Stami: Glauben Leben Church in Lörrach, Germany
Not all my church visits begin with touristy curiosity.
I drove past this building on the way to the grocery store many times (my favorite discount chain Aldi is around the corner), and though I wondered what the deal was with the slick blue and green logo high on the side of a squarish new modern-looking building, it didn’t occur to me to just Google it. How many buildings, stores, houses—churches—do we pass by every day, most we don’t even notice, some stand out. Why is that?
Then one Sunday morning I awoke with a heavy heart, emotionally and physically exhausted and feeling hopeless from a break-up that was still unfolding, I looked online for “churches near me” (yes, turns out a lot of people type that in to Google) to find something that I could get to in time. Sunday-service for all generations every Sunday at 10:30! Stami Leben Glauben it was.
Stami meant nothing to me initially, but sounded vaguely German, the motto “Glauben Leben” is a play on words. Glauben means “faith” or “belief”, and Leben means both “life” and “to live”, so Living Faith, or Live (your) Faith is pretty good for an evangelical protestant church motto.
I was curious to find out what kind of non-traditional church could be located in what looked like a big toaster, and though Stami is part of the larger Chrischona International, an evangelical Protestant association of mostly German-speaking independent congregations, this particular building is their newest addition and not one of the quaint older ones.
Entering the church, I passed through the community rooms to the main hall, where already at least 300 people, 40 of which were children were gathered in plastic and metal chairs facing a stage. I was encouraged to find a free seat up front by an elderly greeter, but when I told him I was there for the first time and preferred to sit I the back and watch, he welcomed me and said something about picking up a welcome packet somewhere, and that sweets were involved. I sat down and was immediately awed by the technological set-up. Other than the large wooden cross on the back front wall, technology was the priority: a well-lit band on the stage fully outfitted with all the latest electronic gear, the drummer in a glass-walled booth, the projector overhead leading the congregation in song with the lyrics, multiple video screens hung overhead, no-one was on the stage without a microphone, and the whole show was orchestrated from the technician booth in the back.
I kept waiting for the service to start, but it appeared that there was some kind of youth action happening. There were huge wrapped presents on the stage, and then several young people proceeded to put on a full 20 minute skit and action on behalf of the Christmas Shoebox Charity for (poor, developing-world-type) Children, complete with audience participation Oprah-style (everyone look under your chairs for a gift!) and a boy/girl competition to gather said gifts and put them into a shoebox, all to demonstrate how it works. Then we got to watch a video about the Christmas shoebox program, and how they bring the Good Message of Christ’s love to poor children everywhere, by giving them shoeboxes full of toys and toothpaste. Well, that sounds a tad cynical, they also do other missionary work, but in this case, it was about getting the congregation on board to bring in their shoeboxes full of goodies.
Then they sang a song led by the big band up front, it was so simple that in a minute I was singing right along.
Darum danke ich dir so sehr
Ich gebe dich nie wieder her
Es ist so toll dich zu kennen Herr
Jeden Tag ein bisschen mehr
(English: That’s why I thank you so much/I’ll never give you up
It’s so great to meet you Lord/Every day a little more)
If I didn’t know any better, I say it sounded like a love song! I did feel a bit awkward when everyone started waving their hands in the air, although I’ve been to other evangelical churches or worship situations, it doesn’t cease to make me uncomfortable. I stand there with my hands behind my back, or in my pockets, maybe sway a little to the music, but even at a full-on rock concert, I’m not the type to lose myself and go berserk with enthusiasm. I gotta say too, the guy next to me looked similarly pained, but perhaps like me, he was waiting to hear The Word.
