German church moderator hits sensitive spot by questioning Sunday worship

02-02-2024

Central Europe

Evert van Vlastuin, CNE.news

German churches in Würzburg, Bavaria. Photo AFP, Christof Stache

Should the church worship be on Sunday? Or could we move that to a more convenient moment? A moderator of a regional church in Germany has provoked a debate about this question.

The Protestant Church in Rhineland (EKiR) is alarmed by the collapse in church attendance. For this reason, the church board presented an “innovation” plan to get more people to attend the worship service.

The Sunday “innovation” was only meant as a detail in a general plan for the “regional worship landscape”. The general idea is that the central Rhineland church (EKiR) should implement “fewer regulations” on local parishes. For example, it mentions that community leaders should be able to decide whether to have the weekly service on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning or any other day.

But precisely this detail made headlines and led to discussion. As in other countries, Sunday morning is still the central moment for worship in Germany.

The moderator of the Rhineland state church, Thorsten Latzel, initially said that the Christian faith is not primarily about “what happens on Sunday”. The “everyday worship” is much more important, he said, according to press agency Idea.

Breach

The well-known Evangelical pastor Ulrich Parzany responded very negatively to this. The German quality newspaper Die Welt wrote in a headline that the “church says goodbye to Sunday”.

This is no less than a breach of history, says Parzany. Christians have been gathering on Sundays for around 2000 years. This is also a thing that all Christian churches unites: the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant people’s churches as the German EKD, and the many free churches.

The EKiR defends its idea by saying it was born out of necessity since church attendance is meagre and still declining. Officially, the Protestant Church in Rhineland has 2.2 million members, of which only 1.7 per cent comes to the Sunday service. The hope is that this active attendance will grow if the local parish finds a better time for worship.

Parzany says, “Rhinish Protestants are in the process of giving up the central day of Christian life, Sunday, as a day of worship.”

The pastor adds that “the assembly on Sunday or earlier on Sabbath has been fundamental for believers’ lives since Christianity. Only the assembly of believers strengthens the individual in such a way that he can live with God in everyday life.”

Also, the Protestant theologian Prof. Ulrich Körtner expressed himself critically about the options. In an interview with the Catholic Domradio, he said that this is a breach with the “Sunday as the communal day for Christians” in the local church. “Sunday still is the weekly Easter feast for the congregation”, he says.

Sanctify

In response to the adverse reactions, Latzel said to Domradio that there is no plan to cancel the Sunday morning service. “The rhythms of life of many people have changed. Of course, we will continue to celebrate and sanctify Sunday. Still, at the same time, we realise that we need services at other times, for example, when the weekend ends. Not every church has to have a Sunday service.”

According to the moderator, the Sunday service at 10 a.m. “comes from a farming era. This time fits in well between feeding times. But only a few people are working in agriculture in the big cities. However, we are still sticking to the 10 a.m. appointment on Sunday in many places. This contradicts the rhythm of people who can sleep in at least once a week.”

Chain

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