Apologies for those who have been waiting for our travel blogs. Sparse or no internet access has prevented us from posting them in the latter part of our trip. So, as it used to be, like waiting for a London bus, waiting ages for one and then them all arriving together, here follows the remainder of our blogs written on our German trip……
As we approach Nuremberg the city is synonymous in our minds with the concept of Post War Trials. We were warmly welcomed in the classy Eckstein building, a Lutheran ‘base camp’ in the city centre providing a complex range of resources for the region’s churches and lovely hospitality through its café and restaurant, spilling out into the street just off the city square. That evening one of the lecture rooms was filled with people who had come to hear Roy speak about the Sacred Spaces of monasticism and their relevance today.
It was lovely to link up again with Christine Strohmeier, a child of Nuremberg, who has just completed the noviciate process and who is now living and working in London who was over visiting family with friends.
The warmth of a summer evening allowed us to enjoy a walk through the lovely cobbled streets of this beautiful city and before returning to hosts and hotels we were able to sample good German beer in one of the many delightful inns. We were caused to think very deeply as all day in Nuremberg we met friendly, generous spirited people in shops, cafes, our hotel and on the street. In 1945, 96% of Nuremberg was smashed to pieces by allied bombing. How many friendly, generous spirited people were also smashed to pieces in that year? When you consider the cost of war on a smiling human by smiling human faces, war seems ludicrous beyond justification. It makes you think.
Throughout our wandering over many years now across Europe there are certain places where one feels some affinity and sense of connection and Nuremberg has such a feel. There is some thing very powerful and redemptive about being in a place that has known such violence, brutality and ugliness transformed into a place of beauty and welcoming friendliness.
Friday ~ Sunday morning…..
Leaving temperatures in the mid 20C’s we travelled to Schwanberg, a multi faceted retreat centre perched on top of a rocky hill which stands aloft in the middle of vineyard strewn, rolling hillsides. A gentle clutch of religious sisters maintain the centre and move amongst its visitors with humble efficiency. We were there as Roy was the keynote speaker at a symposium on Celtic Spirituality. Other learned people led workshops and seminars on various aspects of the theme.
Again, because of our limitations with the language, we were unable to understand the range of motivations of participants who were there. Some clearly see Schwanberg as their spiritual home, some were intrigued by a subject that was quite new to them. There were those too, however, who are immersed in things ‘Celtic’ and in considering its contemporary applications several were already aware of and using Northumbria Community resources. It was really good to meet up with familiar friends and friendly faces; Katrin and Daniel, Rainer and Ilona and to meet the two Peters from Switzerland, (a pastor and a businessman) and Peter and Martina, a theologian and pastor and his wife from Nuremberg. One senses that these people are key to the life and development of the Community in Germany, Switzerland and perhaps beyond, either as Companions or Friends.
We shared wonderful and significant conversations with them. It is clear that deepening friendship and co-operation will develop with these folk and their various callings and spheres of activity. It was good to meet up with Oliver again and Anya from Erlangen, again people with whom we feel there will be meaningful connections.
Over breakfast one morning the Lutheran theologian and director of studies at the convent intrigued Roy when he explained that his ancestral homeland was soundly Celtic and that just about all of the Celts in question had the surname of Searle. This revelation will no doubt feature on some future itinerary when opportunity to return to Nuremberg and the area presents itself.
Our final session at Schwanberg saw us gathering for Eucharist with the sisters, the conference delegates, a large youth group and other day visitors. A Lutheran service, ordered yet warm and inclusive, rich in symbolism and enhanced by some great hymns, wonderful singing and aptly chosen instrumental music. We barely understood a word of what was said or sung but somehow felt a real part of the proceedings, realising again that the experience of shared humanity and love transcends language, race, creed, colour and age.
Sunday afternoon and evening…..
On Sunday afternoon we made the relatively short (2 hour) trip back to Gefrees. Roy addressed an afternoon gathering in Andy’s extraordinary barn on the subject of ‘God’s Generosity’, reflecting the nature of the Divine which calls for it being echoed in our lives. Generous portions of wonderful German cakes were available afterwards and we soon prised away from them to explore Andy and Corinne’s new building venture, an extensive building and grounds which is a fraction of the cost that it would be in Britain.
