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  1435: Evangelische Stadtkirche St Dionys, Esslingen, Germany

Evangelische Stadtkirche St Dionys, Esslingen, Germany

Mystery Worshipper: Waterwalker.
The church: Evangelische Stadtkirche St Dionys, Esslingen, Germany.
Denomination: The Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg.
The building: Actually two churches dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, joined by a third building dating from the 12th century. With its two towers joined by a bridge, the church stands out as a famous landmark of the city of Esslingen.
The church: They sponsor a Bible study group, seniors group, and other ministries.
The neighbourhood: Written mention of Esslingen dates back to the year 777. During World War II the city was occupied by American forces, thus sparing it from the bomb damage suffered by other German cities. It houses the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences, famous for its mechanical engineering and automotive programs. The church sits in the middle of the old town of Esslingen.
The cast: The Revd Martin Hug, pastor, assisted by the Revd Sylvia Kolter and Frau Marianne Ehrmann plus volunteer helpers.
The date & time: 22 April 2007, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Thomas-Messe (St Thomas Mass).

How full was the building?
Mostly full (the main nave).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the church, a helper asked, "Would you like to participate in our St Thomas Mass?" I said yes, and she handed me a leaflet with a rundown of the service which included a printout of all the songs.

Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden benches with seat cushions. It was OK, but not perfect.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some people just sat waiting for the service to begin. Some chatted quietly. Many seemed to know each other.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I greet you warmly to this St Thomas Mass. I’m glad that so many have found their way here, in spite of the good weather."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only the leaflet that had been handed to worshippers at the entrance. It included all the songs, but no Bible verses.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano and transverse flute. A pity that the organ was not used at all. It’s a large instrument and it probably sounds wonderful. Having said this, since the music was supposed to be less traditional, I agree that the piano was a fitting instrument. The musicians played very well!

Did anything distract you?
The acoustics of the building made it hard to understand at times despite the presence of a PA system. During a small theatrical piece, one of the performers initially forgot to use the microphone, which made it nearly impossible to understand him. Also, the occasional crying baby needed no PA system to be heard above the others.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
More up-tempo and happy than what you have in Lutheran churches a lot of times, and yet not happy-clappy charismatic. A mixture of new and old songs, very nicely accompanied by the musicians and a lead singer. The music very much fit the overall style of the people leading and worshipping.

Evangelische Stadtkirche St Dionys, Esslingen, Germany

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minute small theatrical piece; 12 minute sermon; 20 minute "stations" (see below) in preparation for communion.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The theatrical piece segued nicely into the sermon but was marred by technical audio problems. The sermon itself was interesting but a bit emotionlessly presented. Much, much better were the stations before communion.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme of the whole service was "Being on the way." The pastor related how Harpe Kerkeling, a German comedian, had gone on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and had written a book about it. This took many Germans by surprise, as Kerkeling was not generally regarded as a religious person. A few lessons the comedian learned were: Find out who you are; keep on going even when the going gets rough; sometimes it's OK to seem crazy (like going on pilgrimage); spend time with others; and experience God all the while. Then, as preparation for communion, we were invited to continue on our own way by visiting any of the several "stations" (if we wanted to) that had been set up around the church, where we could light a candle, write down intercessions to be read at the service, meditate quietly, meet privately with the clergy, receive a blessing, sing Taizé songs, or even eat some cookies!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Clearly the preparation for communion. We then formed one big circle and the cup and bread were given to us. A great experience. Somehow the presence of the Lord was there.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Approaching the "other place" if not actually in it: It seemed to me that most of the congregation were a club of regular St Thomas Mass attendees, which would make it hard for persons new to the service to feel welcome. After all, the whole point of the St Thomas Mass is to reach people who don’t regularly attend church and those that come with the doubt of the apostle St Thomas. I don't think the target group was reached.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was greeted by a young woman representing the local YMCA social ministry. We chatted a bit and she gave me her last cookie (which was left over from the stations).

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none – we finished everything at the cookie station! But there are good restaurants and caf├ęs nearby.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I can’t speak for the regular church services on Sunday mornings. But if I lived in this town, I would regularly visit the St Thomas Mass – maybe even be a part of the team (they invite people to be part of future services).

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stations before communion, with their openness and freedom to search God and meaning for ourselves. Also the celebration of the communion.
 
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