“One of possible answers to people's longing”

Their liturgical use should remain secure. But complementarily, rural church spaces are increasingly becoming attractive meeting places with well-considered cultural programs. Deacon Patrick Oetterer explains that the concept is working out.

Interviewer: Mr. Oetterer, the term "cultural church" is a neologism and means that in a sacred space spirituality and culture meet in all their potentially conceivable forms of formation. The evangelical church has long claimed this definition for itself. But also within the archdiocese of Cologne there are already churches of culture, such as in Oberberg St. Maria Namen, Osberghausen, or else St. Gertrude in Cologne. Now comes with St. John the Baptist added a new one in Bergisch Gladbach-Herrenstrunden. What is the concept behind?

Deacon Patrick Oetterer (head of the Spiritual Life Unit): The question that lies behind all considerations about the use of churches today, and which occupies both the German Bishops' Conference and those responsible in Rome, is: What do we do with our churches, which in many places have fewer and fewer worshipers?? Especially when it comes to smaller houses of worship on the periphery. It can't be that we profane them all because they seem to have had their day, or even tear them down when they stand empty. These spiritual places – whether in the centers of cities or in rural areas – which serve people as orientation pillars in their lives, as places of faith and encounter with God, and with which they associate formative memories, need complementary, supportive activities that are based on or feed off the worship offers of meaning. What moves me above all – and has done since my student days – is: How can Christianity, the Christian faith, remain alive in our Western culture and, in this respect, also have a formative influence?? An age-old question. Already the early Christians were concerned to give the cultural environment a different view of life, of living together. To look at everything, as it were, from the experience and perspective of the death and redemption of Jesus Christ. Then a culture transforms. Then the spirit of the times changes. This touched people emotionally and rationally in all strata of ancient culture at the time.

Interviewer: This means that you are not at all concerned with an embarrassment solution, but with conscious creative as well as spiritual steps towards the people in connection with Christian impulses and attitudes of antiquity, in order to make an additional offer..

Oetterer: In my opinion, the current ecclesial crisis is ultimately a spiritual crisis, which means that it is increasingly difficult to view one's own life from the perspective of the death and redemption of Jesus Christ and to stand up for it. Here wants culture church or. The pastoral path to the future, by the way, also intends to do this in many ways. It's an enormous challenge to find possible new church or community members in the end. to let parish places emerge. For we need views and answers that touch. And touch only takes place when God confronts us in a lively and sometimes controversial and challenging way and becomes tangible. So that we feel, he wants to communicate to us, draw to himself, transform. We are his tools. What we do has to be expressed authentically and in an approachable way. Artistic impulses that are very broad and involve many people – also those of foreign cultures of origin – can open eyes and ears, lay tracks and point out new common paths: between tradition and avant-garde, by holding on to the sources from which our faith is fed, but also integrating new, unfamiliar and unfamiliar things in the most diverse, thoroughly colorful forms, without appropriating them. Cultural church is new for many, a learning field. It is about a mutual inspiration and enrichment through a discussion in the sense mentioned above. If the things of the Church had nothing more to say to the cultural life, or if the cultural life meant nothing more to the Church, every effort would be useless. Church and culture have been linked for two millennia. Understood in this way, the church has always been a cultural church.

Interviewer: What does this mean concretely for the program concept of a cultural church??

Oetterer: An example: We had an annual event in Oberberg, where classical demanding texts by Edith Stein, Hildegard von Bingen, Angelus Silesius, Dag Hammaskjold and others were read out in the context of high quality new music – if you will, not exactly pleasing fare, where the already not quite simple language was once again alienated by sounds that took quite a bit of getting used to. Nevertheless, this was an invitation that met with a growing response. This series of events has the power to touch and lead inside. Many visitors reacted enthusiastically. They have experienced, as they reported, in the creative weave of words and music, an encounter in depth that inspires, renews and instigates a whole new way of looking at things in life. With this venture, a threshold was crossed that was initially an inhibition threshold. It is similar with the program of a cultural church. In both cases, the point is to cross that threshold toward God. Those who do so may discover something that they might not have expected. That this world within, this other world, exists at all – he had not previously thought possible.

