Worship in German

by on August 5, 2012

Last summer I knocked out my German research language requirement. Theoretically that means I’m a high-speed reader of theological German now—a register many native speakers of German find obfuscating, so I hear. Unfortunately, I haven’t done a whole lot with it since passing the exam. But I’ve found a way to practice!

We attend a Presbyterian church plant in downtown Hamilton, New City Church. Across the street from where we park there is a small evangelical Lutheran church, which I noticed has a German service. Hmm… I’ve been thinking for months I should pop into the worship service and try to follow along, pick up some German along the way, get a feel for the language in a liturgical and theological context. Last week I finally decided to give it a shot, but they were only having one (bilingual) service, and it was the same time as ours. This week, though, they were back to two services—and the German service was earlier. Score!

Our son Josiah, who is the most awesome five-year-old you will ever meet, decided he would come along. So we walked over, sneaked in the back a couple of minutes into the service, and tried to find where we were in the (German) bulletin. I forgot to mention that I usually read the Bible in the service on my iPod, but the battery was dead, so I grabbed my Greek and Hebrew Reader’s Bible.

That was quite an experience, following German scripture readings in Greek and Hebrew, hearing hymn tunes I know with a language I didn’t, recognizing the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer but being entirely incapable of joining in, and hearing the pastor use sermon illustrations and anecdotes that had something to do with Winnipeg and urban missions and sandwiches while preaching from the middle of John 6 in German. I can’t imagine what my son made of it all.

Except this: he wants to go back. He participated in the worship service at least as much as he does at New City. He likes the sound of German, and wants to learn it with me. And, maybe part of it is that a sweet older lady was so impressed with his good behavior that she came over to talk to him and gave him a shiny new looney (one-dollar Canadian coin).

One thing we will definitely do differently, though. We were both dressed for our casual, young church plant, knowing that our congregation was headed to the park after the service…

Here’s a partial list of words and phrases I recognized (I’ll give you the English rather than try to reconstruct the German!):

  • Father
  • Holy Spirit
  • Congregation
  • Manna from Heaven (von Himmel, I think)
  • sandwich
  • fish
  • love
  • Winnipeg
  • backpack (actually, I think the pastor was searching for the German word and just used an English one instead)
  • five thousand
  • Gilead
  • given for you


I’m pretty sure this is the same church I worshipped at two decades ago with a young lady I was seeing at the time. She had family there, and, yes, the service was in German. I love the Lutheran hymnic tradition.

Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele was one of the hymns we sang, as I recall. One of my favourites — in any language!

Both of our sons have been given shiny coins this week from random older ladies for their good behaviour. I wonder if it was the same lady… Probably not, BUT the lady Amos and I saw did get on the bus very close to that church…