It is my high honor to welcome Dr. Werner Krätschell to St. James’ pulpit on March 22, at our 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services.
When the Berlin Wall sealed the border between East and West Germany in 1961, Werner Krätschell at age 21 was on vacation in Sweden. He made the courageous decision to cross the Wall back into the East zone, knowing he might never be able to leave, but knowing also that his life’s vocation as a pastor would be needed there.
During WWII, young Werner spent much of his early years with relatives outside Berlin because of the intense bombing. After the war he and his family settled in East Berlin, the Communist zone. There his parents and later his own wife and four children had to live ‘under the radar’ as practicing Christians. He took his theological degree at the East Berlin Hochschule für Theologie. Starting as pastor of one congregation, he eventually became superintendent of 24 parishes. In this capacity he became the protector of the anti-government peace movement, and his local church and parsonage were the meeting point for leaders of the opposition to the government. The STASI (East German secret police) dedicated six officers specifically to investigate and harass him, and many officers included him in their espionage portfolios.
In 1985, Coventry Cathedral in Great Britain named him Companion of the Order of the Cross of Nails, in honor of his role in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation. This occurred after his first visit in the USA with mostly Episcopal congregations linked with Coventry Cathedral, when he spoke about the meaning of Christian life behind the Iron Curtain, especially in East Germany.
When the Wall fell in November 1989, he was instrumental in the peaceful transition from the Communist authoritarianism to democracy. As a moderator of the Round Tables of East Berlin and Pankow, he was was de facto head of East Berlin, then the capital of East Germany, for a short time until a government could be formed with elected officials.
In 1997 he was given the task of establishing a chaplaincy in the military of former East Germany, which had been by law atheistic.
Dr. Krätschell spoke at the Opening Convocation of Furman University in 2002 on the first anniversary of 9.11, at which time Furman conferred on him the Doctorate of Humanities. On return visits to Furman, he has been named Visiting Professor and Visiting Lecturer.
He has been twice interviewed on National Public Radio’s ‘All Things Considered’; featured in a recent NY Times article on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall; been subject of ‘The File,’ a book by historian Timothy Garton Ash on the STASI records; and has written numerous articles and his own book, published in 2019 and in its third printing, ‘Die Macht der Kerzen’ (The Power of the Candles), concerning the peace movement’s role in the miraculous peaceful transition from totalitarianism to democracy.