Evangelische Kirche, Ruppertenrod, Hesse, Germany


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Evangelische Kirche
Location: Ruppertenrod, Hesse, Germany
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 August 2019, 9:15am

The building

A timber framed Baroque hall church, built in 1711, replacing an older church. It is protected as an historic monument. Two sides of the church are covered with wooden shingles, which hide the timber framework on these sides. Timber framed churches were built in rural villages that did not have building stone in the area or were not wealthy enough to afford a stone church. There are about 75 timber framed churches in Germany. The inside of the church is reminiscent of the church in Torgau that Luther designed as the first Lutheran church. In the middle is an altar that serves as a table. To the immediate right is the baptismal font. Further to the right is the elevated pulpit. Above the altar is the organ. This configuration illustrates the Lutheran conviction that the church is founded upon Word and Sacrament, which enable a congregation to glorify God (symbolised by the organ in the front).

The church

In 1550 the first Lutheran minister was installed. This church is located on the pilgrim path ‘Luther’s Way 1521,’ which was opened in 2017 to commemorate the 375 mile/600 kilometer route that Luther took from Wittenberg to Worms, where he refused to repudiate his writings while standing as a defendant before Emperor Carl V (‘Here I stand’). The churches on this pilgrim route are accessible daily; one can call the telephone number of a local person with the key to the church. A specialty of this congregation is the annual reproduction of classic works of art using grains, seeds, rice, beans, flowers, herbs, and spices by a dedicated group of women, known as the ‘Grain Picture Women.’ These depictions are fashioned on the floor of the chancel at the end of September and remain until Reformation Day (October 31). This year’s portrayal will be the 21st.

The neighborhood

The oldest documented reference to Ruppertenrod was in 1151. Today, the village has a population of 760. It is located in Upper Hesse, which is in the middle of Germany. The surrounding landscape consists of hills, river valleys, forests, meadows and agricultural fields. The area has many small villages, some of which also have timber framed churches. The Evangelische Kirche, Ruppertenrod, is located on a traffic island, encompassed by two intersecting streets.

The cast

The pastor (Pfarrer) of the parish led the service, preached, and played the guitar.

What was the name of the service?

Gottesdienst (Service of God).

How full was the building?

About half full. Thirty sat below in the nave, ten more in the balcony.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No personal welcome. It was assumed, on the basis of the posted hymn numbers, that visitors would know that they needed two hymn books.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was padded, making it comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People entered quietly and stood for a moment of silent prayer before sitting down. There was hardly any conversation – not even the sound of whispering could be heard. The only noise was caused by persons walking up the old creaky stairs to the balcony – a remnant of earlier times when men sat exclusively in the balcony and the women below.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘A hearty welcome to this Service of God today.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Evangelisches Gesangbuch and EG+ (supplement to the hymn book).

What musical instruments were played?

Organ built by Friedrich Bernhard in 1851; guitar (by the Pfarrer).

Did anything distract you?

On the ground floor there are three milky windows through which street traffic could be seen – occasional cars and bicyclists passing by outside were minor distractions. As the pastor spoke the words of consecration of holy communion, an assistant moved around immediately beside him and behind him, preparing the altar area for the distribution; this distracted from the sacredness of this moment. The form of distribution was announced, but the procedure was not quite clear until we had the chance to observe communicants in front of us: worshippers who came forward to the altar took an individual cup at a side table. Those who wanted an alcohol-free communion took a cup already filled with grape juice; those who wanted wine took an empty cup into which wine was poured from a flagon after the distribution of bread. There was also another distraction regarding communion – see below.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The worship was a calm, informal service with an abridged Lutheran liturgy. It was advertised as a ‘birthday service,’ which meant that those who had a birthday in the previous month were honoured at the beginning of the service with a Taize song, and after the service there was an Umtrunk (a round of drinks). Also, at the beginning, the pastor announced the name of a parishioner who had died and had been given a Christian burial; he lit a candle for the deceased, placed it on the altar, and greeted the family members and friends who were in attendance. Later in the service, the deceased and the mourners were included in the intercessions. With one exception, the six hymns were contemporary, three of which the pastor accompanied with guitar. Two of the songs were rhythmically challenging. Although the singing was subdued, I had the impression that the congregation appreciated the attempt to enliven the service. As the pastor invited the congregation to come forward for holy communion, a voice in the congregation said, ‘Herr … would you like to say some words about communion?’ – a reminder that the pastor had forgotten to consecrate the bread and wine with what Lutherans call ‘the words of institution’ (‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night in which was betrayed …’). The pastor said in response, ‘This has never happened to me in ten years of ministry.’

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 — The pastor spoke with clear diction and it was easy to follow his train of thought.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Eating together at a table establishes a sense of fellowship and community; it has been called the ‘backbone of human togetherness.’ It is especially crucial in the Church, where we celebrate communion with one another and receive life eternal from Christ, the Bread of Life. Table fellowship is also an act of reconciliation, at which God himself is present.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The heavenly moment came before the service: seeing the red timber framework of the church in the bright morning sunshine and entering the colourful and cheerful sanctuary was heavenly. This church has a warmth and lightness that a stone church cannot convey. For many years I had wanted to experience worship in such a church.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

In a small rural village church a stranger stands out like a sore thumb. It begins with the drive to the church. In Germany, the first letter or letters on a car license plate indicate the city in which the car is registered. As we approached the church, it was immediately obvious to people standing on the street that we came from a certain big city quite a few miles away. As we parked our car, we were openly stared at – as though we had arrived in a helicopter. I do not delight in being so conspicuous.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We hung around at the back. However, people did not leave through the main door at the back, but instead went out through a side door leading to a place on the traffic island that offers space to congregate for the after-service drink or to sit under a tree.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Non-alcoholic champagne was offered after the service as part of the celebration of birthdays in the previous month. The champagne is a well-known brand in Germany: Rotkäpchen (equivalent to ‘Little Red Riding Hood’). It tastes better in its vintage form, but the non-alcoholic version can be drunk by children and drivers. A few people engaged us in friendly conversation.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 — This church is delightful, but for the sake of variety I would try to visit a timber frame church in another village.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The pastor forgetting to consecrate the bread and wine and being reminded to do so by a congregant. This was an absolutely charming moment, which made the service human and unforgettable.

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