Sunday, November 20, 2011

Amen from Across an Ocean

It isn’t a terribly popular thing to admit, but here it is anyway: I am a churchgoer.

Now, for those of you whose palms are already starting to sweat, please don’t hit the “back” button on your browser. I assure you this is not a poor attempt at internet evangelism. It is, however, a post about church and so I thought I should lay my cards on the table right from the get-go: I attend church regularly. I believe in God. I read my Bible. I pray daily. I am what some people would call “religious.”

St. Cosmae
And so, with those facts in mind, it will surprise no one when I say that I have been going to church here in Germany. In fact, I have found a wonderful Lutheran church right here in Stade and have been attending worship each Sunday since my arrival in August.

The Church of St. Cosmae is a beautiful building with an organ dating to the mid-1600’s and a spire that dominates the city. And each Sunday a traditional Lutheran service is held. Now, I am not one of those people who believes that if a church service has a contemporary feel it is somehow bad or wrong. In fact, I like contemporary Christian music and often attend less than traditional services at my church back in Minnesota (sometimes we even have drums and guitars—gasp!).

However, when you’re attending a church service in a foreign language having a little bit of tradition to back you up is truly a blessing. I remember my very first Sunday at church, back when I knew even less German than I know now (which is really saying something), and at one point in the service everyone stood and began reciting something from memory. After only a few lines I instinctively understood that my fellow parishioners were saying The Apostles Creed. After a lifetime of reciting that creed each Sunday the rhythm of the words is so ingrained in me that it really doesn’t matter if it’s English or not. I just get it. Granted, I couldn’t pick out more than three or four of the German words and certainly couldn’t follow along in the traditional sense, but I knew what they were saying. I knew what they were professing.

Inside the church
Of course, even in the face of tradition, there have certainly been moments when I was out of my element. For example, a few weeks ago I was sitting in church and everything was going exactly as it had every other Sunday until a middle-aged woman stood up, lit a candle and said something in German. Slowly, other people followed suit. I caught a few snippets of phrases and realized that they were each thanking God for something as they lit the candles. I had never seen anything like it before and felt vaguely panicked as I tried to ascertain whether or not I, too, would be forced to stumble through a bad German thank you in front of everyone (admittedly, I knew no one was going to bodily drag me from my pew if I didn’t go light a candle, but I didn’t want to be the only person in the church who didn’t thank God for something).

The first time I attended a service where communion was being served was also a moment of some concern, and embarrassment. I am used to being dismissed by rows to receive communion so when everyone started to stand and move forward en masse I stayed in my seat and waited for instructions that were never going to come. Eventually, I realized my error and had to rush to the altar at the last second, where the pastor was waiting for me with a smile and a communion wafer.

The organ
But, all in all, my cultural faux pas at church have been fairly minimal. Indeed, I feel safe and content when I slide into my wooden pew each week (I’m Lutheran; of course I sit in the same pew each week). I greet the old woman who always sits next to me with a smile and I pull out my piece of notebook paper where I have written The Apostle’s Creed and The Lord’s Prayer in German so that I can finally follow along. I try hard to sing the hymns, some of which are new, many of which are familiar friends. I make valiant attempts to understand the sermon and smile when I have even the vaguest idea about what’s going on. When we bow our heads and everyone else sends silent German prayers Heavenward, I say my confessions and thank yous in English.

And in those moments I remember that even though I am an ocean apart from my life in America, God has not stayed behind and left me to fend for myself on this latest adventure. Instead, He is here with me, guiding His wayward daughter through all sort of struggles and triumphs.

English. German. It doesn’t matter. Amen is the same in both languages.   


  1. What an amazing cultural experience. I can totally relate to the frightful feelings that come when something unforeseen interrupts your expectations of the way things should be. And what a beautiful little church you have found that I'm sure is full of equally beautiful people. I love that you have found a German pew buddy :)

  2. God spans barriers. Keep writing, I love it!
    Praying for you, in English :)

  3. Christina, Congratulations - you made me cry before 7:30 a.m. I feel your love for God and everyone else from here. Thank you for sharing your faith _ God is so good! By the way, I bet God loves to see you sitting there and enjoys the smiles you share and your excitement at the familiar.

  4. You make me so proud!!!