Heiliggeistkirche in Frankfurt

Heiliggeistkirche, Frankfurt am Main, Germany


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Heiliggeistkirche
Location: Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Date of visit: Monday, 10 June 2019, 4:15pm

The building

The Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) is part of the Dominican monastery of Frankfurt, which was founded in 1233. The previous monastery church, an early Gothic hall church with three aisles, was destroyed by allied bombing in 1944. A section of the choir wall survived, and this remnant was incorporated in the rebuilt church, which was dedicated in 1961. Today, this former monastery is the seat of the Protestant Regional Association, an administrative center for the Protestant churches of Frankfurt that belong to the Evangelische Kirche in Hessen and Nassau, as well as the headquarters for the dean of Frankfurt and Offenbach. (In German this administrative building is called the Dominikaner Kloster, which insiders shorten to Dom Klo, which translates ‘cathedral toilet.’)

The church

Holy Spirit is not a parish church, but there are short daily services here for church administration workers, as well as services on special occasions, such as the opening of a synod or the installation of a pastor for a specialized ministry. The church is also a frequent concert venue, as it allegedly has space for 700 people – but the actual capacity, according to my experience as a choir singer, seems to be 500. For at least 20 years on Pentecost Monday, which is a holiday in Germany, there has been an International Pentecost Festival in Frankfurt. It begins at the city hall plaza (Römerberg) with an open-air service, followed by events at the nearby Dominican monastery. In the central court (formerly the cloister) several non-German-speaking congregations offer information, devotional items, music, dancing, and food specialties. The three bells of Holy Spirit are part of the Great Frankfurt City Bell Ringing – fifty bells of ten inner city churches ring for thirty minutes on the eves of the first Sunday of Advent, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. This bell-ringing, which was initiated in 1856, draws huge crowds. When the churches were rebuilt after the war, many new bells had to be manufactured; the new bells were pitched in such a way that all fifty bells harmonize with each other. At the Secularization in 1803, the city of Frankfurt took over ownership of the ten churches. This means that the city is responsible for their upkeep, which is a tremendous benefit for the congregations who worship in these churches.

The neighborhood

There are an estimated 100 mother language Christian congregations in Frankfurt. Since 1462 the Dominican monastery has been adjacent to the Jewish Alley (Judengasse), the first Jewish ghetto in Europe, created when Jews were forced to relocate to a place outside the city wall. A Jewish synagogue, which stood directly across the street from the monastery, was burned down by Nazis in the infamous night of 9 November 1938. Today there is a Jewish Alley Museum housed inside and under an office building that contains the foundations, ruins and relics of houses and a ritual bath of the Judengasse. Initially, these historic ruins were to be demolished during construction of the office building, but vehement protest prevented this desecration. Behind the museum is a Jewish cemetery, established in the 12th century, which contains the gravestone of Meyer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the banking dynasty, who lived in the Judengasse. On the outer wall of this graveyard are plaques commemorating the 12,000 Jews of Frankfurt who were victims of Nazi terror. The most prominent name on this wall is Annelies Frank, better known as Anne Frank. The monastery is located at one of the busiest street corners of the downtown area, at which autos, buses, streetcars, pedestrians and bicyclists converge in dangerously close proximity to each other.

The cast

The service was organized by the International Convent of Christian Congregations Rhein-Main, with which 32 mother language congregations are associated. Seven ministers (two of whom were women) participated in the service: a German Protestant, a Finnish Lutheran, an Armenian-Apostolic-Orthodox priest, a Presbyterian of the Church of Ghana, a Korean Protestant, an Indonesian Protestant, a Nigerian from the Evangelical Ministry Darmstadt (who stood silently next to a young person who did a reading). A group of five Coptic deacons chanted liturgical texts. Three choirs sang, each twice: the choir of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana Frankfurt, the Francophone choir of the (African) French-Reformed congregation Frankfurt, the choir of the Protestant Indonesian Christ Congregation. Soloists from the Indonesian congregation and from the Eritrea Lutheran congregation of Neu-Isenburg also contributed.

What was the name of the service?

Concluding Ecumenical Celebration on Pentecost Monday 2019.

How full was the building?

An estimated 300 persons, three-fifths full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

The chair was OK.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The sounds of conversations and children.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

'I greet you at this concluding ecumenical worship service of the international Pentecost celebration.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Program sheets.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ, built 1961 by EF Walcker & Cie of Ludwigsburg, Baden-Württemberg, with 40 stops; a grand piano; guitar and drums.

Did anything distract you?

People sitting behind me frequently chatted with each other. A person turned around and asked them to be quiet; they were silent for a moment and then resumed until the end of the service. During the singing of a praise song, one of the soloists glanced at his mobile phone. Was he reminding himself of the song text or was he checking to see if he had new messages? In this day and age both options are possible. The flowers on the altar did not look like they were chosen with love by an altar guild, but by someone who was in a hurry and had a limited budget.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The service had a colourful mixture: greeting by a native German speaker; opening and closing hymns in German; opening prayer, closing prayers and benediction in foreign-accented German, five Scripture readings in five non-German languages, eight musical contributions of choirs and soloists in five non-German languages, the Lord’s Prayer, which each spoke in his/her mother tongue. The choir singers, who were Africans and Indonesians, wore colourful clothing and swayed to the music. Surprisingly, there was not much clapping. A member of the French-Reformed choir repeatedly produced what I will call a loud, sustained cry of joy, giving it a tremolo by moving his hand forwards and backwards in front of his mouth. He obviously enjoyed making a ‘joyful noise to the Lord.’ I know that it is irreverent to mention this, but I was reminded of the war cries of Indians in old Western movies. The director of the Ghana choir was especially cheerful and humorous. He told us in German the content of the songs the choir would sing, because, as he said, although it is Pentecost, we should not reckon with the Pentecost miracle occurring today (each listener understanding a foreign language).

Exactly how long was the sermon?

No sermon, but some of the choir directors and pastors gave introductory words before a song or prayer, elucidating an aspect of Pentecost.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Being part of this colourful, international congregation of many tongues was like a foretaste of heaven. The choirs radiated celestial joy with their singing, dancing movements and bright, multi-coloured garments.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The east windows of this church look like they depict the ‘other place.’ They portray scenes in the life of Christ with garish neon colours. The faces of people look like ants wearing goggles, with large black holes where the eyes are supposed to be; their faces and bodies are blue, green, yellow, purple or red. An appropriate title for these windows could be ‘An apocalyptic atomic-chemical catastrophe.’ And one aspect of the service that could have been better organized was the collection: the baskets were brought unobtrusively to the organizing pastor in a front corner of the church, instead of being presented at the altar.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I did indeed hang around looking lost, but there was no parish congregation to take note of such body language.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

After the service no coffee, but before the service there was a bonanza of international foods and drinks.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 — I could enjoy this church only in the evening when the windows are darkened.

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

It made me feel glad to be part of global Christianity, which has a vitality and joy not often experienced in a normal Sunday Protestant service in Frankfurt.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The Indonesian choir singing, in their mother tongue, one of my favourite hymns: Charles Wesley’s ‘How can it be?’

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