Archive for July, 2015

Experiencing German Pentecostalism

At the University of Muenster, I am teaching a course to the Master’s Students on “Pentecostalism and Religious Conversion in India” within the broader theme of Anthropology of Christianity. As a part of the course, the students were requested to make presentations on Pentecostalism in their own countries.

In the class, I have four students: a girl from Brazil, made a presentation on charismatic Catholicism in Brazil; a boy from Cameroon, presented a broad overview of Pentecostal religious beliefs and practices in Africa and their popularity in the recent times; a boy from Italy presented on Kerala Pentecostalism; and a boy from Germany, spoke about the history of Pentecostalism in Germany.

According to the German student, the first Pentecostal church was established in Mulheim, a city not very far from Muenster. So, we decided to visit Mulheim on a study tour. The German student called up the Pastor in Mulheim and informed him about our visit. The Pastor informed him that though Pentecostalism started in Mulheim, there is nothing much going on here these days. It will be useful for our group if we visit to Wuppertal where there is a very strong Pentecostal congregation.

IMG_2089On 28th June 2015, we visited the Christus Gemeinde Wuppertal (CGW) Church. The information and pictures in their website looked very impressive. We planned to attend the Sunday evening mass at 18.00pm. We arrived at the church and requested some young girls to take a picture of us in front of the church building. They were happy to hear about our visit. Since there was still an hour left for the mass to start, they suggested us to relax in the café. The girl, named Christi, also came and joined us for a drink and explained her stories why she comes to this church.

IMG_2091Christi pointed out that she and her family were members of a mainline Protestant Church. Christi found that church very boring. The music in that church made her fall asleep. She found it very uninteresting and impersonal. One time Christi and her family visited the CGW church and found it very warm, welcoming and personalized. The music in CGW was very different and loud. She felt very happy here. The people hugged each other, greeted each other, and were warm towards each other. According to her, the CGW is like a big family. She decided to come regularly to CGW. Her parents for some time split their time between their old church and the CGW but after sometime they decided to become members of CGW.

IMG_2096Christi was planning to visit USA and prayed to lord about it but nothing happened for sometime. She said: “Oh, lord, it is now up to you; if you really want me to go, you will help me. I am not going to do anything anymore; I have already tried a lot”. After a few days, she received a letter from CGW that there is an opportunity to visit USA; Christi became very happy and felt that the Lord listened to her prayers. She visited USA and had a wonderful time. After her return, she stopped going to her old church and continued coming to CGW.

11174503_859241327486149_7218499254075713092_o(Source: CGW-Facebook)

At the café, Pastor Bob also joined our table. According to him, the Christus Gemeinde Wuppertal Church was established twenty-seven years ago; it is a sister organization of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal church. Pastor Bob is a Physicist by training; he spent sometime at the Indian Institute of Science as a student. At the moment, he is a part-time pastor and a part-time businessman.

The CGW is a close community. As Christi said, it is a big family. It has around a thousand member and all know each other very well. A new person or a first-time visitor can easily be identified. The people at the church are quite warm and welcoming. When they see someone new, they talk to them and welcome them. Everyone was very nice to our group. Fred, the head of the CGW, was very welcoming and even bought us drinks. All people were very happy to hear that some students and their teacher from Muenster University have travelled almost two hours just to visit their church.

11013531_862901517120130_817489357292063545_o(Source: CGW-Facebook)

Fred informed us that there are three Pentecostal churches in Wuppertal, which have around one thousand two hundred believers. The CGW is the biggest one with a thousand members. Two others are ethnic African Pentecostal churches – one with around 100 members and the other with around sixty members. Fred discussed the cultural differences between these churches and argued that the ethnic churches are very loud, which the local Germans find culturally very different. There is nothing wrong with them; it is just the Germans don’t go there. Christi pointed out that the CGW is open to all kinds of people; anyone can come and pray here.

1795835_862901410453474_4157632135701582538_o(Source: CGW-Facebook)

We participated in the mass, which started at 18.00 and continued till 19.45pm. Pastor Bob was very kind to provide us English translation of the service. The members are mostly young boys and girls. Almost one hundred and fifty people participated in the mass; they sang, danced, prayed and listed to the Pastor’s message on the importance of prayer. According to the Pastor, Jesus listens to every prayer and answers only to those that are right and are asked at the right time. When the time is not right, the Lord says “later”. When the prayers are not fulfilled, it does not mean the Lord has not listened to them, it just means that he has something better planned for you. You just need to trust and have faith in Him and he will listen to you when your intentions are right and when the time if right.

10818318_859241060819509_6391023902331407291_o(Source: CGW-Facebook)

The stage was designed like a rock concert stage with electric guitars, drums, keyboards, musical lights and large loudspeakers. The lights changed with the rhythms of the music. There was no symbol of the Christ or even the sign of a Cross. Someone informed that there was no need of the Cross; it is there in everyone’s heart. When the German student asked people what do they think about Pentecostalism, the believers informed him that “it is not a religion; it is about personal relations” and these community relations in the church and the faith are central to their lives. They come to the church to experience the relationship. It seems everyone knows each other personally and have a strong community bonding. The church organizes brunch programs for the women, gives courses for couples who are planning to get married and also gives music lessons to young boys and girls.

11059154_859242040819411_1021756356270919243_o(Source: CGW-Facebook)

In the mass, I noticed that most participants are young women. Bob pointed out that the ratio between female and male is 55:45. It was surprising for me to see so many young people are religious and participating regularly in church services. It reminded me of the (in)validity of the secularization hypotheses. Fred pointed out that according to the German law, someone can decide about his/her religious preference at the age of fourteen. The CGW also has a program for the youth.

Attending the mass was a unique experience for all of us. The mainline Protestants and the Catholics will find such services weird for it is loud; there is music similar to a rock concert; there are no sacred rituals or ceremony of worship; there are no sacred symbols – not even a sign of the Cross; and there is no silence, which is considered important to communicate with the Lord. The building looks like an office building and if the name is removed, no one will think this as a church. The pastor is an ordinary person who walks up to the stage and cracks jokes while preaching, which will be unacceptable to Catholics and Protestants. He is ordinarily dressed and does not have a priestly robe. As a student pointed out the Pastor is like a “Stand-up Comedian,” he tells stories from his personal life and tries to entertain the people. Most students believed that the church is a place of worship; it is a “serious” place where people listen to sermons, pray, meditate and communicate with God. It is not a place for comedy, laugh and jokes. It is supposed to be a calm and quiet place. In contrast, the student from Brazil argued that having a calm and quiet church in Brazil is rare; it is unimaginable for her to have such churches. For her, all churches in Brazil are loud and experiential.

IMG_2087It was a unique experience for all of us. It informed us that what is normal in one context may not be normal in another and there are different ways of worshipping and reaching out to Jesus. While some may prefer meditation and a calm and quite moment with the Lord, others might prefer to experience the Lord through loud songs, dances and prayers. It also informed us how Pentecostalism gives more importance to community building rather than to sacred rituals and religiosity. We had gone to visit a “Church”; we experienced a warm, personalized and welcoming “community of believers” at the Christus Gemeinde Wuppertal.