Catholic diocese.

Posted By: WCC Communications on Jun 06, 2008 03:39PM