North Wiltshire Methodist Circuit

We are a discipleship movement shaped for mission

The Power of Candles and Prayer

On 30th June 2014 Pastor Christian Fuhrer died in in Leipzig aged 71. The name will mean nothing to many - it didn't to me if I’m honest. And yet Christian Fuhrer was one of the great Christian leaders of the late 20th century. But until I stumbled cross his obituary in The Independent newspaper at the time, I wasn’t aware of him – though I was well aware of his actions.

Mr Fuhrer was born during the Second World War in Nazi Germany. With the ending of the war he found himself in East Germany living under Communist rule.

He worked initially in a car factory and at other times had jobs as a telegram delivery boy and as a waiter on a train. But all the while he was being called to ministry and from 1968 to 1980 he was a pastor of several different churches. In 1980 he became pastor of the Church of St Nicholas in Leipzig.

It was at this church that he started Monday evening prayers for peace. Gradually over several years these became the focal point for East Germans protesting against the regime led by Erich Honecker.

Skip forward to 1989. Over the summer of that year, the Communist government in Hungary opened its borders to allows its citizens access to neighbouring Austria. There were still controls, but this was a new development.

Naturally, people in other Eastern bloc countries heard about this and wanted the same. And the people of East Germany were no different.

By October 1989 there was noticeable unrest – particularly in Leipzig. And on Monday 9th October 1989 about 70,000 people took to the streets – in peace at Pastor Fuhrer’s urging – to protest, after 500 Honecker loyalists had occupied the seats of the church during the prayer session. Clutching candles and flowers the people peacefully protested. There were few arrests and no bloodshed. One police officer said afterwards “We were ready for anything except candles and prayer”

Leipzig

In an interview in 2009 Christian Fuhrer said “What I saw that evening still gives me the shivers today. And if anything deserves the word 'miracle’ at all, then this was a miracle of Biblical proportions. We succeeded in bringing about a revolution which achieved Germany’s unity... It was a peaceful revolution after so much violence and so many wars that we, the Germans, so often started. I will never forget that day.” (Quoted in his obituary in the Daily Telegraph 1st July 2014)

The following week 120,000 people turned up for the vigil. The week after that 320,000. On 9th November the Berlin Wall came down.

“We were ready for anything except candles and prayer”

This year Germany celebrates 30 years since the wall came down. 30 years of that country being at peace with itself and with others.

I am one of those Christians who really struggles with prayer. I know I should pray more than I do. I find it difficult to find the right words. I lead prayers week in week out for peace in the world and look at the state the world is in. I look at the divisions in this country and know I’ve prayed about that and things continue the same way. And sometimes I wonder what is the point?

But then I read Christian Fuhrer’s story and I have to think again. For this story shows me the power of prayer. Yes, I still wonder why if so many people are praying for peace, why doesn’t God do something? But then maybe the secret lies in the story of Christian Fuhrer and the Leipzig protests. Not only were the people in his church praying for peace, they ensured peace was practiced not just preached as it were. (Surely though there must have been something miraculous in a protest of 70,000 not turning violent?)

“We were ready for anything except candles and prayer”

Revd David Gray