Monday, 25 June 2012

Sunday at the American Church in Berlin


A different Sunday
If I did move to Berlin as has been a desire for as long as I can remember, I have wondered what church will be like. Amazing, wonderful, interesting and different.
I as returned from watching the revelling crowds yesterday, from the comfort of my seat on the metro I saw the sign on a church “American Church in Berlin” it read with services commencing at 11:00AM.
In all my time of visiting Berlin, I have never had the pleasure of doing church and so this was an opportunity to attend and get a feel of the community spirit the church contains.
Claiming it was ecumenical meant I will find the service familiar though from a distant past since I have for decades had a more Pentecostal bent to my faith. I have at times lamented the absence of liturgy and solemnity in our somewhat rambunctious services but I realise I need to lose some of my stodginess too.
Familiar familiarity
A traditional church with spire, bells peeling as the call to service, I crossed the road as I saw other congregants walk towards the entrance so already identifiable with head-ties that redolent of Nigeria ladies but without the flashy ostentation of the Yoruba of the South-West, I will suppose they will attend the more Pentecostal variety somewhere else in Berlin – mixed couples, not a few and of all races from many places.
At the door, I was greeted and ushered in, given a hefty hymnal which contained the order of service, we were celebrating the birth of John the Baptist that scripture says was 6 months older than Jesus Christ and acknowledging the work of the choirs in the church.
Looking up to the ceilings and rafters, the craftsmanship of church buildings of old were evident in how they inspired awe and to the front were stained glass windows after some modernist design and in the nave were pews. Pews, with kneeling planks, rests for books and on backs of the pews in front were hooks for bag straps to which I hung my hat, knowing that men don’t don hats in church apart from the bishopric with mitres and other clergy with their cloth caps.
Tradition flowed without any of the assumed lifelessness the Pentecostals had consigned to the established church. I was back in the familiar High-Church Anglican settings of my childhood.
Welcomes in difference
A welcome greeting was given by the pastor who did not go by title or letters and visitors were asked to introduce themselves. We were given the microphone to tell a little about ourselves, our names, where were from, what brought us to Berlin and what we plan to do next after which each visitor was applauded and the call to worship was made read alternately by the pastor and the congregants from the Psalms.
We shared the peace by shaking hands with each other and sang the first hymn to the music of the pipe organ. The hymnal was a bit difficult to get used to because the words were sent within the musical scores as if we were readers of words and music alike, though readers of music will automatically know how to sing the hymns.
Peculiar things
The reading of words of prayer as alternate acts between the pastor and the congregants made for engagement and interaction before the children were called forward for their portion of the service called Children’s Time – a mini Sunday School session where a teacher engaged the kids in conversation, shared a story and then they prayed together before the kids returned to the company of their parents or guardians.
The contemporary choir then stepped forward to sing a song in a traditional arrangement accompanied by piano and we clapped after that performance, which I felt unusual but interesting.
The first lesson we read from the lectern by a member of the laity with all the evidence to my hearing of a South-Eastern Nigerian English accent at the end of which we all chorused – Thanks be to God.
The chamber choir which I think is the main choir of the church then stepped forward to sing in canticles the Psalm that was the call to worship accompanied by flute and piano to the music of JS Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze, even I was amazed at my recollection of the title of this classical piece.
John the Baptist
The second lesson was read before the gospel was read announcing the circumcision and naming of John the Baptist to which we all intoned at the end. Praise to you, O Christ.
The sermon was delivered with the title Living in the Spirit and with it came interesting insights I had never considered before. The fact that John the Baptist who came to announce the coming of Jesus Christ was born of a woman, Elizabeth who was well past child-bearing age and Jesus Christ who was born of a virgin, Mary, a cousin of Elizabeth juxtaposing the old and to be done away ushering in the new.
He also dwelt on the life of John, his message and then the doubts he encountered when he sent his disciples to ask Jesus even after the great episode of the baptism where Jesus was the one to come or that there was another to come, with Jesus giving assurances that He was the one.
John had witnessed before that Jesus Christ must increase and he, John the Baptist must decrease.
After the sermon, the chamber choir stepped forward again and with the congregants we sang each alternate verse of Jesus Shall Reign.
More recitations
The apostle’s creed we recited using the Church of England – Common Worship version, it is amazing how many of the creeds exist in variation for liturgical and catechism reasons. To think I intend to visit Wittenberg-Lutherstadt where Martin Luther’s 95 theses created the schism that brought forth the Reformation and Protestantism will be interesting.
For the offering and offertory, the Gospel Choir stepped forward and this is quite different, accompanied by piano that appeared to lag the singing, it was uplifting and joyful. Three different choirs in the church and the pastor seemed to have a part in all of them.
At prayer, we all read prayers and then the microphone was offered for people to step forward and announce what prayers they wanted us to be in agreement with after which we said the Lord’s Prayer and heard the benediction.
In closing
The chamber choir sang another hymn and all the leaders of the choirs, the music ministry coordinators and all involved in music were acknowledged, appreciated and thanked before the service closed.
The pastor received us as we stepped out of church and amidst the tradition, you could sense a strong community spirit though the extreme contrariness of my host attempting to clear rationality will suggest the church was isolated – I could only differ but his forcefulness did make him a rather fascinating person quite steeped in interesting preconception I could hardly identify with.
This could quite well be a church for me, if I did move to Berlin.
The American Church in Berlin - The Luther Church on B├╝lowstrasse at Dennewitzplatz in 10783 Berlin-Sch├Âneberg. Services at 11:00AM on Sundays.
How to get there.

1 comment: