Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who heads the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), described the move as, “yet another sign of the capacity of German Protestantism to engage in reform.”
The EKD, Germany’s main Protestant grouping, is in effect a federation of 22 autonomous regional churches, whose boundaries in many cases still follow the borders of the German princely kingdoms of 1815.
In 2007, the EKD said it needed to rationalize its structure, and strengthen its profile. Without such action, a church report said, the EKD would lose a third of its members and 50 percent of its income by 2030. The report suggested cutting the number of regional churches.
The March 28 decision by the three northern churches is the latest in a series of similar moves in other parts of Germany. Still, Huber noted that it would be the first time that a merger had brought together regional churches from the former East and West Germany.
Huber said that this would help to bring together the “different traditions and experiences from East and West”, 20 years after the peaceful revolution in East Germany that led to German unification in 1990.
The North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church is located in the former West Germany, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg, and the
Evangelical Church of Pomerania are based in what was communist-ruled East Germany.
They agreed the new church would be created by 2012. The proposed new church, with about 2.4 million members, will be Germany’s fifth biggest and
will cover the states of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Slightly fewer than 25 million of Germany’s 82 million people belong to the regional churches that make up the EKD.
At the beginning of 2009, two regional churches in eastern Germany merged.
Then, in March, the five regional Protestant churches in Lower Saxony in northwest Germany agreed to consider proposals to form a united church. In 2004, the 1.2-million member Evangelical Church in Berlin Brandenburg in eastern Germany merged with a much smaller 63 000-member regional church in the Silesian Oberlausitz on the border to Poland.