Writer Ada Negri says "God gives us the situation and then awaits our response."This means that we pastors and organizers create the conditions for new approaches and perspectives to become possible. We want – with everything we do – to lead to God: in freedom and respect for the individual person as well as through a great sense of wonder and creativity. Not with a moralistic index finger. Creative thinking and action are a basic requirement for any form of cultural work.

Interviewer: And yet you will certainly set up criteria for an attractive cultural program in a holy place, precisely because the spiritual dimension should not be abandoned..

Oetterer: First of all, we do not see ourselves in competition with other co-providers such as the Catholic academies and educational institutions. Therefore, it is not a question of working through a catalog of events, as you would find elsewhere. In a team with the local people, their ideas and also talents, as well as with many cooperation partners from the region – especially the Katholisches Bildungswerk – we are on the road together and work on a very individual profile. Unmistakability is one of our quality characteristics, while at the same time our offers want to be a reflection of social diversity. It is about a locally rooted culture with a wide range of possibilities, which is also allowed to develop a momentum of its own. One thing is particularly important to us: despite the careful choice of our topics – whether readings, concerts or other artistic performances – our focus is on the encounter, which always takes place with a small snack following each event. Touching, exchanging, meeting – these are the central orientations of a cultural church. Such an undertaking can only be successful if as many people as possible can be motivated to participate and if one can fall back on established networks. And of course we are all always aware: Christ remains the core. We are guests in his house.

Interviewer: The Latin word "cultus" already contains a lot: it can be translated as "care", but also as "way of life", "attitude", "veneration", "worship", "homage"… Therefore, the connection between culture and church, as you have already indicated, is an original one and by no means absurd..

Oetterer: In the Church of Culture, the past, present and future of the Church and art come together in many tangible ways. The artistic event, a search for inspiration of individuals in many fields, encounters the Christian proclamation and the Word of God. Christianity, in fact, since the beginning, has always sought the confrontation with culture and has consciously approached the transformation of ancient culture. Today we are faced with a comparable task. Here I like to refer to the Fathers of the Church, who elevated "right use" – Greek: chresis – to a principle. For me, with all the options we offer, this means not losing sight of the fact that God is the center towards which we are directed, towards which every decision is oriented. After all, we don't want to give up or betray our brand essence. Churches of culture are invitations to unload and recharge. And they are open to anyone. Nevertheless, it must always be clear in the end: We are not just any concert hall or exhibition space, we are still a church.

Interviewer: What do you think will happen with the example of the Kulturkirche??

Oetterer: In any case, the number of cultural churches is growing because it is a step toward reaching people in contemporary society – and doing so via an intellectual as well as an emotional track. A cultural church can only develop where there are appropriate foundations for it and where people go along with it. Then it must be an appropriate space – not too small and not too big. The leading pastor decides whether this complementary offer to the already existing one makes sense. And ultimately, a culture church must be supported and sustained. It has to have the opportunity to grow, because it's not a finished thing. And it's about staying with it. Church life requires commitment, fidelity. Only those who stick with it have deep, fulfilling experiences.

Interviewer: What's indispensable if a cultural church is to become a bustling sacred gathering space?

Oetterer: Without spirituality and faith, even a cultural church can't live. After all, we are not a pure culture organizer. That is not our approach. As I said, we are not interested in a scientific-rational or purely intellectual approach. Rather about touching the sacred. And it takes place on a level that defies anything measurable. The decisive point remains: God works. Church services and times of silence, which for me belong to the core of spirituality and in which God gifts us with his presence, should continue to have their place in these churches. Seen in this light, a cultural church is one of the possible adequate answers to people's longings.

The interview was conducted by Beatrice Tomasetti.

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