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||1435: Evangelische Stadtkirche St Dionys, Esslingen,
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
The church: They sponsor a Bible study group, seniors group, and
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
Which part of the service was like being in
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
How would you describe the after-service
There was none – we finished everything at the cookie station! But
there are good restaurants and cafés 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
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
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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|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
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