–By Elizabeth Ahlman
On Sunday, September 6, 2015, 10,000 viewers of Germany’s Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDR) (Central German Radio) television station viewed, for the first time on television, a distinctly Lutheran Divine Service held in a congregation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK). The SELK is a sister church body of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The congregation of St. Trinitatisgemeinde (Holy Trinity Congregation) has recently moved into the historic church building, Lukaskirche (St. Luke’s Church), in Leipzig’s Volkmarsdorf District. With the help of the mission arm of the SELK, The Lutheran Church Mission (LKM) and the LCMS, the small congregation is leasing this state-church property, renovating it and returning the pure Gospel and regular worship services to the structure which is a focal point of the surrounding district of Volkmarsdorf.
MDR televises just a few worship services each year, usually one from the State Church, the Roman Catholic Church, an Ecumenical service and one “Free Church” (an independent church body registered with the German government, but which receives no money from the church tax which supports either the State Church (Landeskirche) or the Roman Catholic Church). St. Trinitatisgemeinde of the SELK, a “Free Church” in Germany, generated interest from MDR for several reasons. The Church works with migrants and asylum-seekers and has baptized many former Muslims, the church together with LKM supports a center for underserved children and migrants called Die Bruecke (The Bridge) just over the square and the church’s pastor, Rev. Markus Fischer, works with MDR as the SELK representative. He also writes and delivers devotions one week each year for their radio broadcasts, and the congregation’s service has previously been broadcast on the radio.
The congregation has been preparing for the broadcast for months, including Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, the LCMS missionary sent to assist the congregation in the move to Lukaskirche. Dr. Ahlman played the organ for the service, as his role here is to proclaim the Gospel through Sacred Music in Lukaskirche. Every detail had to be planned exactly to fit the one-hour time constraint from MDR. The SELK semi-professional choir group, Ostinato, joined with the congregation, as well as brass players from Leipzig, the SELK congregation in Halle and the SELK congregation in Dresden, to prepare additional special music.
On Thursday, September 3, Dr. Ahlman, Pastor Fischer, SELK Kantor Georg Mogwitz, and some members of the choir and brass practiced from 7-10 PM, making adjustments for timing and flow. On Saturday, September 5, the entire group ran through the service with the MDR people and all their lights, cameras and other equipment. Some final adjustments, such as removing two stanzas from the closing hymn, were made for timing purposes.
MDR also requested that there be a visual in the first ten minutes in order to capture the attention of viewers. The congregation chose to create a cross out of cubes with symbols on it. It was decided that several members would speak briefly about the symbols on the cross and then build the cross. A congregational member and graphic design artist, Magdalena Küttner, designed the symbols. Each symbol and brief explanation was used as a way to personalize the congregation, but also to highlight distinctly Lutheran beliefs. One member focused on the Word of God (the Bible with A and O) and believing all that it says, another spoke about the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to know Jesus Christ more fully (the dove), another spoke about the need for Christ to be at the center of all the plans and activities of the congregation (the cross picture), another spoke about the inclusion of all people and all nations into the church (the globe) and finally, Magdalena spoke about how Jesus Christ is near in His Supper which is celebrated every week at St. Trinitatisgemeinde (the chalice and loaf of bread). These were built onto a base which pictured other important aspects of the congregation’s Life Together: a church, representing the move to Lukaskirche, and a musical note, representing the church’s love and use of sacred music.
Going into the broadcast, Pastor Fischer had two main goals around which all the decisions were made regarding what was included. Pastor Fischer says of his goals,
First, most important: more people should get to know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the pure gospel. Second: They should get to know that there is still a confessional Lutheran church in Germany.
It was very important to Pastor Fischer to celebrate Holy Communion, though only two tables of communicants would be able to commune during the broadcast (everyone else communed afterward). The State Church in Germany is a union church that does not confess the Lutheran Confessions or the Lutheran understanding of the Lord’s Supper any longer. In fact, during the time afterwards allotted for viewers to call and speak with congregational members, one of the main questions was: “Is this a protestant church or is this a Roman Catholic Church?” Pastor Fischer summarized the answer from the members: “No, we are Lutheran. Luther didn’t want to establish a new church. All traditions, which didn’t dissent to the Holy Bible, were preserved.”
Pastor Fischer estimates that about 30 people called, and said that most of the responses were very positive. He hopes that the service, which can also be viewed on the internet through Saturday, September 12, will prompt people to visit St. Trinitatisgemeinde or another SELK church to hear again the pure Gospel.
- Learn more about St. Trinitatisgemeinde.
- To support the Sacred Music project in Lukaskirche, contact Mission Advancement at firstname.lastname@example.org.