Last summer I went to a German Evangelical Church in a small town, Birkenfeld. The German Evangelical church is the main grouping of non-catholic churches. My knowledge of the German language is patchy, enough to follow where we were in the service, but not word for word. So I found myself comparing the form of the service with our Church of England Services.
The service was very similar in many ways. The service was a type of Morning Worship, with the addition that day of a Christening. The music was led by a traditional organ. The hymn book looked at least 50 years old and was clearly traditional. We sat in wooden box pews, which had a smattering of cushions for the regulars. The baptism party sat right at the front, while everyone else sat towards the middle and back of the church. Most of the regulars were middle-aged to elderly. But the baptism party included quite a few teenagers and children, all dressed up very smartly, with the teenaged boys especially looking a bit uncomfortable in their suits.
There were some minor differences, mainly about when we stood and when we sat. So we stood for the intercession prayers, and sat for most of the hymns. They had given up on kneeling during the service, just like us.
After the service we all filed out past the Pastor, who shook our hand and had a more extended chat with those he knew best. I must have stood out as a visitor, as I am quite hard to miss. And I don’t think my German greeting was convincing enough for a native speaker. Anyway, no-one attempted to talk to me, and I headed back to the holiday camp.
I’ve been to church on holiday, or when working abroad, in all sorts of places, from Bangkok Anglican Cathedral to an Ethiopian Coptic church in the village where Emperor Haile Selassie was born. Each church has given me something to compare and contrast with church at home. That particular German church had quite a lot to say about tradition and change. It faced the same issues that so many of our churches face. There were the issues of an ageing congregation and only a small proportion of the locals attending church. I felt that church had not changed much in response, unlike some other German churches I’ve been to.
I know some people find it hard to go to church on holiday. You don’t know what is going to happen, and they might not be friendly. Or they might be too friendly! It takes a bit of effort to find a church and a service time. But in general, I’ve found that attending churches elsewhere has been very enriching. It helps me feel part of the world-wide church. Usually I’ve had a very warm welcome, and a vivid reminder of our common faith, among our local variations.
Of course, most of the people we are seeking to draw into our churches here will be feeling much the same sorts of thing. People who come to our church for the first time, or after a long gap, often experience similar things to when we go to a church on holiday. So going to church elsewhere can also help us look at ourselves, for example at our own welcome, and our personal part in being friendly.
I look forward to hearing about your experiences of church elsewhere. Perhaps some of you might like to write about them in the magazine?