Rosalind’s Adventures in the Rheinland

Week Five of my Vikariat at the Bergkirche, Wiesbaden

Sitting, as I do every morning, out my casement attic window, I have a Mary Poppins view of the church’s upper façade just a few yards away. I’m usually awake before 6, but if it’s been a late night, the stonecutter’s preparation for another day of work is my alarm. The cutting of sandstone sounds very like a dentist’s drill, maybe for a giant. But despite the noise and the dust it is fascinating to see worn bits of the church’s exterior transformed by stone that has been taken from the same quarry as the originals back in the 1870s. The stonecutter is a young man, very lean, with long blonde hair and beard that are saturated with fine stone dust by mid-morning. He works in solitary silence except when large pieces have to be set - then two or three will work together to set the stone.

Both before and after the setting, the stonecutter examines and re-examines his work, running his fingers over every divot and every seam. If you look at the interior layer of scaffolding, you can see his dark overalls, and his hand caressing a newly set piece of stone.

I admire the work of craftspeople, and remember nostalgically my days of designing, sewing, fitting and refitting ballet costumes for Studio Maestro galas in years past. There is something both earthy and ephemeral about the merging of imagination and body in the creation of form, function, and beauty out of unformed stuff: fabric, stone, mud. Craftspeople get to re-enact the creation myth in their daily work: Let us create this thing in the image and likeness of ourselves. The imagination of me, like the imagination of God, imbues the things I create with visible representations of my image and likeness - male and female nouns that connote external (tselem) and internal (demut) qualities of the creator: the stonecutter; me; God.

Every day has been full of activity. With two pastors here, there is rarely a day that doesn’t contain a number of pastoral obligations. Yesterday, for example, I met with Pastor Markus Nett and lay Clergyman Mr. Schu of Maria-Hilf Roman Catholic Church, to plan the festive ecumenical church service that welcomes the new first-graders into the life of “big kid” school. The two pastors are good friends, and couldn’t help falling right into the kind of laughter and teasing that made me think of the 7th grade boys I’d known. Amid the laughter, we crafted what I think will be a really fun introduction to school for these children. Both pastors make a concerted effort to counteract the fear many German parents plant in their children’s hearts when they tell them that, “Now school work begins in earnest!” I suggested one of them dress up as a clown named “Earnest.”

Two hours later, Markus and I met with a couple in their late 40s to discuss the funeral of the man’s aunt. Frequently choking down tears, he told the story of an opinionated, often embarrassingly forthright, independent woman whose generosity was so much a part of her personality she didn’t recognize it as anything but normal. After the war, the young girl gave up her opportunity to continue her education in order to support her brother’s university education and training as a physician. Her mother bought destroyed houses which the daughter took part in rebuilding and then in being the rental manager for the properties. Her beloved partner of fifty years, Marguerite, loved to do housing renovations and was still climbing ladders in her 80s. This woman, whose burial is tomorrow, never stopped learning or gave up the dream of completing her education. At the age of 70 she was awarded a PhD. She died only a couple of months after her “heart’s friend” Marguerite died of Alzheimer’s disease.

I could fill pages with stories of the people I meet and work with. As I rang the apartment bell with birthday card and greetings from the church last Friday, a stern woman, loaded with groceries, confronted me on the sidewalk. “Who do you want?” she demanded. I told her. “What do you want with her?” Delivering birthday greetings from the Bergkirche.

Under her breath, barely, she said, “not a word all year, then they come by on your birthday - bahh!” With that she shoved a 12-roll pack of toilet paper into my arms and led me into the courtyard. Over the next hour I heard her story: prison camp interment, caring for her daughter, stricken with MS, every day and through her death. Mrs. Simon was 83 when her daughter died. We made plans to see each other again, me silently vowing that this year at least Mrs. Simon will get more than one ‘church lady’ visit.

Rosalind Gnatt serves as a long-term volunteer with the Evangelical Church of Hesse-Nassau, Germany.  She serves in a pastoral leadership position in a local congregation, in coordination with the regional church body (EKHN), and the New York Conference.