In Christ There Is No East or West: St. George's Anglican Church, Berlin, the 5th Sunday of Easter, 2006

Article excerpt

For forty years the city of Berlin was a house divided against itself. Reminders of its division into east and west are still evident today. Parts of the Berlin Wall can still be seen in places, numerous museums and monuments focus on Berlin in the Cold War era, and tours of the city frequently center on these themes.

In many ways, this past is also demonstrated by Berlin's only Anglican church, St. George's. The church traces its roots to 1834 when the London Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews began holding Anglican services in Berlin. That ministry, which evolved over time, came to a halt in 1939 when the church was closed at the outbreak of World War II. During the war the church building was completely destroyed. The ministry was revived by the Church of England under a series of military chaplains following the war, and in 1950 a new church building was constructed in the center of what was then die British sector of the city. The church's new location, which is significantly west of the city's current center, puts St. George's in the midst of one of Berlin's wealthier neighborhoods. The church's plot of land, large enough for a church building, a separate building for children's ministry, and a fenced-in yard, is surrounded by apartment buildings and even by houses, which are rare closer to the city's center.

Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the city has moved rapidly to make its nominal reunification a concrete reality. Buildings and other developments have shot up in areas where the wall once stood, and around the grey and dingy "Plattenbauen" of the German Democratic Republic era stand colorful modern art galleries and trendy shops.

Reunification has also influenced St. George's. After the allies pulled out of Berlin, St. George's ceased being a military church, and it called its first civilian chaplain in 1994. It is now being served by its second civilian chaplain, whose ten years of work have provided stability to the church's ministry. A Sunday evening service in the city's center has been added to meet the needs of worshipers from other areas of Berlin, although the church still attracts a wide diversity of the city's English-speaking Christians to its 10:00 AM service in the city's west end.

On 21 May, the 5th Sunday of Easter, 2006, a visitor exits the Neuwestend subway station and walks a few blocks to St. George's. The large wooden doors are open, and he steps into the narthex. A few bulletin boards offer information, and the visitor pauses to read them. The left wall announces recent and upcoming church activities, several of which relate to soccer (a theme with which the whole city is buzzing in anticipation of the upcoming World Cup). Posted here is a newspaper article prominently featuring a picture of a minister in clerical collar holding a soccer ball over his head. The article, which has several quotations from this priest, previews a soccer match (which by now has already taken place) between Christian clerics and Muslim imams, a competition intended to foster religious dialogue and reconciliation. An amusing section reports the group's discussions concerning the day of the week on which the match should be played and says that they are looking for a rabbi willing to referee on the Jewish sabbath. A bulletin board on the right side of the narthex highlights creations from the church's children's ministry. Another display case offers literature about the parish and the wider Anglican communion.

As the visitor collects some copies of the literature, a man in a clerical collar walks in and pauses to greet the visitor. As the visitor had begun to suspect, the cleric in the article is indeed the church's priest; the title of the office he bears here is "pastor". The visitor then enters the main sanctuary, approximately ten minutes before the service is to begin. A few people are already seated and some are clustered in groups talking. At the back of the church the ushers are still trying to organize their materials, and it takes a minute for them to notice the visitor and hand him supplies for the worship service: Hymns Ancient and Modern (Norwich: The Canterbury Press) in red covers, a green worship booklet with the printed liturgy (without publication information), and a small packet of music for the sung prayers (Liturgical Setting IV from "A Parish Eucharist" by John Birch, Church of the Province of Southern Africa). …