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  1235: Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche, Bayreuth, Germany

Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche, Bayreuth, Germany

Mystery Worshipper: The Burning Bush.
The church: Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche, Bayreuth, Germany.
Denomination: Evangelist-Reformed Church in Bavaria.
The building: This beautiful sandstone church building dates from 1743. It borders the street in line with other houses, is flanked by two capital archways, and is decorated with a tiny steeple. The main auditorium is on the first floor and is L-shaped with two beautiful church windows, on the right and on the left of the pulpit and altar. It was difficult to find the entrance, as the main door seemed to be locked and the snow on the steps had not been swept away. After lingering about a bit, I followed some people who went through an archway that led to the rear entrance.
The church: This church is the only Reformed church in Bayreuth (the town is estimated to be 70 per cent Lutheran). The parish was established in 1687 by Huguenots and is rather large.
The neighbourhood: Bayreuth was founded in the late 12th century. The composers Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner both made their homes there. During the Nazi era, the annual operatic festival in honour of Wagner was frequently visited by Nazis, who tried to turn Bayreuth into a model Nazi town. The town was heavily bombed during World War II. The church is situated on an arterial road, but if you turn into the archway you come into a sheltered close and the noise of the traffic dies away. On the other side of the road (one block away) there is a large cemetery – a rather quiet neighbourhood as one might say.
The cast: The Rev. Simon Froben conducted the service and did it in a charming manner. He also did the preaching.
The date & time: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Family Service with Baptism.

How full was the building?
I arrived a quarter of an hour before the service started. There were some 30 people scattered around the auditorium. Five minutes into the service, it was packed (120 or so) with young families and many children. As it was a baptismal service, there seemed to be a lot of friends and relatives present and a host of photographers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, except an elderly lady beaming a smile at me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was an upholstered chair. Unfortunately I sat in the only chair without armrests, so I had to use the armrests of my neighbours, which gave me an uncomfortable feeling of intrusion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were chatting happily away and children from the kindergarten were greeting each other. It took quite a while until all the families had settled in their seats. There was an atmosphere of expectancy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I welcome you heartily to the service in the Evangelical-Reformed Church. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books at all. When I arrived I enquired about hymnals, but the friendly elderly lady informed me that everything was on a sheet today. The sheet was bright yellow and waited for me in my seat. It held the order of service, the hymns and a few funny cartoons.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ at the beginning and piano for the few choruses. Sprinkled in were two songs by the kindergarten children, timidly led with a guitar. The highlight of the service was a trio of flutes and a cello which played music that sounded like it was by Telemann.

Did anything distract you?
A young boy fell over with his chair, which caused some tumult, but no damage was done. The baptismal candidate, an infant boy, obviously was strongly opposed to the practical implications of his being sprinkled. He protested at the top of his voice throughout the whole ceremony, which caused some giggling at first and culminated in unrestrained mirth throughout the whole congregation.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was informal and yet contained some traditional items such as the creed and the Lord's Prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
I think about 15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Pastor Froben spoke almost without notes. He tried to engage the children in a question-and-answer type of thing, which came down to some kind of unexpected joke that made the congregation burst out in laughter.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was on names. We all have names. God has a name, too. He made himself known to Moses. He spoke out of a bush. In the course of the sermon the preacher referred several times to God as "the bush", i.e. the bush speaking to Moses. That was quite a new perspective to me, yet not overly revealing.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I thoroughly enjoyed being in a congregation of 90 percent young families where everybody was following the sermon and quite attentive. During the sermon a young couple two rows in front of me exchanged opinions by whispering into each others' ears and obviously were so taken in by what was going on that they kissed each other with enthusiasm for nearly a minute.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The air was very hot and stuffy. The newly christened member of the church made it almost impossible to listen to the announcements.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nobody seemed to notice me, and so I slowly made my way to the door looking lost and hoping to be trapped by somebody who wanted either to convert me or invite me for a chat or a cup of coffee. Unfortunately neither idea occurred to anyone. I could not even drop my Mystery Worshipper card in the offering, because the plate turned out to be a box in the lounge with a very narrow slot and – shocking! – the pastor stood right by its side watching people drop their offerings in and shaking hands with the visitors. (I deposited my card in the letterbox.)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I am not sure whether there was coffee, but I heard the uncorking of mysterious green bottles and observed bottles of orange juice, too.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I did not see any car park in the neighbourhood and I felt quite lonely during the service, although everybody seemed to be friendly.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I am glad that I am a Christian, but I would have liked the opportunity to express it a little more fervently.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The unheeded protestations of the young candidate at the ceremony.
 
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