DOMRADIO.DE: You once said that you want to try out what you came up with during your studies at a beer evening in church. What ideas did you come up with?
Christopher Schlicht (pastor in an Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Bremerhaven): I want to be completely honest: When I sat in church myself as a teenager, I sometimes had the feeling that I wasn’t clever enough for church. During our studies we then considered how we could make the church a little more the way we would have needed it as teenagers or as young adults. Comprehensibility was one of the most important things.
The other was closeness, for example with everyday clothes. Here in Bremerhaven I am in a social hot spot and this large black robe, which we wear as Lutheran pastors, often puts a great deal of distance between us and the people.
DOMRADIO.DE: It is no longer a secret that the church is now struggling with a loss of trust and high numbers leaving. To what extent does your young and perhaps unusual concept work there?
Simple: Here in our neighborhood, church works as a relationship. People are less looking for an authority and a signpost, but for an authentic counterpart, i.e. a person with whom they know where they stand. We work a lot with social media here in the neighborhood and are actually paid by our church to work on social media. Instagram is at the forefront.
The chance is that people can get to know us from a safe distance. They then see our posts and stories and realize: hey, they’re just as nice and just as stupid as we are. Then a relationship can grow.
DOMRADIO.DE: Do you have the feeling that trust in the church will come back as a result?
Simple: Yes, but as I said, in our neighborhood it works through personal contact. Because we notice all the longings to think about the important things in life and to be accompanied, like at the wedding, at the baptism, at the funeral here in the district as well.
But some were a bit disappointed by the church and some just didn’t understand what we gave as church answers. That is why comprehensibility is so important to us.
DOMRADIO.DE: How was it possible for you to do without a robe and even to hold the service with a cap?
Plain: Honestly, there were a lot of people who were a little displeased with how we’re doing this service. But that wasn’t the case for everyone. I’m in my mid-30s now. My first thought was, maybe it’s the older people who have a problem with it. But the most exciting and flashed me were several conversations with people who were over 80 years old.
There are three groups. A third doesn’t like what we’re doing at all. So not a bit. We then looked for another parish in the area for them.
Another third says: Yes, that’s not our thing, but we think it’s good that so many young people and young families are here now.
And another third says: For 40 years we have been wishing for things to go a little differently in churches. This is finally happening. We celebrate worship here every Sunday at 5:00 p.m. They meet at 3 p.m. for coffee and cake and then come to see us. You haven’t been to church yourself for decades.
DOMRADIO.DE: Wouldn’t this concept also be conceivable in the Catholic Church? Or why not?
Simple: What is unimaginable in the Catholic Church is the form of participatory worship that we do via stream. But that is partly due to the idea of the fair and the physical presence. Otherwise, many areas, especially this interpersonal aspect, are conceivable for both pastors and priests.
It is important to pay attention to the comprehensibility to a certain extent. For this you have to give up the beloved ritual a bit here and there, because many formulations that you have known for decades and to which you have become accustomed lose a bit of their comprehensibility.
That is one of the most important things here in the focal point district. When people meet us here, they give us a chance. If they understand and feel us, then they will come back. But if they have the feeling “okay, I don’t understand anything here”, then you’ve only seen them once.
The interview was conducted by Tim Helssen.
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The original of this article “Reverend Christopher stands at the altar in jeans and a cap” comes from DOMRADIO.DE.