Eighteen Christian denominations in Hamburg have embarked on an endeavour unique in Germany to share a single church building in the northern German city's new 'Harbour City' development - writes Anli Serfontein.
"It's intended to serve the inhabitants of the Harbour City development, as well as tourists and people who work here, offering a place of silence and giving them the possibility to get in touch with God," Pastor Antje Heider-Rottwilm was quoted as saying by the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.
Based in the area known in German as HafenCity, the church project is called "The Bridge - Ecumenical Forum HafenCity". The 18 churches decided that instead of building their own places of worship, they would pool their resources in one ecumenical centre.
Nowhere else in Germany do so many denominations work together at a single place. They include Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Old Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic churches.
At present there is a provisional chapel, a square building made of glass and wood run by Heider-Rottwilm and her husband Martin Heider. They belong to the Laurentiuskonvent, an ecumenical Christian community formed in Germany 50 years ago.
The Bridge has asked the Laurentiuskonvent to found a group in the HafenCity as a place of prayer, hospitality and involvement with the people and churches there.
When finished HafenCity will provide homes for 12,000 people and work for another 40,000 and will resemble similar developments such as the London's Docklands.
"The Harbour City does not only need the presence of a sacred place for all confessions, but also people that live as part of an ecumenical community and who are involved as Christians in the area," the manager of The Bridge, Stephan Dreyer, told the Hamburger Abendblatt.
At present there are daily prayers and reflections in the chapel, conducted by pastors from different denominations. Once completed, the ecumenical centre will have an ecologically-sustainable church, residential and office area. The ground floor will have a chapel, seminar rooms, an information area and a café. There will be apartments for members of the community and for guests on the upper floors.
The ecumenical project is not intended to compete with congregations in the city centre. Rather. it intends to build a bridge to hundreds of Christian congregations and institutions in the city, and to help build a social network in the growing HafenCity district.
The project also sees itself as a "bridge" for ecumenical questions. Earlier in 2008, before Easter, a Russian Orthodox priest, a Catholic cathedral dean and a Methodist superintendent discussed the meaning of fasting during Lent, a period of reflection for Christians before they commemorate the death of Jesus and then celebrate his resurrection.
In May there was a discussion on the significance of Protestant Reformer, Jean Calvin for Europe, between Hamburg's Lutheran bishop, Maria Jepsen and the president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, the Rev. Thomas Wipf.
The German-language churches' website can be accessed her: www.oekumenisches-forum-hafencity.de/start/index.php?language=d
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]