The main pastor was away, so the youth pastor took the reigns this Sunday, and his sermon was a bit like a Ted Talk with Clip-art pictures in a Powerpoint presentation. It went something like this in summary:
Life is like a labyrinth (picture of a labyrinth). We don’t know the way out, we need help, and God is there to help us. (Picture of a guy with his head in his hands). Nicodemus also asked Jesus at night for clarification (picture of nighttime). Doubting Thomas also asked God, “When will you show yourself to me?” (picture of doubtful looking person). Peter wanted to do everything with Jesus but then denies Him at the crucial hour. We also want to do right by God, but fail and have weaknesses, (relevant image, at this point I forget which one). The young rich man asked how to get into heaven but went away sad because Jesus said to give up everything, (picture of a sad guy). We also experience in our lives how we have to let go in order to find true divine happiness. The last stock image is of two obviously happy women. The pastor describes the woman who kisses Jesus’ feet, saying “You made everything possible”. He then quotes Romans 6:36, the wages of sin are death and reiterates that Jesus Christ is eternal life. He is the greatest gift of all time. May you recognize Him. Amen.
We’ll call it the shotgun approach to preaching. Say it all! Reference every major story and personality from the New Testament in fifteen minutes! See what sticks. When you only have people’s attention for a few minutes once a week, you gotta make the most of it.
Despite the style, culture, and presentation of this sermon being nothing like what I am used to, I indeed felt relieved, comforted, and understood hearing these words! It was precisely what I needed to hear. Being filled with adolescent-grade feelings of rejection and soul pain enabled me to be open to a sermon of similar quality. I needed to be reminded that even though my relationship was ending, it didn’t mean that I was unlovable, God loves me. And the main point of the sermon that jumped out for me was that, like the young rich man, we must let go in order to find the divine. Time for me to let go of the things I thought I wanted, the things I do even have, and follow Him. I had my pick of stories and teachable moments, and I found the ones that spoke to me at the time I needed to hear it. This experience is the mark of The Good Message; this is the meaning of being a follower of Christ.
I guess if you’re not hurting, or in emotional or psychic distress, if everything in your life is going fine the way you want it to, hunky-dory is your keyword, and you are content and satisfied with your lot, then you might not find yourself in a church very often. But if you are looking for the divine, and your fellow man and yourself for that matter disappoints yet again, then Jesus is still there, getting the message across through His most-varied of followers.
I wandered out of the hall before it was officially over, an hour is all I was mentally prepared for and it wasn’t clear when it would be finished. (There was more singing and then it was done). I started looking around, reading their literature by the entrance (Bring Christ to the Arab refugees of Europe!—a missionary flier), and then began chatting with an elderly lady in the front room near the coffee who quickly took me under her wing. Turns out I was standing in the “seniors corner.” She was lovely and showed me how to first reserve a chair, because the place fills up quickly once the service ends, and then get coffee and fresh pretzels. Who needs wine and bread when there’s southern German coffee and pretzels? Wink. She explained to me how almost as soon as they moved into their new building they outgrew it, now that they have over 100 children. In addition to the thriving youth and children’s work, they also do refugee and social work, and many kinds of missionary work too.
The greeter from the beginning found me and brought me my welcome packet, complete with gummy bears as promised, a program and a nice pen. My collection is growing. Another elderly couple sat down and the conversation continued, covering church-life, the beauty and quality of life of the region near Basel, and the growing wealth-gap in the world. The gentleman says that he read that ten men control 50% of the world’s resources! I reach for another pretzel. Gotta even things out somehow. I ask whether they have always come to this church. No, they used to be mainline Protestant. His wife sheepishly admits that she prefers Catholic mass to other Protestant sects, “If you’re going to go for ritual, might as well do it the right way,” she says. To say that this place lacks ritual would be, well, besides the point. According to their website, Stami Leben lists a summary of the points that keep their community healthy as an acrostic of the German word for grace: GNADE. In English however, it would be Community, Discipleship, Prayer, Service to others, and the Gospel for everyone. Not much mention of sacraments or rituals, but common experiences defined through service, prayer and missionary work. They do have the bread and wine once a month, as many Protestant churches do, but it is symbolic.
The experience of community, prayer in song, and the Gospel was very real for me that Sunday, despite the cultural unfamiliarity. Meeting people who welcome with open arms anyone who comes in their door, is the sign for me that the divine is indeed at work.