For over a year now, a group of people has met at St Benet’s to celebrate the Mass in German on the first Sunday of the month at 4.00 pm. This group is soon to be registered as a “New Worshipping Community” of the Diocese of London. This forms part of the Diocese’s vision for evangelism, mission, and church growth laid out in its plan “Capital Vision 2020.”
Where did the idea come from?
The idea came from the fact that a number of people at St Benet’s noticed just how many German-speaking families there were worshipping with us. Some were bilingual families with one parent from Germany or Austria. Others were German-speaking families who had moved to London, and whose children were, therefore, thoroughly bi-lingual.
Our vicar, Fr Peter Anthony, read German as an undergraduate and had been involved in our Diocesan link with Berlin for several years. He wondered whether people would welcome a service now and then in German. After a few initial Masses in German, it became clear there was definite interest, and a small but sustainable number of people willing to support the project. We decided on a trial run of a service on a Sunday afternoon once a month for a year.
Our intention was to see if we could reach out to a new category of people who did not already worship with us, and who might welcome the ability to worship in German. We wanted to help them come to faith, or grow deeper in their relationship with the Lord, especially through sacramental worship.
What happens & when?
We usually have a said Mass at 4.00 pm on the first Sunday of the month with a homily, and the entire service takes place in German.
We have had a range of guest preachers over the past year. Some have been native German speakers, such as Dr Andrea Werner, a lay reader at St Michael’s Camden Town; or Robert Pfeiffer, an ordinand at S. Michael’s, Highgate; or Fr Andreas Wenzel, the Shrine Priest at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Others have been English people who happen to be good German speakers: Dr Colin Podmore, well known expert in German Church history, for example; or Fr Desmond Bannister, Vicar All Siants’ Hillingdon, who used to teach German.
We have also sought to invite people associated with our Diocesan Partnership with the Church in Berlin-Brandenburg. Fr Brian Leathard and the Fr Luke Miller, the Archdeacon of London, both of whom have responsibility for the diocesan link, have visited to preach, as have august visitors from Berlin such as Pfarrer Holger Schmidt.
The liturgy is always followed by a time for refreshments and chat over that most venerable of German traditions – “Kaffee und Kuchen.” The conversation is mainly in German, but if people want to talk in English they are also welcome to, and a mixture of conversations in both languages usually emerges. There is no language police!
A range of people attend this Sunday afternoon service. Many of the bi-lingual families living in our parish, who have both English and German, are frequently there. Bilingual children are also frequently present.
There have also proven to be a number of English speakers who have German and who want to keep their language up or enjoy worshipping in German (one of whom comes all the way from York for the liturgy!). Word of mouth has proven to be very important and several new German speakers have started worshipping with us who had never previously worshipped with us on a Sunday morning.
A number of academics in the realm of philosophy who need German for their academic work have also been present on several occasions. German and Austrian students who have come to London universities also frequently form part of the congregation, which has proven to have a pretty young average age over all.
The numbers at the monthly Mass in 2018-19 have ranged between 8 and 21, with an average in the first year of 13, but on big occasions larger congregations have gathered: our first German Advent Carol Service last Sunday, for example, attracted 63 people. We have also celebrated one baptism in German.
Why do Germans want to worship at an Anglican Church?
We have welcomed a wide range of people from a large sweep of theological and liturgical traditions. One of the characteristics of this worshipping community has been a strong spirit of ecumenical welcome. Our ministry has also been resolutely rooted in the concept that the Church of England’s ministry is available for all living within our parochial boundaries, or who wish to avail themselves of it.
St Benet’s liturgy lies in the Catholic tradition of the Church of England, and we have found many German or bilingual families have been happy to make their spiritual home with us. There may be something going on in terms of the Church of England’s ministry representing a theological middle way between the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Roman traditions. It may also be that the parochial commitment of St Benet’s to the parish in which it is set simply makes it a place where visitors and those moving from abroad find it easy to settle. Many of our German speaking families send their children to our parish school, and so that might also be a connection which makes St Benet’s a place where they feel they want to worship.
Some of our younger German students have been genuinely intrigued and captivated by what they have discovered in the Anglicanism they find at St Benet’s – i.e. a church which they perceived as “protestant” but which turned out to have a rich and quite catholic liturgical and theological tradition.
Where to now?
We have proven over the first year of this project that the core congregation which supports this project is large enough to sustain a monthly Mass into the future. However, we are keen to explore other ways in which we can grow and expand this ministry. We recently organised a German Advent Carol Service, and this proved to be popular.
We plan in the next few weeks to register the congregation as a “new worshipping community” with the Diocese of London in order to release extra funds to help us plan slightly larger or more adventurous events.
Social media have been a crucial part of the way in which we have made contact with German speakers, so we want to ensure our social media presence continues to be the best it can be. Word of mouth has also been crucial to making new contacts amongst the German/Austrian ex-pat community, and will be something we intend to build upon.
We ask all our friends to keep praying for us as we explore further where God is calling us to go in this venture, and we thanks the Diocese of London and its bishops for their support and encouragement as we become one of its latest “new worshipping communities.”