Some people have jobs with perks. I can certainly find a perk to my job everyday, be it banter with great people, tea cakes and coffee or having enough time at home in the day to have a cuppa with Nathan. But other days, it’s especially great, and the trip to Germany last month was definitely one of those times.
We got to go to Germany for a long weekend to visit the churches, meet the people and explore the local area there. The Evangelical Church in the area of Überlingen Stockach has had a link with the Anglican Deanery of Sefton North since 1993. Since then, there have been periods where this link has really flourished and times when communication has been a bit quieter.
When we got an email back in February asking if we wanted to come on the next Germany trip, a new light was shining at the end of the tunnel that was theological college and theology degrees.
So, October came round and off we went to Germany! It all felt rather strange because we had only been married a couple of weeks and we had just finished a training week. But we jumped in with open minds, ready to make new friends, develop this link further and see how church is done in that part of Germany!
Lake Constance is absolutely beautiful. On a clear day you can see Switzerland on the other side of the lake! On our first night, we had a meal in the diocesan offices, as it were, which offered a stunning view of this lovely part of the world. It was absolutely not a hardship to spend a few days there! On Saturday morning we had a wander round the town and sampled some currywurst in the market. It was a lovely, bright day but rather cold.
In the evening we went to a meal in a castle (!) put on by the church, which celebrated 500 years of the reformation. There was a reading about the printing press, a lecture and entertainment from a Gospel choir!
Martin Luther, it seemed, was everywhere! It was great to see so many people engaging with that time in church history which has had an impact upon both the church and society today. We both managed to acquire playmobil Martin Luther figures and I was most taken by some Martin Luther napkins!
The next day was Sunday, and true to form, Nathan and I decided to go to different churches. We were staying with a lovely couple who are also both ordained, so I went to one church on Sunday and Nathan went to the other. We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with another clergy couple who not only had different experiences to us but had also been in ministry together for much longer than we had. It was a joy to draw on their wisdom and listen to their stories as we begin this new, rather strange adventure for ourselves. Thanks to their brilliant English, we got on really well and we are very much hoping to be able to have them to stay when the trip is returned in the next couple of years.
The trip continued and on Sunday afternoon we had a trip to Salem International Boarding School, where we were shown round by one of the church leaders and his son who lives there. I was very excited to be visiting a boarding school, as I loved the Malory Towers books as a little girl! Boarding school is much more unusual in Germany than in the UK so the children who go there are very much in the minority nationally. We finished with a wine tasting session, complete with a supper of sausage, cheese and bread.
The next day we visited the Bibelgalerie, an interactive centre which teaches children and adults alike about the Bible. We sat in a life size version of Jacob’s tent, saw the kind of house which the lame man would have been lowered into and had a go at using a printing press! This project aims to help people understand more about the Bible, and the exhibitions had translations in English, which had been done by a somebody on the trip.
Later that afternoon, we had a meeting with a group of people who work with refugees in one way or another. Germany has decided to take in one million refugees in recent years, which takes some organising and thought about how to integrate them into society so that they can flourish. I was really inspired by the generosity shown by Germany, and I certainly appreciated that the task of embedding one million people into the country is a huge one.
The trip finished with a meal with our hosts and various church members in a nice restaurant with huge portions of very lovely German food.
It’s really hard to give an overview of such a packed few days. I’m also aware that it sounds more like a jolly than work. But I found learning about the way church works somewhere else to be very thought provoking. The ministers there have similar yet very different tasks to us. For example, the church is funded by the state because they have a church tax. This sounds very different to how the Church of England works, but people can opt out of the tax so convincing people that giving money to the church is not only good but also necessary is a challenge that we all face.
Every link developing trip I have been on has been unique. And yet, that instant connection and fondness felt towards other brothers and sisters in a different part of the Church has struck me in the same way every time. We might well be very different, and we might well think very differently. But, as we say in the communion service, though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.