"At One Table" is an open-air ecumenical service sponsored by the Evangelische Kirche Frankfurt (Protestant Church of Frankfurt). The Evangelische Kirche Frankfurt has 56 congregations and about 125,000 members, which accounts for about 16 per cent of the civic population. For just about every ethical issue or social concern, the church in Frankfurt has specialized social workers, counsellors and ministries. As with churches in all of Germany, they have been heavily involved in supporting refugees. The service was held on the Römerberg, which is the City Hall plaza. This plaza is framed by the Römer, the city hall buildings to the west, the Alte Nikolaikirche (Old St Nicholas Church) to the south, and a row of reconstructed half-timbered houses to the east. On the east side of the plaza, tents had been erected in which information about the Evangelische Kirche and about Luther and the Reformation was offered, and at which one could buy Luther souvenirs, CDs, books, wine, backpacks, etc. Adjacent to the Römerberg is the Paul’s Plaza to the north. In front of the Alte Nikolaikirche, a video screen and a large stage had been set up for the events of Pentecost Monday (a holiday in Germany). The Alte Nikolaikirche was the nominal host for the service: its bells rang before the service and during the Lord’s Prayer.
For about the past 20 years, there has been an open-air service at the Römerberg on Pentecost Monday, followed by a celebration of the international diversity of Christian congregations. This year, because of this tradition of a public embracement of ecumenical diversity, Pentecost Monday was chosen as the ideal date for commemorating the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. There has been an insistence by the church leaders in Frankfurt that the Reformation jubilee can only be observed ecumenically. There has also been a conscious effort to avoid over-glorifying Luther which occurred often in earlier times and being honest about his darker dimensions. The open-air service was the start of several hours of events, which included a podium discussion, theatrical events, choir singing, and the posting of greetings from around the world on the screen next to the central stage. The day culminated with the closing benediction at 7.00pm, preceded by everybody singing Luther's most famous hymn: "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A mighty fortress is our God).
The Römerberg, the city hall plaza, has been referred to as the living room of Frankfurt because it is the center of public festivity. It is a popular place for open-air events, for political demonstrations, for festivals, for celebrating sporting success, for receiving prominent visitors. The oldest Christmas market in Germany, established 1393, is set up here each year and draws three million visitors.
Preacher: Herr Dr Volker Jung, president of the Evangelische Kirche Hessen und Nassau. Presiding liturgist: Herr Dr Achim Knecht, city superintendent. Participants:
Frau Dr Irmela von Schenck, vice-president of the Council of the Evangelische Kirche Frankfurt; Frau Dr Ursula Schoen, assistant superintendent; Frau Andrea Braunberger-Myers, pastor; Herr Christin Enke, pastor, Catholic Ministry for the Deaf; Herr Gerhard Wegner, pastor, Protestant Congregation for the Deaf; Frau Andrea Kmper, parish worker.
What was the name of the service?Ecumenical Worship "At One Table" - 500 Years of Protestantism.
How full was the building?
It was reported that 2,000 people attended, but it looked like 5,000. The Römerberg has a standing room capacity of 10,000 and looked two-thirds full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The crowd and the openness of the plaza were not conducive of personal welcomes.
Was your pew comfortable?
The benches in the plaza were not comfortable. After sitting for over an hour (standing up for hymns or for prayer is not customary in Germany), I felt so stiff I was afraid I might lurch into a fellow worshipper.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy and busy. A long interview was conducted on the stage. Hymns were practiced with the congregation. People filled out a multiple choice Luther quiz that was lying on the benches. A neighbour asked me if I knew the name of the pope who excommunicated Luther in 1521; I was happy to supply her with the correct answer (Leo X) and hope that she got one of the prizes to be distributed among 30 winners: the newest revision of the Luther Bible translation, a graphic novel about Luther, or a bottle of Luther Wine.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We are gathered in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Why has it become so habitual for Protestant services in Frankfurt to begin with the word we? Is it all about us? Shouldn't the focus be upon the operative presence of God?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A pamphlet with the order of service, including all hymns with complete musical notations.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a band (Band Habukuk) with keyboard, electric guitar, saxophone and singers, and a collection of brass players led by a brass band called Blech Pur.
Did anything distract you?
Several things: The sun produced an uncomfortable heat; some people were so desperate to protect themselves that they laid the worship pamphlet on their heads. Every few minutes someone was taking a photo in fact, people were encouraged to take photos and send them with commentary via social media. There was applause at the beginning when special guests were introduced, applause after the introductory remarks, applause after every song, clapping during and after the sermon and after a childrens presentation. I was half-expecting to hear applause after each prayer. Pleasantly distracting were the bells from neighbouring churches or from the city hall clock.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was structured but not stiff. The order of service consisted of hymns, songs, prayers, readings, announcements, a childrens presentation, a sermon and a closing benediction. There was a mixture of traditional hymns accompanied by the brass instruments, and contemporary songs accompanied by the band. People occasionally swayed and clapped to the music, but it was a reserved Lutheran/Reformed type of enthusiasm. A gospel choir (the Atterberry Chapel Choir) sang in an Afro-American heart-and-soul style, which was like a breath of fresh air within the framework of the efficiently orchestrated service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Herr Dr Volker Jung preached a cohesive and readily understandable sermon. It was not expressly stated, but the sermon addressed the widespread populist rejection of refugees and Muslims.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based upon the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:12-24). The people who were originally invited excused themselves because of pressing business or personal obligations. This raises the question: How important is God's invitation to us? Things that seem to be more important might be false gods. As Luther pointed out: To whatever you bind your heart, that is your God. Luther also emphasized that no one can or is required to make himself worthy for God's invitation. The extension of the invitation to the poor, crippled, blind and lame indicates that God wants to have everyone at his table. Therefore, we should not build fences or walls that prevent anyone from sitting at a table intended to be a gathering of all people.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The two pastors who translated the service into sign language for the deaf were delightful to watch. Their lively facial expressions and fluent body language reflected the moods and rhythms of the service. For me they became a focal point, helping me to concentrate and to enjoy the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Directly in front of me sat a boy, about 10 years old. Twice in quick succession he bent down, apparently to pick up something in front of him. This bending motion pulled his shirt up and his trousers down, fully exposing a backside not covered by underpants. I never expected to be mooned at a worship service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Impossible to look lost among thousands of people in an open space.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee, but the sheer size of the after-service fellowship is a candidate for the Guinness Book of World Records. Eighty tables had been set up in long rows on the Rmerberg and the adjacent Pauls Plaza. Bottles of mineral water were free; food and additional drinks could be bought at stands. At each table was a special guest (a politician, a performer or a member of the church hierarchy) who gave a table talk (a phrase made famous by Luther) about his/her development in faith or his/her ideas about the Reformation. The most prominent table guest was the High Mayor of Frankfurt, Herr Peter Feldmann. Several actors dressed in medieval attire went from table to table proclaiming archaic messages from the 16th century.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – These big open-air services are not my cup of tea; I prefer worship on a smaller scale in a neighborhood church. I will say, though, that the Protestant Church of Frankfurt presented Christian faith in a public inner city area in a way that was creative, engaging, lively and attractive. This organizational achievement was impressive.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This service demonstrated the relevancy and vitality of Christian faith.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I am more concerned about what I hope to forget in seven days time: the boy with the downward plunging trousers.