rn:Beautiful Resistance (We were prepared…but not for candles & prayers)


Jan Slakov

From: "Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space"
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2001 07:36:06 -0500


As we face a new year with great challenges I thought you might enjoy this
beautiful story of resistance sent to us by Gary Kohls from Duluth.  Best
wishes in the New Year to all.  Bruce Gagnon

Members of Peace UCC of Duluth, Minnesota have been gathering for a Peace
Prayer vigil in the sanctuary every Monday night at 5 pm. The vigil is part
of a world-wide network of faith-based peacemakers who pray in silence or
share meditative readings in sorrowful solidarity with all those who are
suffering from violence and oppression in the warzones of the world.
The Monday night gatherings have been going on in churches in the former
East Germany since the mid-1980s and were the major factor in the collapse
of East Germany's totalitarian regime and the fall of the Berlin Wall in

A more complete history of the Monday Peace Prayers follows and hard copies
are available in the brochure rack in the Peace UCC church narthex. The
vigils will be held indefinitely, or until true peace is at hand, whichever
comes first. All faith-based peacemakers who are concerned about the rapidly
spreading military violence in the world and who may need the solace of
silent prayer and companionship with others of like mind are invited to join
or start Peace Prayer vigils of their own somewhere. Gary


In early November 2001, I was one of eighteen members of two Lutheran
congregations in the Madison, WI area who visited the former east Germany as
part of a 13-day "heritage tour."  I knew that the churches of east Germany
had been vital to the nonviolent revolutions which brought down the
Communist governments of eastern Europe in 1989. But hearing and reading the
stories of people who were involved in this historic time, actually sitting
in the pews of one of the those churches and lightening a peace candle
there, has strengthened my resolve to practice nonviolence.

The place we visited is the Nicolaikirche (St Nicholas Church) built in 1165
in the center of a cobblestone square in the inner city of Leipzig.  The
story actually begins in the late 1970s or early 1980s when there were huge
demonstrations all over Europe to protest the arms race.  But in East
Germany there was no neutral space to discuss and reflect on public issues
except for the churches.  It was in this context that a youth group from a
congregation in eastern Leipzig started "peace prayers" every Monday at 5 pm
at the Nicolaikirche.  Soon "Bausoldaten" (people who rendered their
compulsory military service by serving in special, unarmed units) came,
followed by environmental activists and people interested in third world
issues.  Together they tried to stir the public's conscience and encourage

That made the Stasi (State Security Police) and SED (the ruling Communist
Party) officials come to see what was going on.  Soon applicants for
emigration and other regime critics came -- along with Christian and
non-Christian citizens of Leipiz and other parts of East Germany.  The
government reacted.  From the May 8 1989, the access roads to the
Nicolaikirche were checked and blocked by the police.  Later the autobahn
exits to Leipzig were subject to large-scale checks or even closed during
the time of the prayers for peace. Monday after Monday there were arrests or
"temporary detentions." Yet the people continued to gather.

By September, the 2000 seats in the church were filled and people coming out
of the church were joined by tens of thousands waiting in the Square
outside.  All held lighted candles in their hands and slowly they began to
move toward the ring road that surrounds the city center.  Helmut Junghans,
a retired professor at the University of Leipzig said:  "It started with 5
or 6 but each week there were more of us praying for peace. Eventually  we
filled the church and then the square around the church and then we spilled
onto the ring road surrounding the old part of Leipzig.  Eventually there
were 300,000 of us marching past the Stasi headquarters.  Chants of 'We are
the people' began and then soon changed to 'We are one people.' But there
was not one broken shop window and there was no violence."

October 7, 1989 was the 40th anniversary of the GDR. The authorities cracked
down and for ten long hours uniformed police battered defenseless people who
made no attempt to fight back and took them away in trucks. Hundreds were
locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. The press published an article saying
it was high time to put an end to the "counter-revolution," if needs be by

On Monday, October 9, 1989 "everything was at stake" because the order to
shoot the protesters had been given.  Rev. C. Fuhrer, describes the day as
".1,000 SED party members had been ordered to go to the Nicholaikirche.
Some 600 of them had already filled up the church nave by 2 pm.  They had a
job to perform like the Stasi personnel who were on hand regularly and in
great numbers at the peace prayers.And so it was that these people,
including SED party members.heard from Jesus who said: "Blessed are the
 poor"! And not: Anyone with money is happy.

Jesus said: "Love your enemies"!  Instead of: Down with your opponent.
Jesus said: "Many who are first will be last"! And not: Everything stays the
Jesus said: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it and whosoever
will lose his life for my sake shall find it"!  And not: Take great care.
Jesus said: "You are the salt"!  And not: You are the cream.

The prayers for peace took place in unbelievable calm and concentration.
Shortly before the end, before the bishop gave his blessing, appeals by
Professor Masur, chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and others who
supported our call for non-violence, were read out.  This mutuality in such
a threatening situation is also important, this solidarity between church
and art, music and gospel.

And so these prayers for peace ended with the bishop's blessing and the
urgent call for non-violence. And as we--more than 2,000 persons--came out
of the church--I'll never forget the sight--tens of thousands were waiting
outside in the Square.  They all had candles in their hands.  If you carry a
candle, you need two hands.  You have to prevent the candle from going out.
You cannot hold a stone or a club in your hand. And the miracle came to
pass.  Jesus' spirit of nonviolence seized the masses and became a material,
peaceful power.  Troops, industrial militia groups, and the police were
drawn in, became engaged in conversations, then withdrew.  It was an evening
in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no victors or vanquished,
no-one triumphed over the other, no one lost face."

Not a shot was fired. On Monday, October 16, the peace prayers continued (as
they do to this day) and 120,000 people were in the streets of Leipzig
demanding democracy and free elections.  On October 18, Erich Honecker, the
leader of the ruling SED party resigned. Nonviolent protests were held all
over Germany, including one with one half million people in East Berlin on
November 4th.  On November 7, 1989 the entire government of the GDR
resigned. On November 9th the crossing points of the Wall in  East Berlin
opened. Seven months later the entire border regime of the GDR (symbolized
by Checkpoint Charlie) came to an end. On October 3, 1990 Germany was

Sindermann, who was a member of the Central Committee of the GDR, said
before his death: "We had planned everything.  We were prepared for
everything.  But not for candles and prayers."

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