Mystery Worshipper: Ichabod
Church: St George's
Location: Ruhpolding, Bavaria, Germany
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 February 2016, 10:00am
Begun in 1738 and consecrated in 1754, it is simple and elegant on the outside, Rococo extravagance on the inside. Awash in gold leaf! We were especially intrigued by the font, a huge black stone sphere crushing an angry green devil.
Their ministries and activities are all described on their website. These include the Catholic Women's League, mother and child group, Bible study and hospital visitation, among others. This seems to be a much larger community than the Lutherans at the other end of town, whom we visited the week before.
Ruhpolding is a small town in southeastern Bavaria whose economy is based primarily on tourism and sports. Hiking, skiing, golfing, mountain-biking and shooting are all popular. The church is on a lovely hilltop setting with a backdrop of mountains. On the occasion of my visit, the town itself seemed to look a bit sorry for itself trying to be a ski resort with no real snow but with signs of spring around this was a beautiful place to be.
Pfarrer (Pastor) Otto Stangl was probably either the preacher or celebrant, but I didn't find an easy way of discovering who was who.
What was the name of the service?Pfarrgottesdienst (Parish Mass)
How full was the building?
We (perhaps 150 of us) weren't lost in the imposingly large space, though we were sufficiently few for individuals and family groups each to have a pew to themselves, and most took that opportunity.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, though sharing the peace was a friendly rather than awkward affair.
Was your pew comfortable?
The bare wooden pews didn't seem appealing, but the gradual realisation of under-seat heating brought me round.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mostly contemplative, with lots to contemplate. My nine-year-old daughter was with me and very happy to look through the many and varied statues, though she was concerned that some of the cherubs looked underfed!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Im Namen des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A chunky book of hymns and psalms in the pews, including the tunes, which was helpful. It might have had the words for the rest of the service in there somewhere too, but not that I found the rest of the congregation seemed not to need anything.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and an impressive range of bells at appropriate points.
Did anything distract you?
The surreal switch-on of a glowing green digital display board with hymn numbers during the entrance procession. Also, only one bag was used for taking the collection; it was on the end of a long stick, and had a tinkly bell attached to the bottom. Any advantage of the bell, in terms of knowing when to pull out the wallet, was offset by the distraction of unavoidably listening to it moving throughout the building for most of the eucharistic prayer.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal and efficient (all over within 45 minutes).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
N/A – Apparently open and straightforward. It would be a bit unreasonable to rank him when I failed to follow his line at all as a result of my German language being largely non-existent. Nonetheless, he was sufficiently clear for me to catch phrases, and he was mercifully brief.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Glimpses of heaven in the Transfiguration and life (possibly).
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The incisive bong of a bell and organ fanfare at the start of the service made us sit up and engage with a real sense of excitement.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Attempting to sing in my questionable German when no one within ten metres of us seemed to be joining in at all.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We chose the back of the church to hang around, which turned out to be the wrong place for interaction people were apparently socialising outside on the tarmac. By the time we had concluded that we weren't going to evoke any response where we were, the moment had largely passed outside, so we ambled off without conversation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We didn't discover any, but given that my daughter's primary criterion on rating churches is usually the quality of biscuits, she was remarkably positive about the overall experience here.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – Language issues aside, I would find this unduly distant as a regular form of worship. Nonetheless there seemed to be other things going on, particularly in the direction of music – an upcoming concert was mentioned in the notices.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me glad of the diversity of worship out there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The digital display hymn board.