One of the great things that travel affords is the opportunity to learn and listen to people of different cultures. for example, our understanding of property prices was deepened this trip, only confirming how ridiculous and damaging our escalating and obsession with house prices and property is here in Britain. Bu contrast, in Germany, where many people rent affordable housing, which in the vast majority of the country sees property prices well within the ability of people to pay and not be crippled by huge mortgage loans and debts. For example the house that we looked at whilst at Andy’s was a large detached 3 storey property with a very large barn and 2 other outbuildings set in 4 acres of land which cost £90,000. It is by no means the most expensive area of Germany but the exciting development that Rainer and Ilona are pioneering in a lovely wooded valley near Limburg is costing 3 times more than Andy and Corinne’s place but includes 40 acres of land, including woodland, a small lake and a 28 room hotel! They are selling their house and will refurbish the hotel, creating it as a spirituality and retreat centre on which they will build a separate house and chapel and have outline planning permission for other houses to be built as people come to join them at Rivendale. Another shocking piece of news which is dominating debates in Germany at present is the scandalous and immoral situation that has seen Germany, albeit with very burdensome conditions, bailing out countries like Greece and Spain whilst Spanish and Greek millionaires and some billionaires have withdrawn their monies from their own countries and are investing in German companies, thus rendering their own countries bankrupt. A report was published recently revealed that the average savings of the German population is 88,000 Euros in comparison to the small but wealthy Spanish and Greek residents in Germany who average over 112,000 Euros. What crazy, damaging and arguably evil practices are allowed and indeed encouraged in an unregulated, free-market economy. As the late Tony Benn said quite aptly, “it is often asked why the poor are poor but we rarely ask, ‘why the rich are rich?’”.
Our site visit to the new building project over, we jumped in the car and dropping Anya off on our way, began our journey west, homeward bound. Five hours later, travelling at speeds that in Britain would require a calculator to count the number of points we accumulated and certainly would see the removal of our licences for some time, but in Germany is permissible and on some autobahns encouraged, we made our way to Limburg. Warmly received not for the first time, by Rainer and Ilona, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep, conversation and healthy breakfast before our journey to the ferry port of Calais.
For many of our European trips, Germany has been a pleasant stop off point, usually en route to the IBTS Seminary in Prague. It has been good to meet with people and encouraging to be able to serve in different contexts but this time there was a very real sense that something more solid and tangible was being formed with the people we met and the places we journeyed to, both in Belgium and Germany. There is a very real sense that the Community’s life and work in Europe carries some importance. Until returning in the autumn, as we make our way back across the English Channel, we say au revoir and auf wiedersehen.
There are many advantages to travelling by car and boat rather than plane. Reflecting is richer on uncomplicated roads and anecdotes can be elongated and enhanced.
The English Channel was caressed by sunshine and the white cliffs of Dover shone like a welcoming speech as we approached. Our immersion during the trip in areas consumed and affected by war meant that these cliffs should have had ‘blue birds over’ and were those left and returned to by so many boys and young men commissioned to kill and be killed.
In keeping with the Community’s paradoxical spirituality, embarking from the ferry at Dover we made our way to Canterbury, to its magnificent Cathedral and Abbey, home of Augustine and the Roman tradition.
The city precincts were awash with thousands of touring young people. Arriving too late to pay nearly £10 each to do the tourist’s visit to the Cathedral, we resolved to return an hour later for Evensong. The mark of the service was astoundingly quaffered singing by the Cathedral choir, high formality and well worked liturgy. As the booming organ carried us to the exit, we pondered how every gathering of Christians, format, familiar or unfamiliar, liked or unliked, has the power to touch something of our lives with the transcendent, a reminder perhaps that as St. Augustine himself declared, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee, O’ Lord.
After travelling for most of the day and following many conversations, meetings and speaking engagements, to sit in the accompanied silence in the cathedral’s choir stalls and bathe in the beauty of the cathedral and the service of the choir was a precious gift. Comfortable yet not really at home in this place that in many ways stands in contrast to the Celtic stream that we draw from and dwell in. Canterbury cathedral speaks of grandeur, beauty, Establishment, hierarchy, privilege, patronage and power. Nevertheless, a magnificent place of worship. Perhaps the great tragedy of the Synod of Whitby was not so much that the king’s decision favoured Rome but that failed to recognise the gift and validity of both traditions.
Our lives this past week and in turn that of the Community have been blessed by the riches and diversity that have come to us from Lutheran, Catholic, Pentecostal, Cypriot, Benedictine, Baptist and Anglican traditions, each one adding meaningful threads to the tapestry of spirituality that is woven predominantly in our lives with Celtic and desert monastic strands.
A busy, demanding yet rewarding eight days. Deepening friendships and great travelling companionship, a spiritually enriching experience concluded in a very appropriate, down to earth way with a fish and chip supper with a mug of tea around the meal table back at John and Sue’s in Margate.
Early to bed, leisurely start to the new day and a returning home, rejoicing at the wonders he has shown us.
Thanks for journeying with us….