Once upon a time, during the Second World War, a young Lutheran priest in occupied Denmark began working for the resistance. From October 1943, he helped Jewish people contact other priests in order to arrange their escape to remote farms, and from there they would continue to Sweden, and safety.
This man was Johannes Langhoff, who was one of the pioneers of the international ecumenical movement. He played an important role in establishing the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and, of course, CEC.
I asked his friend and colleague Karsten Fledelius to tell me more about Johannes Langhoff. He got straight to the point: “He is very theological, and he has an ability to preach in a way that has theological substance, and communicate effectively. He is excellent as a preacher and a priest. He was one of the old school of good German-bred Lutherans, but he was never dogmatic and always open to other confessions.”
Langhoff, who is now in his 90s, was one of the key people in the early days of CEC, especially when five of the first six Assemblies were held in Denmark. He was part of an enthusiastic Danish grass-roots movement that helped CEC get off the ground.
A model priest
Karsten Fledelius adds that Johannes Langhoff is very kind and extremely modest.
I asked Karsten whether Johannes would like this article being written about him. “He would be embarrassed,” said Karsten, “but pleased. Because of the case – of ecumenism. He is dedicated to action of churches together and how faith can be reflected in how you act. In some ways he is a model priest.”
The 4th Assembly, in 1964, has attracted its own legendary status within CEC circles. Europe was in the grip of Cold War paranoia, and the authorities of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) were not prepared to allow the East German delegates to travel to Denmark.
In order for the Assembly to proceed with full participation, the organisers chartered a ship, the Bornholm, which sailed to international waters to pick up the East German delegates. The 4th Assembly was a great success. Despite the ship being rather cramped and not very comfortable there was a jamboree spirit. Karsten Fledelius says that he – and he is certain that Johannes Langhoff would say the same – would like to see some of the spirit and excitement of those early years return again.
Co-opted staff, Writer (Methodist Church of Great Britain)