Ruth Lagemann

consecrated sister, ccn, Liège (Belgium)

8 juin 2024

Foundation in Germany

An adventure beyond the walls…

A short history of the foundation of the Chemin Neuf community in Germany

The story begins in the 1970s, when the young Jesuit Laurent Fabre, then studying theology and psychology, discovered the dimension of life in the Spirit and experienced the Baptism in the Spirit. It was during a famous weekend in the mountains with a certain American Episcopalian, Marc Hofman, who would later become « brother Moses » in the « Jesus- bruderschaft », a German Lutheran community with an ecumenical vocation.

Hubertus Tommek, who was also a theology student in Lyon at the time, saw Laurent had been transformed by the experience, and wanted to take the same approach, so he prayed: « Jesus, until now you’ve given me sparkling water; today I’m asking you to give me your champagne! » This prayer was not without consequences…

It was twenty years later, in 1988, that

these two Jesuits, both founders of new communities, one in Berlin and the other in Lyon, met for a meeting of European charismatic leaders in Berlin. In the joy of the fraternal encounter and the sharing of what the Spirit had done in each of them, Hubertus invited Laurent to come and give a first Cana session in Berlin. « I’ll take care of the infrastructure, you come with your community and lead the session ».

So, in May 1989, the first Cana session took place in the Jesuit guest house in Kladow, West Berlin, not far from the old Berlin Wall, bringing together around ten couples from Berlin, Bavaria and Westphalia, both Catholic and Protestant.

A key moment was a time of prayer and

intercession in front of the wall with the session leaders, praying for unity and reconciliation between couples, churches and this country marked by the wall. A prophetic image was then given by one of the participants: it was a wall red with blood, over which a rainbow rose and made the color of the wall fade until it disappeared completely. This image is accompanied by Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17.

Who would have thought that, six months later, the wall would actually come down…? When, on the night of 9 to 10 November, this fall awakened and surprised the whole world, Hasso Beyer, the first German brother in the (still very French) community, gave up his service in the kitchen in les Pothières to join and serve an evangelical church, Südstern in Berlin, in order to keep abreast of events and prepare for a possible Chemin Neuf mission in the city.

Nine months after the first Cana session, around New Year’s Eve 1989-90, the couples returned to experience the Cana retreat in the same place, filled with wonder at the miracles the Lord had given them to experience in their hearts, their relationships and their countries!

It took some time to mature and to be patient, during which Hasso worked as a French military chaplain (!) in Berlin until the small house of the former Carmel in Pankow was proposed as the first community house. Finally, in 1994, Cardinal Sterzinsky proposed that the community should serve in the parish of the Sacred Heart of Prenzlauerberg, in a lively district of former East Berlin. This is how Father Hasso, ordained priest in 1992, came to settle in the presbytery with a small Chemin Neuf fraternity made up of two families and other consecrated celibates, to serve together in this place rich in history and still close to the old wall.

It will take time for this community from the West (« Wessis ») and the parishioners from the East (« Ossis ») to come to terms with each other, and the road to reconciliation and unity that Germany will have to travel after reunification in 1990, with its hopes, setbacks, wounds, misunderstandings, reconciliations, joys and sorrows, will also leave its mark on the life of the small community.

A language school, opened in 1997 in the parish buildings and welcoming young people mainly from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic… will open the doors between East and West for a trust that will grow little by little. The Alpha courses, strongly encouraged by the Cardinal (« I don’t know about Alpha, but I know about you. Go ahead and tell me how it’s going! »), brought a breath of fresh air to the parish, which was gradually transformed by the dozens of young adults baptized every Easter night.

The Community, which was still small, had to organise itself for each session and weekend and lived a nomadic life, looking for host houses for each session, bringing together participants from Berlin, Bavaria, Westphalia and later from elsewhere. Several « Come and see » sessions around New Year’s Eve in Berlin, with elements of spiritual and fraternal life and discovery of the city, while staying with local people, make it possible to grow an « international ecumenical fraternity » with people from all over Germany.

The lifelong commitment of Ruth, the first Lutheran in the community, opened doors for dialogue with the Lutheran Church in Berlin. Its bishop, Wolfgang Huber, and Isolde Boehm, one of the leaders, became friends and regular guests in the community. « Your vocation is to be like bridges between the churches, and this city, which has been marked by walls, needs bridges! » In June ’99, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche was the setting for Ruth’s (and Pater Gerold’s) sending off and official blessing before their life-long commitment, a few months before the joint declaration for justification.

Ruth lifetime commitment (on the left), 1999

This ecumenical commitment led to the creation of a small ecumenical centre, which opened its doors in Berlin-Mitte on 31 October 2004 and remained for several years a place of fraternal life, prayer, formation and meetings in the service of unity. Small and hidden away, this centre welcomed architects of unity such as Cardinal Walter Kasper, the co-signatory of the Augsburg Declaration, Bischof Christian Krause, Anba Damiaan, Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Germany, the Ecumenical Platform, and others. « Gemeinsam für Berlin/Together for Berlin », Methodist, Pentecostal and Moravian Brethren pastors… and was intended as a place of encouragement for church leaders.

A providential meeting in 2005 with Douglas Fernando, a Catholic real estate developer with Ignatian affinities, gave rise to a joint project with the Christkönig sisters, Dominican sisters in Berlin Lankwitz. Since 2006, a fraternity of the community has been running retreats, days of reflection, welcoming students and, after the departure of the nuns, continuing to keep this house as a house of prayer. The nuns’ founder already had an ecumenical heart and, since 2003, the crypt has welcomed an Orthodox community for its liturgy. With the small protestant temple next door, Chemin Neuf’s call to pray and work for Christian unity in this symbolically rich city at the heart of Europe remains very much alive.

The Holy Spirit can visit our stories, transforming our walls into bridges and inviting us to be his collaborators.

« May they be ONE so that the world may believe » (Jn 17) ■ R. L.

Cet article fait partie du numéro 078 de la revue FOI

CHEMIN NEUF CELEBRATES ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY

september-october-november 2023

Oecuménisme   Vie de la Communauté  

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