I’m sure there’s a story behind this church, though I ‘m not sure what it is. One of these days I will ask.
It is a modern building, looks to me like a 1970s interior. I didn’t see the name out front, but the city website says it is St. Bernard. (In Canada municipalities don’t list churches and their service times. Here they do) On the outside St. Bernard looks like other buildings in Sulzburg, whether they are new or 500 years old. Architecture here tends to be timeless. Or maybe I just don’t know enough to see the differences that have sprung up over time.
When I get to the municipal museum, a trip I am saving for when my German is a little better, I hope to find out something about the religious history of the town. I know Sulzburg is thought of as being Protestant, but it wasn’t always. The religious heritage is mixed.
At one point, a third of the population was Jewish, and Sulzburg was a centre of Jewish culture and scholarship. There are no Jews living here anymore, haven’t been since 1940.
The Lutherans are the majority religion here, though I don’t think many people are practicing their faith – Christianity is more nominal than vibrant. The other town church, St. Cyriak, wasn’t always Lutheran though – it was founded in the 10th century, hundreds of years before Martin Luther was born. The city museum itself is housed in a former church on the market square, across from the castle (which to me isn’t really a castle, but maybe I don’t understand these things). I’m not sure if that was Protestant or Catholic. Maybe it was Catholic – that would explain the newness of the Roman Catholic Church.
I dropped into St. Bernard’s for a couple of minutes last Sunday afternoon as I was watching the children assemble at the nearby school for the Weckensonntag parade. I figured it was a good time to take a look since I had my camera with me. I knew the church would be empty – the Sulzburg parish has been amalgamated with five other communities, a sign of the decline of religion in this area. Mass is on Saturday and the priest is resident (I think) in Heitersheim).
I wouldn’t describe the church building as special, except to me all churches are special. It doesn’t seem to have any architectural, aesthetic or historic significance. It did seem though to be a nice place to sit, contemplate and pray.
Four centuries ago Germany (and other European countries) had the occasional religious war. Whether you identified as Protestant or Catholic could be a matter of life and death.
It isn’t like that anymore. I haven’t asked the religious beliefs of anyone I have met on the street or in the store. Protestant or Catholic makes no difference to me; what is important is that you accept and believe in Jesus. (Yes, I know that is stereotypical Evangelical language; I’m using it here as a form of shorthand, so the post doesn’t get too long.) It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that most people here don’t identify with either Protestant or Catholic, that faith is something abandoned long ago. It will stay abandoned until a crisis hits.
The church is still there, battered maybe, but still standing with a core of the faithful always ready to provide whatever help is needed. If it wasn’t the world would be a desperate place. The empty churches of Europe or North America are in some ways an iceberg. What you see may be very beautiful, but that isn’t all there is. There is real power under the surface, but most don’t realize that.
I think that is the message of St. Bernard’s for me today.