“Praying alone is not enough”

A soothing sound in the ever louder chorus of crisis: Cologne social pastor Franz Meurer exemplifies what it means when he says: "The people are not there for the church, but the church for the people."

Interviewer: What does currywurst have to do with faith and God??

Pastor Franz Meurer (pastor of the Hohenberg Vingst parish): This is a quote from an evangelical pastor at the Evangelical Church Congress. Of course, the publisher doesn't want to sell the book only in Cologne, otherwise we would also have Flonz (blood sausage, note. d. Red.) can say. Currywurst just comes across better nationwide.

Interviewer: In doing so, you also give very practical tips in the book. One even learns where to get sausages and how cheaply. But that is part of the whole concept of the work of your parish, or?

Meurer: My idea is that people want to participate. For example, when children roast sausages over the fire themselves. Then you have to have the right sausages and a very special instrument so that the sausages don't fall off. Disappointment is there when you give children only a stick to roast sausages and they fall one hundred percent into the fire. So participation. In the end, God also participates in our lives. That is the first thing: that we take an interest in each other. The second: "Everyday life is the way to God," as St. Francis de Sales said. Teresa of Avila said: "With rinsing you accomplish divine service." That is, the seemingly lowly things make us humble.

Interviewer: Why is this so well received?

Meurer: It's no longer possible to say, "I'm a pastor and I'll tell you what to do," as it used to be." People all want to speak out. No one objects to the existence of the priest or the bishop. But all also want to have something to say. That's why the principle with us is: "Whoever does it, has the power." That means as much agile management as possible. That is, everyone is a protagonist.

Interviewer: They take a very practical approach to the problems people face and find solutions surprisingly easily. Couldn't everyone do it this way?

Meurer: Our principle is: as much ecumenism as somehow possible. Ecumenical is twice as good and half as expensive. Vicars no longer exist, the chaplain has been gone for 15 years. So the Protestant youth leader is our chaplain. We make for the young people very, very much together. By the way: Ecumenism strengthens the denomination. No altar boy wants to become Protestant after all. He rather wants to annoy the youth leader and vice versa.

Interviewer: What tip do you give to other pastors who would like to do your concept at their place too?

Meurer: At the end of the book there are twelve concrete tips. For example: Do as much ecumenism as possible! Or: He who comes too late, life punishes him. One must interfere. Or: Whoever does it has the power. That means everyone must have power. Or: As much democracy in the church as somehow possible. The Church is fundamentally democratic AND hierarchical. And as catholic as possible. But Catholic always means "et et" – both and, not "aut aut" – this or that.

Interviewer: Wanting the churches to be full is the wrong goal, you say. What is the goal?

Meurer: The right goal is to benefit people. That is why Christ becomes man, incarnation. And not just as a messenger. He won't even drop by on an inspection tour. No, he really becomes man, fully God and man at the same time. And that must be felt. For example, when the First Communion begins, there is a treasure chest in front, and in the box is the most precious thing in the world. "Gold," shouts one. Another says philosophically: "air, water". Women then often say, "love and the Bible". No, there is a child in it and a real one at that. Afterwards all the children want to get in. That's such an old out box, where a child of nine fits in well. This is our message, this is what we adults need to get across: Every child is worth more than all the gold in the world. And you kids have to bring communion over, communion, community, from now on zero bullying. Then we take a vote on who is in. And then, of course, everyone joins in. Like communism, it's clear. (laughs)

Interviewer: Do you have another example?

Meurer: In the Acts of the Apostles it says, "God brought to them every day those whom he wished to save. And they sold everything they owned and divided it and gave it to the poor" and "Every day they came together and broke bread and lived in harmony with one another." This is perhaps only a vision. Whether that was true at the time? In Corinth there were already four parties fighting each other. That is also part of it. The question is how to deal with noise.

Interviewer: In the Cologne neighborhoods where you work, there are many people who are not so well off and have little money. Is there the church the right one to help them?

Meurer: Fortunately we are the decisive bearers of culture. Most of the people in our country are Muslims. 74 percent of children have an immigrant background. And fortunately, people understand what Cardinal Meisner has expressed harshly: "Liturgy without diakonia is idolatry." That is, who only goes to church and prays, has a problem. By the way, you don't get to heaven by praying the rosary or going to church, but by doing good deeds.

Interviewer: What are your experiences? How do people react to how things are going with you?

Meurer: I also want to have a nice and happy life. So I have to do what is useful for people. With us it is like this: We stick together. There are 583 keys, everyone can dispose of money and vehicles. Therefore, I have little load, because it is distributed.

Interviewer: You speak of a service idea. Is the church, then, a service provider to mankind??

Meurer: Absolutely. In his Lenten pastoral letter, our archbishop says: "Evangelization is the most important thing. Joy of evangelization even more important". And he even says, "If necessary, even with words.". This wonderful quote from Francis "Proclaim the Gospel with words if necessary". That is, first of all, by deeds. Service is when you are smiled at, when you can change your child in church, when you can also find toilets. When one is given a prayer book and the latest information as a greeting, when one is so sounded out in the homily and throughout the Mass that one can understand it. That is, service is actually quite central. By the way: The special priesthood is a "servicium", says the Council, a service for others. Just never say, "My ministry is a ministry". Then people do not believe it anymore. It is necessary to carry out the service.

Interviewer: Is this the answer to the crisis facing the church?

Meurer: I find that a bit highfalutin. But let me put it this way: things have always been up and down in the Church. At the moment we are in a situation where, for example, church attendance for most people no longer takes place every Sunday. We always have the church full, but each time with a slightly different audience. So this is completely normal. If you have a family and the weather is nice, you have to go to the swimming pool. Or if it's grandma's birthday and she lives far away, you have to go there!

It is important to me to think from the people's point of view and then to do something that helps them to have a spiritual experience. Of course, we also have very pious things. We have just founded a new spiritual community. There are five young people with us who see themselves as "La familia", a Christian residential community. It's nice to see: There are different things together and this diversity is the right service. Or multi-faith celebrations as prescribed by the bishops' conference. It is important that the Muslims are with us in the Church. God, the merciful. Allah, the Merciful. That means we have to do something that brings people together.

Interviewer: All this takes courage or a certain attitude that you have. Where do you get this?

Meurer: I do not find myself brave at all. I think it's normal, because faith for me is first of all, as Pope Benedict says, "pure freedom". Faith is always a gift, it cannot be made. You can try as hard as you like. Then faith does not grow. You can make a small contribution, I'm with you on this one. But then God gives you the experience of his closeness.

The interview was conducted by Katharina Geiger.

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