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1795: St Jacobi-Kirche, Elbingerode, Germany
St Jacobi-Kirche, Elbingerode, Germany
Mystery Worshipper: Eirene.
The church: St Jacobi-Kirche, Elbingerode, Germany.
Denomination: Lutheran Church in Saxony.
The building: A large (for the little town it's in), beautiful neo-Gothic church, built in 1858 and making a valiant effort to look older. It's in a state of restoration, wrapped partly in blue plastic.
The church: It's a very lively community of about 1,300 members with four different youth groups, women's, men's and seniors' groups, catechism classes, choir, recorder ensemble, etc. Social and missionary work are very important. There's a large world map showing members of the church away on a mission.
The neighbourhood: Elbingerode is a small sleepy town in the Harz, lacking a proper centre. The church stands on an elevation in the middle, together with a kindergarten, an elementary school and the Heimatstube (very small museum).
The cast: Pfarrer Ernst Wachter and a female reader whose name I couldn't gather (but possibly Christiane Woratz).
The date & time: 16 August 2009, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Abendmahlsgottesdienst mit Kindergottesdienst und Kirchenkaffee (Holy Communion with Sunday school and church coffee).

How full was the building?
Somewhat less than half full, but well spread so it didn't seem half empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was very early, and while I was reading the notices at the door the Pfarrer passed and greeted me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Surprisingly comfortable for a wooden pew without a cushion. The seat was deep enough and the slanted foot-rest was in exactly the right position for my height.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Expectant and quietly chatty, with people greeting each other in low voices.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Willkommen zu dieser Gottesdienst" ("Welcome to this worship service").

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Evangelisches Gesangbuch fuer Sachsen-Anhalt (Lutheran Hymnal for Saxony-Anhalt) and a yellow sheet with extra hymns. I was also handed the Kinderkram Liederbuch (Children's Songbook) but we didn't sing from it.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, flute, oboe and chest organ. Also guitar (by the Pfarrer).

St Jacobi-Kirche, Elbingerode, Germany

Did anything distract you?
I must admit that it was the Pfarrer's hair! It was very short, almost shaven, except for a long streak on the back of his head. I couldn't stop looking at it.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Mostly quietly joyful; it only became clappy when the Pfarrer took his guitar and led the congregation in youth camp songs. At communion, the people who weren't partaking (children and non-members) were invited to stand in the circle for a blessing. Afterwards, everybody joined hands and we were all one family.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – He could keep the congregation interested with unusual images and lively body language without theatrics or overdone rhetoric.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Hypocrisy, exemplified by a can of deodorant. You can pretend all you like, but Christ makes everything real and accepts only what is real.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Two young people going out on missionary work were called to the front of the church and specially blessed. The Pfarrer laid his hands on them, prayed for them and had a personal word for each one.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was alone in my pew for the whole service. Probably not meant personally, because there were several other pews with only one or two people, but it did make me very uncomfortable. (On the other hand, it made it much easier to sneakily take notes.)

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
First I hung around looking lost in the church. When almost everybody had passed, I went to the vicarage garden where coffee was served and hung around looking lost there. Eventually a friendly woman came and talked to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Excellent coffee (didn't try the tea or the juice) with several cakes baked by parishioners. I tried three different kinds and they were all yummy. Also cookies, sandwiches and fruit.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Even though it's not my denomination, if I lived nearby I'd certainly go to services regularly and perhaps join the choir.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and slightly wistful that I'm no longer a Lutheran.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The tremendous sense of community at communion.
 
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