Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, already bishop for the state of Bavaria, has been named the new chairman of the EKD, a German umbrella organization of Protestant, Lutheran and reformist churches. He replaces Nikolaus Schneider.
Bedford-Strohm took up the top Protestant job in Germany a year earlier than planned, after his predecessor, Nikolaus Schneider, resigned prematurely in order to care for his sick wife.
The 54-year-old chairman of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD), the umbrella group combining 20 different Protestant churches in Germany, is the country’s leading Lutheran. Bedford-Strohm joined the body’s 15-member counsel last year, and was voted as its chairman by a large majority in Dresden on Tuesday. The EKD claims more than 23 million German believers.
Bedford-Strohm, a hobby violinist, is considered a liberal bishop who has voiced his admiration for Pope Francis’ attempts to make the Roman Catholic Church more modest. He also advocates that religious leaders make their voices heard on political issues.
“There are so many questions, where politics is seeking orientation,” the Bavarian bishop said. Recently, he has supported military intervention in Iraq against the self-proclaimed “Islamic State,” called on European countries to do more to help refugees trying to reach the Continent, mainly from Africa, and also urged swifter action to combat climate change.
On the ecumenical front, he has advocated a closer union within the EKD, currently a comparatively loose grouping of churches whose members retain a large degree of autonomy.
All-Bavarian bishops’ club
Prior to being named EKD chair, the loquacious bishop said that he hoped to improve cooperation between Christian denominations in Germany. To do this, he would be working with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Germany’s top Catholic and also the archbishop of Munich and Freising in Bavaria.
“I am confident that the positive ecumenical cooperation will continue with this new leadership of the EKD,” Marx wrote, congratulating Bedford-Strohm and saying that improved cooperation between Christian confessions was crucial for the church.
“I would like to tread this path, this responsibility now bestowed on both of us, together with you and I hope that we will make good steps forward during your time as chair of the EKD,” Marx said in his letter to his new Protestant counterpart.
Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer, a Catholic, also congratulated Bedford-Strohm on Tuesday, saying he “stood out” because of his “clear stances on social and ethical questions, his political consciousness and eloquence, and also a winning character.” Seehofer said that this “modern, communicative style” could help the church attract more young members.
Bedford-Strohm spent three years as Bavaria’s top Protestant bishop, a role he will retain as EKD chairman. He studied theology in Erlangen, Heidelberg and Berkeley in California. In one of his earlier jobs teaching theology and social ethics at Heidelberg, he worked as assistant to Wolfgang Huber, himself a former EKD chair.
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