Mystery Worshipper: Cross Eyed Bear
Church: Evangelical Free Church Baptist
Location: Pforzheim, Germany
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 November 2011, 10:00am
The Evangelisch-Freikirchliche Gemeinde Baptisten is an unassuming building in the typical 1950s concrete style that so characterises Pforzheim, tucked between other buildings. There was a lovely display board done up in autumnal colours outside the church advertising some of the church events.
Pastor Gnter-Helmrich Lotz took over the helm in August 2011, following a year of the church being without a pastor. They pride themselves on "needs-based" group activities for youth of all ages, young adults, seniors, etc., which are detailed on their website (if you read German).
Pforzheim is in southwest Germany at the gateway to the Black Forest. Since the 18th century it has been known for its jewelry and watchmaking industries. These were converted to precision instrument making during World War II, thus singling out Pforzheim as a prime target for Allied bombing. Almost seven-eighths of the town's buildings were leveled during carpet bombing campaigns. The town has gradually been rebuilt, giving it quite a modern if unremarkable look. To this day, unexploded bombs are occasionally discovered in excavations for new shopping centres and the like. In 1888, Bertha Benz, wife of Carl Benz, drove an automobile made by her husband from Mannheim to Pforzheim, a distance of about 96 km (60 miles), using a hairpin to make emergency repairs along the way. Her feat is thought to be the first long-distance journey ever undertaken in a gasoline-powered vehicle.
Pastor Gnter-Helmrich Lotz preached and read the notices.
What was the name of the service?Gottesdienst mit Abendmahl (Service with Holy Communion)
How full was the building?
Half full, with probably around 100 people present. A relatively wide age range was represented, although the greater majority were toward the top of the scale.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Did anyone not welcome us personally? The first welcome was a handshake from a man in a smart suit standing by the door. An older gentleman also in suit handed us a hymnbook. We were smiled at by many other regular worshippers, who lost no opportunity in getting into conversation with us.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard padded wooden chair with plenty of space and leg room.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was a very pleasant, expectant atmosphere, with the majority of congregants already in their places five minutes before the start. There was some muted conversation, but nothing awkward or overly conspicuous. A slide show was playing of the children who had recently attended one of their new projects Zwergengarten (little ones' garden) an afternoon's activities for children.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I warmly welcome you to this communion service, which we may celebrate in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (said in German).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymn book was the German Free Church classic Feiern und Loben (Praise and Worship), with three songs (from the same book) projected onto a wall. The weekly Bible reading was from a relatively modern translation, whereas the sermon text was taken from the Luther version of the Bible (some similarities to KJV). Some people had their own Bibles with them; many just listened.
What musical instruments were played?
A lady played an upright piano somewhat in the style of how comedian Les Dawson used to play his conscientiously but with the occasional hideously wrong note thrown in! A gentleman in a checked shirt played acoustic guitar to accompany some of the songs.
Did anything distract you?
Mr Bear noticed someone sitting behind us studiously yet inconspicuously trying to unwrap a sweet. He also noticed a sign language interpreter in the front row. Mrs Bear noticed neither of the above, but was pleasantly surprised by the communion bread being Hefezopf (a sweet braided loaf, similar to brioche). Neither of us was seriously distracted.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
On the whole, the worship was middle of the road, although there was a real sense of trying to be everything to everyone. Communion was split into two groups, with a single chalice being offered to one side of the sanctuary and single "shot glasses" being offered to the other, with people sitting on the sides they preferred. This is a well-known discussion topic in German churches. The music also seemed to be similarly affected, with some songs accompanied on the upright piano and sung from books and three others from the 90s being projected onto the wall and accompanied on a guitar, despite coming from the standard hymn book. Some of the elder members of the congregation didn't sing during the "worship block". Whether this was because they disapproved, because they didn't know the songs, or because they couldn't see the words clearly enough wasn't obvious. Having been a member of two churches that have been through this change in music/worship style with varying degrees of success, Mrs Bear is particularly sensitive to this and hopes that this obviously close congregation is able to draw on its reserves of acceptance and wisdom to deal with it. Mr Bear doesn't notice such things and was quite satisfied with the "average" worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Lotz spoke clearly and well, involving the congregation and illustrating the sermon with humour and rather honest illustrations!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Lotz took Ephesians 5:25-27 ("Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church") as his text. Rather than the obvious interpretation of this text, he focused on the fact that the Church is addressed as a unit. Despite our individualistic society, in a church everyone's contribution is important. Being active for and within the church allows us to draw closer to God, allowing him to shine through despite the "spots and wrinkles" that may be obvious to others, ourselves, and other members of the congregation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The full and genuine welcome.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
After being so warmly welcomed, I felt like a real traitor putting the Mystery Worship calling card in the collection plate!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The coffee hour was shorter than usual, as the members then had a church meeting, but we decided to try looking lost and lonely anyway! After 30 seconds a young lady came up to us, got into conversation, and answered our many questions about the church warmly and politely. Once she had gone in to the meeting, a second lady came to us, introduced herself, and had a similar conversation with us. By this time, the church meeting was already starting, but there was still time for a third lady to welcome us, have a shorter conversation with us and invite us to the church lunch at a local restaurant!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Large portions, nice mugs, freshly brewed none of this powdered instant rubbish. It's not often I can manage a whole cup of church coffee. Mr Bear was disappointed at the lack of biscuits, but enjoyed his tea.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Mrs Bear is already a satisfied member of another local church, where Mr Bear also enjoys attending. It was a pleasure to share with these fellow Christians for one Sunday. We may well pop back one day, despite probably having blown our cover!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Mrs Bear Yes. Mr Bear goes because Mrs Bear does, but was happy enough.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The warmth, the sermon, and particularly the middle testimony given by the church members-to-be.