The number of mixed faith couples is increasing in Germany. Photo: Andy Dean
Berlin – The Protestant Church of Hessen-Nassau in Germany has published guidelines for interfaith ceremonies to help clergy deal with the modern reality of communities where Christians and Muslims live side-by-side.
"The number of mixed faith couples is increasing," said Susanna Faust Kallenberg, secretary for interreligious affairs for the church in an interview. "There is a challenge and a question that you have to answer; you can’t ignore it."
Ulrike Schweiger, Protestant pastor for Hoechst am Main, contributed texts including a suggested open address, or greeting to the congregation, for interfaith weddings. She has led two such ceremonies in her own parish, where 40 percent of the population is Muslim and 15 percent Protestant.
"Other parishes and communities have asked us about [interfaith marriages] a lot in the past and that’s why we wrote the brochure," Schweiger said. "It’s a complicated subject for pastors and they don’t always have time to look into it. So we decided to give them something to base their own positions on and to give them concrete help for the practical considerations."
The guidelines do not lay out rules as to how such services should be run, but provide information on Islam from a Christian perspective, and plenty of food for thought on issues such as such whether Christians and Muslims worship the same god.
In an essay in the booklet, former Hessen-Nassau pastor Reinhold Bernhardt, now a professor of theology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, concludes that there is a single "god of the cosmos" that all monotheistic religions pray to.
Still, Schweiger feels that while the two faiths have common roots, the notion of a common god remains uncertain. The guidelines suggest that the bride and groom each make vows to their own god and that a Muslim representative should lead Islamic prayers.
"If we tried to [say common prayers for Christians and Muslims] we wouldn’t be able to make Christianity prominent in the service because we’d have to get rid of certain formulations in order to converge on one another," she said. "We don’t think that’s the right way of doing it. Both religions would have to give up their own way of doing things and we don’t want that."
Faust Kallenberg said that the booklet has been well received by other German Protestant churches, including at least one that is working on own guidelines on interfaith marriage.
"We’ve been surprised how much interest we have had," she said. "I expected more negative reactions, because theologically it’s a very difficult issue."
While the Protestant Church in Germany said it allowed such unions, it declined to comment on whether they should be welcomed or encouraged.