Germany’s Protestants elect steel worker’s son as new leader

November 18, 2010

TRIER, Germany

The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the country’s main Protestant grouping, has elected the Rev. Nikolaus Schneider as its head and the senior representative of German Protestantism.

The 63-year old theologian was elected chairperson of the EKD Council on Nov. 9 by an overwhelming majority of delegates at a meeting in the northern German city of Hanover. He was the only candidate and received 135 of the 143 valid votes.

“The whole of the commitment for which I stand is in the first place a spiritual commitment,” Schneider said after his election, the German Protestant news agency epd reported. As other priorities Schneider mentioned social issues and continuing with a process of reform within the EKD, which accounts for about 24 million Protestants from Germany’s 82 million people

Schneider is now the official successor to Bishop Margot Kässmann who in October 2009 was elected as the first woman to lead the EKD. She resigned in February after a drunk-driving offense, and Schneider became acting chairperson.

His two predecessors — Kässmann and the Berlin bishop, Wolfgang Huber — were known as media personalities who did not shy away from confrontation or controversy.

Schneider is seen by analysts as having a different public personality, being more of a team-player and reconciler of divergent opinions within the EKD.

But as the son of a steel worker from the industrial Ruhr area of western Germany, he has spoken out on poverty and on social and economic issues. He has also criticized an extension of the lifespan of country’s nuclear power plants, urging instead the development of renewable energy sources.

Schneider said after his election to the EKD post he would remain in contact with the government about the energy issue but said he was only “somewhat optimistic” that the current coalition would change its standpoint.

Schneider is president of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, one of the 22 regional Lutheran, Reformed and United churches that make up the EKD.

Addressing the EKD synod, its highest governing body, on Nov. 7, Schneider warned against a heated debate in Germany about immigration. “We do not need agitators but we deserve a clear analysis, patience, pragmatism and creativity,” he told delegates.

Schneider studied theology in Wuppertal, Göttingen and Münster before becoming a pastor in the Ruhr area. Schneider comes from a church with a strong Reformed tradition, while his deputy is a Lutheran, the 60-year old bishop of Saxony, Jochen Bohl.