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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Mighty fortresses: Visible and invisible walls

'Change happens in the heart, which is where walls begin'

Walls are built to imprison, create obstacles to movement of people, to keep people out. They are built in the mind, in the heart and over time—with suspicion, fear, racism, classism,” Murray D. Finck, bishop of the ELCA Pacifica Synod, told 50 religious and civic leaders gathered Nov. 8-14 in Wittenberg, Germany.

He spoke at “Mighty Fortresses and Mustard Seeds: Life in the Shadow of a Wall,” where participants from Germany, Palestine, Mexico and the U.S. discussed the church’s role in breaking down visible and invisible walls. The event was sponsored by the ELCA Network of International Learning Centers, ELCA Global Mission, ELCA Vocation and Education, and the Evangelical Academy of Sachsen-Anhalt.

Extending this U.S.-Mexican border
Extending this U.S.-Mexican border wall the full 2,000 miles will require an estimated $8 billion. Kim Erno, an ELCA pastor and program director of the Lutheran Center in Mexico City, asked participants of an ELCA conference on walls whether that money would be better invested in the lives of the poor.
The conference examined three walls—the Berlin Wall, the Israeli barrier wall and the U.S.-Mexican border wall. Participants heard perspectives from religious to sociological to political as they listened to people directly affected by the three walls. The first two days were spent in Berlin for the 17th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Erected Aug. 13, 1961, it fell on Nov. 9, 1989.

Describing her life in East Germany behind the wall, Christine Bergmann said the church became an “information center” where many people met every night. Bergmann served for seven years as one of the district mayors within Berlin after unification. She serves as president of the Berlin Social Democratic Party’s Forum for the Unity of the City.

Bergmann expected the church to participate in removing walls. “Church and state are separate, but the church is an important part of society ... and does have an important influence,” she said. “I think it should use that.”

A pastor in the former East Germany underscored that. “The church was the only place where we could speak freely,” Adelheid Cellarius-Mikosch said. “Giving people the chance to talk freely was a very political act.”

The transition from Soviet occupation to freedom hasn’t been easy for everyone, Bergmann admitted, saying that when the wall fell “people had to learn how to stand up.”


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