On Sunday, 11 January 2015, The Baptism of the Lord, we visited Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Berlin, Germany. Trinity is a SELK congregation (in altar and pulpit fellowship with the Missouri Synod) and a "satellite" congregation of St. Mary's in the Zehlendorf district of Berlin. Pastor Gottfried Martens serves as the senior pastor. The majority of the people who attended Trinity were Persians who had come to Germany from Iran. Most of the attendees were formerly Muslim. The worship attendance was approximately 300.
There are a growing number of Iranians coming to Germany, both due to the brain drain of professionals from Iran and due to persecution. Germany has the largest population of Iranians (around 150,000) in Western Europe. Pastor Gottfried Matins, in a Christianity Today article, noted the irony of Persians converting from Islam to Christianity in Eastern Europe, which is one of the most atheistic and godless regions of the Western world.
The service follows the regular order of service found in the SELK (Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church) hymnal; however, the congregation provides two supplements, 1. A German-English supplement and 2. A German-Farsi (Persian) supplement to assist congregation member and visitor alike.
The service began with a "Service of Corporate Confession and Absolution." The Lutheran Service Book (LSB) has a similar service. At Trinity in Berlin, the Service of Confession begins 30 minutes before the main service. After a corporate confession of sins ("I, a poor, miserable sinner confess to all my sins ..."), the penitent are invited to come forward and kneel at the communion rail to receive absolution (forgiveness of sins). Although fewer people attended the Confession service than the main service, it was still well attended with perhaps half the number of the divine service. After hearing the pastor speak, "Dir sind deine Sünden vergeben (Your sins are forgiven)" 200 hundred or so times to each individual who came forward, it is hard to walk away unclear what Jesus has done for you. The effect of hearing your sins are forgiven must be even more profound for a person coming from a Muslim background which does not teach forgives or grace.
The German-Farsi supplement has the Lord's Prayer in Farsi (Persian) with how to pronounce the words on the left. During the service, the Lord's Prayer was said in Farsi. Now if an English speaking person looks at the Lord's Prayer in Farsi (Persian), he can recognize a few of the words (pedare, name, et al). For instance, the familial words in English such as "father," "mother," "daughter," and "brother," all originally came from Persian. Likewise, the English word "name," originally came from Persian. As an Indo-European language, Persian (Farsi) influenced the development of several European languages including English. Another Persian word every English speaker would recognize is "paradise."
A number of the Persian attendees were catechumens (those who had not been baptized but were receiving instruction in the Christian faith). Those awaiting baptism received a blessing at the communion rail commending them to the day of their baptism. No doubt those who have completed the Christian instruction will be baptized at the Easter Vigil service. Pastor Martins has people study the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Small Catechism of Martin Luther, and the liturgy before baptism.
The Jesus of the Bible not the Jesus found in the Qu'ran must be preached. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, through the preaching and the teaching of Jesus. Pastor Martins preached on the baptism of Jesus, especially relevant for those Persian catechumens who will receive Holy Baptism in a few months.
Pictured: Rev. Dr. Jon Vieker, Rev. David Bueltmann, Deaconess Pamela Nielsen, Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martins, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Rev. David Mahsman, Mr. Rick Steenboch.
After the service, the congregation invited us to eat lunch with them before we departed for Wittenberg.
To read more please see:
Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church welcomes Iranian converts
From Christianity Today -- "The Other Iranian Revolution"
-- Rev. Albert B. Collver, Ph.D.,
Director of Church Relations / Regional Operations