“My praise shall be of You in the great assembly”

The congregation you have spent the greater part of your life in is going to be closed. “That is painful!” Jean-Luc Schneider says. Not even the Chief Apostle is spared from such heartache. How does he deal with it?

“Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” This was the Bible text Apostle Jeannot Leibfried used for a divine service in the congregation of Hoenheim (France) in September 2017. It was the last divine service in the church building, which brothers and sisters had practically built with their bare hands sixty years before.

People are still talking about a Priest, affectionately called Uncle Sausage, who would always come by and drop off sausages by the kilo to make sure that the volunteer workers had enough to eat. He was a local butcher. They always ate together. They set up a table right at the spot where the altar would later stand. This is what the congregation’s chronicle reports.

In a gloomy mood

But Hoenheim is not only a congregation that is good for a few anecdotes, it is a congregation steeped in history. It was the congregation in which the first audio transmission in France was carried out. And this is the congregation in which a certain René Higelin conducted the choir, the later District Apostle. And Hoenheim is the congregation which had a rector up to the early 1990s who was destined for higher things. “I was born into this congregation,” Jean-Luc Schneider reports. He was baptised in Hoenheim, was married there, and his daughters were baptised and confirmed there. “The works,” he says.

And now the closing? The Chief Apostle hesitates. “It’s painful!” he lets on. “It really hurts!” Of course the Chief Apostle is aware of the necessity. The church building is in need of refurbishment. It no longer complies with the building code. However, that knowledge does not help the individual member very much. “I was sitting in the bench during the last service feeling rather gloomy but also thankful.”

God’s gifts are not lost

And how does Jean-Luc Schneider deal with the pain? When asked this question he refers to the 23rd of April 2017, the congregation’s sixtieth anniversary. The members could hardly believe their eyes when the Chief Apostle stepped out of the sacristy and walked to the altar.

“My praise shall be of You in the great assembly.” This is how the Bible text from Psalm 22: 25 began, which the Chief Apostle based his sermon on. He reminded the congregation of the many gifts God has granted every congregation.

  • Grace. “Think of the many times He has forgiven us our faults without ever tiring of it or reproaching us for them.”
  • Blessing. “Remember the wonderful moments of joy and brotherliness which we shared.”
  • Help. “Let us especially not forget the miracles that God has performed in our midst.”
  • Comfort. “We have experienced so many tragedies in our congregation, but God always managed to comfort and strengthen us.”
  • Men and women prepared to serve. “… all those who contributed to the well-being of the congregation.”

Moving into a different church building does not mean that these gifts are lost. Instead you fulfil the mission connected with your vow—to be faithful to God—in a bigger congregation, the Chief Apostle said. In this context, the Chief Apostle made special mention of the departed: “Also in our new congregation we will be surrounded by a big cloud of witnesses.”

Changes make it new for everyone

What the two divine services had in common was what happened at the end: lunch for everybody. With one difference: in April it took place in an extra room, in September in the by then deconsecrated nave of the church. “We moved the benches to make room and had a really nice party.”

The Chief Apostle wishes to congratulate the now merged congregation of Strasbourg. “The brothers were very wise. They changed some things from the way they were done before. This way, the congregation was new for everyone.”

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Andreas Rother
Structure, Congregational life