Germany´s 3rd woman bishop says her election should be seen as ´natural´


Geneva, Switzerland, 27 September (ENI)--Barbel Wartenberg-Potter, a prominent ecumenist and advocate of the equal participation of women in the church, has been elected bishop, becoming Germany´s third female Lutheran bishop.

Wartenberg-Potter, aged 56, was elected on 24 September as bishop of the Holstein-Lubeck diocese of the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church, in northern Germany. She is currently general secretary of the Council of Christian Churches in Germany (ACKD), whose headquarters are in Frankfurt.

She will be installed as bishop on 1 April next year in Lubeck Cathedral, succeeding Dr Karl Ludwig Kohlwage, who is retiring.

Speaking to ENI after her election, she said that she hoped her appointment would encourage those who wanted to see a "renewal of the relationship between women and men * It should be natural [for a woman to be elected as a bishop]. It should not be necessary to comment on the fact. But the fact that people are still astonished shows we have a long way to go."

The church had to continue to work "to overcome the imbalance of the past", she said. But she praised past efforts, particularly in the North Elbian church, where her election means that two of the three dioceses of the North Elbian church will have women bishops.

Wartenberg-Potter will join Maria Jepsen, elected in 1992 as bishop of the North Elbian church´s Hamburg diocese, who was the world´s first female Lutheran bishop.

The North-Elbian church is one of Germany´s 24 regional Protestant churches which together make up the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Germany´s main Protestant body. Last year another leading female ecumenist, Dr Margot Kassmann, was elected as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover - one of the other regional churches.

The EKD and its member churches have 20 bishops. (The leaders of some EKD member churches are known as presidents rather than bishops.)

Wartenberg-Potter told ENI that her priorities as a bishop would be to contribute to a renewal of liturgy in the church, drawing on the experience of the ecumenical movement, and to help the church speak out on issues such as globalisation, the integration of foreigners, the environment and the economy.

Asked if she feared that this might cause controversy, she said: "Why should we be afraid? The early church had many controversies. It is important that we contribute to the public debate on issues relating to the survival of the planet and peacefully living together - in Europe and globally."

Born in 1943 in southern Germany, Wartenberg-Potter studied German literature and theology, and worked at Stuttgart´s centre for development education before being ordained as a pastor in 1980. Before becoming general secretary of the ACKD in 1997,she worked at the World Council of Churches as director of its sub-unit on women in church and society, as a lecturer and university chaplain in Jamaica and as a parish pastor in Stuttgart. She is married to Dr Philip Potter, a former WCC general secretary.

She said that her own sense of what it meant to be part of the church had "grown and been strengthened in the ecumenical movement".

"My conviction is that the churches have to speak together rather than separately. Even in Germany, Christians have to witness together in a secular society."

Asked if she would describe herself as a feminist theologian, she said: "I am a person who advocates that feminist theology should be taken seriously, and I try to reflect with women´s consciousness and perspectives and to make feminist theology based on the Bible acceptable."

There were three candidates for the post of bishop of Holstein-Lubeck - Wartenberg-Potter, Provost Heide Emse from Ahrensburg near Hamburg, and Martin Schindhutte from Hofgeismar, in Hesse. Wartenberg-Potter was elected on the third round of voting, gaining 73 of the 129 votes cast, against 51 votes for Provost Emse. Schindhutte dropped out after the second round of voting, when he gained 17 votes.

In the run-up to the election, Wartenberg-Potter came under fire from some evangelical groups, who accused her of a "one-sided" approach to social ethics and seized on a passage in one of her books to suggest that she prayed daily to an Egyptian goddess.

"It was painful to see the distortion that took place," she told ENI, "but I think that honest and open dialogue can take place, and as a bishop I would advocate that we talk with each other openly. There must be a space in the church for differences of opinion."



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