Springtime greetings on this cold and cloudy first of February here in the Rheingau! And yes, we do feel like spring has sprung – at least for our tiny congregation. Little more than 2 months ago, it was still unclear whether we would be allowed to continue into 2018: our 3-year “test phase” was coming to an end and our congregation had been given the task of raising 15,000 Euros to cover the majority of costs for the 2018 operating costs. One might think that such a sum would be easy in the wealthiest country in Europe, but this is a country where church tax has been in place since 1830. If you check the box ‘Protestant,’ or ‘Catholic’ or ‘Jewish’ on your employment form, the equivalent of 8% of your federal tax is taken from your paycheck and given to the national administration of your faith. So, the old phrase, “I gave at the office,” is a reality here. Weekly offerings are generally a bit of small change. Annual pledging is practically unheard of.
Well, we not only managed to raise the required 15,000 – we exceeded the mark! With a membership that has grown from 5 in February of 2015 to 50 in February of 2018, we are grateful and so happy to be able to say, as Steven Sondheim’s song from the musical Follies so aptly says, we’re still here! Of course, we will have to meet or exceed this amount for 2019 and on into the future – another psychological, as well as practical challenge for us.
Why are we growing at a time when most congregations are losing members? It is apparent to me that, though Church as an institution seems increasingly irrelevant to many people, the need for spiritual fellowship is more relevant than ever. Our worship and other activities, in which we reflect both the traditions of the mainstream Evangelical Church along with the atmosphere of warmth and inclusion that is a part of my faith experience in the UCC, provides opportunity for participation, for critically thinking about the Bible and its relevance to our 21st century lives and for a variety of musical expression in worship.
Last night, a pastoral colleague and I sat in a café here in the Bergkirche Quarter and, as often happens, we fell into conversation with a woman who was sharing a tiny table with us. I had a copy of this Sunday’s bulletin in my hand, which prompted the woman to tell her story of why she left the church, a story of alienation from what she, in her teens, took for dry arrogance. At the end of her story she said, “What does this group of old men have to say to me, a middle-aged woman, that has any relevance to my life? I’m a believer, but I don’t believe the Church cares about me.” Actually, the vast majority of pastors here care a great deal. The Evangelical Church of Hessen-Nassau has sponsored any number of projects to reawaken interest in church. One of the projects is called “Spürbare Sonntag,” or “a Sunday to notice.” It is a take on “Bring a friend to church Sunday” and has had some positive effect.
There is a small group of pastors and theologians here in Wiesbaden, as of yet, all women, who are interested in what we’re doing. Because our worship takes place later than the “traditional” 10:00 services, they often come to worship with us, take part in our Dinner Church and also in our Thursday evening discussion circle. These women, in my opinion, represent the strongest reason for our work: what started out as an outreach to English speakers is hopefully becoming a partnership in learning as we look at what Church can mean, honoring the meaningful traditions of the German Protestant Church, along with our UCC traditions.
Our mission here is evolving. The Wiesbaden contingent of our UCC-EKHN Partnership committee met recently with Dr. Martin Mencke to discuss future partnership activities that would benefit not only the partnership participants, but a broader church-wide understanding of the similarities and differences within and among our churches. Last summer’s meeting of UCC pastors and lay members, who we had the pleasure of hosting, focused on issues related to the church’s participation in the refugee crisis. There is interest on this side of our partnership in how sanctuary churches and cities in the US are putting into practice the phrase that the German theologian Martin Niemöller used: What would Jesus do? Of course, Niemöller didn’t invent the phrase; he said however, that his break with Nazism came when he finally asked himself that short, but not at all simple, question.
UCC/EKHN in the Protestant Deanery of Wiesbaden
Rosalind Gnatt serves as a long-term volunteer with the Evangelical Church of Hesse-Nassau. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.