A ministerial letter from Germany

Tabea Baader
Rev Tabea Baader, Photograph courtesy of the Press and Journal

It was a bittersweet departure for Rev Tabea Baader when she left her role as the minister of Fort Augustus and Glengarry in the Highlands to return home to Germany.

The 34-year-old, who described the air as clean and the hearts of the Scots pure and honest, took up a new chaplain role at the University of Augsburg in September last year.

Miss Baader, who belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and hung up her Kirk robes in August after her exchange programme came to an end, reflects on the differences and similarities between ministering in a urban continental European context and rural Scotland.

Exchange

"The change I just made could not have been any bigger.

After four and a half years of parish ministry I have accepted a call to become university chaplain in Augsburg, Bavaria’s third biggest city after Munich and Nuremberg.

The university has a total of 20 000 students and has just opened their new medicine school which means adding a third of the present size.;

I came to the villages of Fort Augustus and Glengarry in 2012 after having completed my training for the ministry in Germany.

My placement was part of an exchange between the Church of Scotland and the Lutheran church of Bavaria.
Identifying German ministers who are willing to go to Scotland rarely seems to be a problem but encouraging Scottish ministers who will participate in the exchange and go to Germany has never been easy.

Now I understand why that is.

The training for ministry in Germany is an intense 30 months long period of shadowing a senior minister while already serving communion and baptising under supervision.

Painful and challenging

Pastoral care is taught in a way similar to Clinical Pastoral Education and all ministers have to get licensed to teach religious education in school (6-18) as part of their training.

All of this takes place after at least two university degrees in Theology.

Therefore, when accepting the first call one has been through an immensely stressful time, there have been various assessments and degrees, some of them quite painful and challenging.

When going abroad the stressful time of learning and being faced with new situations seems like a continuation of this challenging time for another year until one has settled into the new country.

When returning from Scotland and getting used to ministry in Germany again there are some major differences which I have found very challenging.

First of all, I think it is fair to say that the German public notices the churches on a much bigger scale than religion is noticed in Great Britain.

When receiving the call to Augsburg various newspapers were interested in the appointment of me as new ‘minister for students’.

When being inducted I was also approached by a radio station for an interview.

Tax system

Such requests are something perfectly ordinary but feel rather overwhelming when coming from a place where one is a spiritual leader in a very personal way.

The views of ministers are much valued in the German public.

The other major difference is that although church membership is dropping in Germany just as it is in Great Britain, the churches are still well frequented in comparison and church finances are still robust.

This is due to a different way of administering the church.

Church members pay their regular contributions via the tax system.

Of course it is possible to opt out when one leaves the church and many do.

Administration

But when returning to Germany and seeing the state the church is in, I feel blessed to be part of a church movement where it is something perfectly normal for young people to come to church, become members and where the church recognises the particular nature and needs of youngsters and is able to pay children and youth workers.

At the same time youth work requires a great deal of training which all Bavarian ministers receive as well, some more willingly than others.

The third main difference is that as a German minister one is always in charge of formalities and administration on a much bigger scale than British ministers ever are.

It would be completely impossible to make do without a secretary and at time without consulting the law department of the equivalent of Presbytery.

If one is worried about how to cope with the Acts of the General Assembly the green equivalent would be an unbelievable shock.

In my first three months I have mailed over 600 letters already and there is a vision of the Lutheran church of building student accommodation.

Many qualities

I am pointing out these differences not to boast about how wonderfully I am mastering the change – I am not.
The first three months have been anything but easy.

But I would rather like to encourage anyone who wants to be part of another thriving and lively church to scrape up the courage and jump into the cold water I have just described and warned.

It is worth it.

Only now can I appreciate many aspects of my home church, encourage colleagues by pointing out how well their churches actually are doing in so many ways.

I am sure that someone who would take heart, go to Bavaria as part of the same exchange and return would experience the same growth.

There are so many qualities the Church of Scotland has but one has to go away and return in order to be able to fully appreciate them."