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2321: St Georgenkirche, Eisenach, Germany
St Georgenkirche, Eisenach (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Portola.
The church: St Georgenkirche, Eisenach, Germany.
Denomination: Evangelical Church in Middle Germany.
The building: St George's is the largest church in Eisenach, located on the central market place. It was built at the end of the 12th century; the tower was added in 1902. Over the main entrance are the words of Luther’s most famous hymn Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. During the Peasant Revolt in 1525, the church was heavily damaged by militant-radical elements of the Reformation. Various reconstructions led to the addition of three balconies. The baptismal font dates from 1503; Johann Sebastian Bach was baptised there in 1685. The pulpit with its rich gold ornamentation dates from 1676. One of the features of this church is its collection of ancient grave plates. Two paintings in the altar area from 1618 depict Jan Hus and Martin Luther distributing holy communion and the Augsburg Confession being handed over to Emperor Karl V.
The church: St Elisabeth of Thuringia was married here in 1221. Martin Luther sang in this church as a choirboy and 20 years later preached here three times. From 1665 until 1797, members of the Bach family served in this church as organists. There is a rich musical tradition, with regular Bach cantata services and much special music. There is a wide variety of activities: groups for children, youth, women and seniors; opportunities for conversation, prayer or meditation; visitation groups; counseling; and aid for people in various situations of need.
The neighbourhood: Eisenach is a small hilly city located in the middle of Germany and on the northern edge of the Thuringian forest mountains. The market square is picturesque, encompassing the town hall (dating from 1596), the Baroque city castle (built between 1742 and 1745), as well as a number of decorative administration buildings and merchants' houses. It also features the gilded market fountain built in 1549, depicting St George, the patron saint of Eisenach. Nearby is the half-timbered house where Luther boarded when he was a pupil. But the crown jewel of Eisenach is the Wartburg castle, sitting on a high, steep hill. From May 1521 until March 1522 Luther was in protective custody at the Wartburg. During this time he translated the New Testament into German. Luther said of Eisenach: "Almost all my relatives live in Eisenach ... no other city knows me better."
The cast: Herr Pfarrer Stephan Köhler conducted the service and preached. An unidentified lay person read the gospel and another participated in the intercessions. The organist was also unidentified. The brass band is part of the congregation of Eisenach.
The date & time: 6 January 2012, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Evening Epiphany Service.

How full was the building?
There were about 50 people at this service, so there was a lot of empty space in the nave and balconies. But since the congregation sat together at the front and since the church was so dark, it did not feel empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A person at the entrance greeted me in a friendly way, gave me a hymn book, and informed me about the "Light Path" (see below).

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable enough, especially considering the age of these pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church was almost completely dark. The lighting came primarily from the two Christmas trees in the altar area and the organ-choir loft. Later, a row of lights on the first balcony was turned on to provide just enough light for the hymn singing. Along the walls of the church and in front of the altar area, a series of candles illuminated texts (mostly biblical) to the theme of "light." One could walk along this "Light Path" and meditate on these texts. At the same time, the brass choir practiced for the service. On the one hand, it was pleasant to listen to the brass band, but the Light Path as a means of meditation would have been more effective in a quiet church. The people entered the church silently, walked around the meditation areas, and then took their seats. There was hardly any pre-service greeting or conversation.

St Georgenkirche, Eisenach (Interior)

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Evangelisches Gesangbuch: the specialised version for the Lutheran Churches of Thuringia and Bavaria.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and brass choir. The verses of the hymns were accompanied alternately by organ and brass.

Did anything distract you?
Strangely, I was distracted by the darkness. If this had been Christmas Eve I would have enjoyed the symbolism of the light in the darkness, which the birth of Christ represents. But the theme of Epiphany is the manifestation of the glory of God. This church has magnificent lighting – elaborate candelabras and rows of lights on the balconies – which is especially delightful at an evening service. I was looking forward to experiencing this sparkling illumination as an expression of Epiphany splendour and had trouble adjusting to the subdued atmosphere. However, the darkness of the church did fit in with the theme of the sermon.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The usual liturgical elements of a Lutheran service were missing, but the simplicity of the order of service was appropriate to the quiet dignity of the worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The pastor spoke in a measured, natural way, which made listening easy. He stuck to his notes, which is something I can appreciate because I have heard too many free-wheeling ramblers. But I think the sermon could have been more compact. I had the feeling that there was too much emphasis on human weakness and frailty, which took something away from Epiphany as a celebration of the glory that has been revealed in Christ.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon text was Colossians 1:24-27 (the Mystery of the Word, i.e. Christ, kept hidden for ages, has now been revealed). The preacher compared these words of the apostle Paul to secret code, something that only insiders can understand. A mystery cannot be grasped immediately, but only slowly, patiently, piece by piece. The Mystery came into this world as a child; it was hidden in the manger, on the cross, and in the grave. "Christ in you" is the focal point of this mystery. Knowing this, we can endure uncertainty and despair; we can comfort and strengthen one another. Part of the mystery is that Christ suffers in us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This church, which has been graced by the presence of St Elisabeth of Thuringia, Martin Luther, and the Bach family, is a wonderful place to be. The striking contrast between light and darkness was to some extent enchanting. The Light Path was prepared with thoughtfulness and care. The Lutheran hymns, with their uplifting melodies and solid content, accompanied by organ and brass choir, were a foretaste of heaven.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I had a hard time engaging in worship. Worship is not something you turn on like pressing a button. Perhaps I was not concentrating adequately or perhaps it had to do with the facelessness of the congregation. In the darkness I could not see any faces clearly. Even the illuminated faces of the pastor and the lector were indistinct. This gave me a feeling of being cut off from the congregation, especially as an anonymous visitor. Sitting in darkness and feeling cut off from a worshipping congregation sounds a lot like "the other place."

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I remained seated after the service as people walked by and then wandered around in the church. but most people were on their way out and I didn’t catch anyone’s attention.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee or organised get-together.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I have been in this beautiful church many times and have always felt good about being here. There are so many opportunities to participate in small group activities or service to the community. The music is of such a high quality that I am sure I would enjoy being a part of this congregation, especially the Bach choir.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The two Christmas trees in the altar area that provided most of the illumination within the darkness of the church.
 
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