UCC ecumenical officer: Reuniting with partners around just peace in a time of war
The Rev. Mark Pettis, who began work in 2021 as the United Church of Christ’s ecumenical and interfaith relations manager, is just back from a busy September in Germany. He reflects on the value of the UCC’s long and close relationships with partners there — and on hearing their perspectives in this time of war in Europe.
If you explore the Global Ministries website, you can read about the long-standing relationship that the United Church of Christ has enjoyed with the United and Reformed Churches of Germany, now known as the Union of Evangelical Churches. The ties between our churches are long. They include a formal relationship of Kirchengemeinschaft, or “church communion,” dating back to 1981, with a predecessor body. This is lived out in various settings of the United Church of Christ today.
This past month, after taking part in the World Council of Churches’ 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, I personally experienced this long relationship in two additional encounters with our German partners.
In Schwerte, I attended a gathering of the Westphalian churches with representatives from the Indiana-Kentucky and Heartland conferences of the UCC. It had a two-fold focus. The less-formal purpose was for friends and partners to gather in person. They had not been able to do so for more than three years due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the meeting centered around this opportunity to reconnect.
A more formal purpose in Schwerte was to discuss the ideals of Just Peace. Leaders from Germany and the U.S. offered keynotes:
- Jens Lattke, peace envoy of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany and director of the Lothar Kreyssig Ecumenical Center; and
- The Rev. Chip Jahn, retired pastor of Trinity and St. Peter’s UCC in Fulda, Ind., and mediator in the peace process in Sri Lanka from 2002 to 2009.
Given the proximity of the war in Ukraine, it was important for us from the United States to hear the perspective of our German partners. For them, the threat of Russia serves as challenging daily reality. The war is a great concern for us in the UCC, as evidenced by the almost $3 million raised in our ongoing appeal. But this same conflict represents an ominous reminder for our German partners of the frailty of self-determination and democracy in Europe.
After my time in Schwerte, I traveled north to Bremen for a UCC Forum with representatives of various UEK churches who have partnerships with UCC Conferences or congregations. This two-day gathering also had a sense of reunion, as these partners had not gathered in person for a similarly long period.
The more formal agenda in Bremen featured updates from the various churches. From the UCC, these included one from me and one from Global Ministries Middle East and Europe Executive Peter Makari, who joined us via Zoom.
We also had a lengthy and lively discussion of the “public issues statements” adopted by delegates to the WCC Assembly the week prior. Not surprisingly, the matter of greatest interest in this conversation was again the war in Ukraine.
In particular, there was significant concern about how the WCC statement on the war spoke to and encouraged the Russian Orthodox Church — the largest member communion of the WCC — to engage with their government to bring an end to the war. Such a challenge to the ROC continues to prove difficult given the internal politics of the WCC. This circumstance remains frustrating for other churches in the region, including our partners in the UEK.
My time in Germany was incredibly informative, as I remain, still, somewhat new to my role. Gaining greater understanding of these partnerships and the concerns of our sister communions was inspiring and incredibly humbling.
The Rev. Mark Pettis is the United Church of Christ’s ecumenical and interfaith relations manager. He is based in Cleveland and is a member of the staff of Wider Church Ministries.
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