A slightly different shoebox story

Ralf Pilgrim, an Evangelist, has been the rector of the Bad Harzburg congregation in Germany since the end of September 2021. He only moved there with his family in 2020, but he has known the congregation for longer…

“I was born in the small town of Spenge in Eastern Westfalia, located between Bielefeld and Herford,” Ralf Pilgrim begins. “I spent practically my whole life there, until I turned 54.” He was an only child and grew up sheltered. The family has been anchored in the New Apostolic faith for generations.

Learning languages for the Church

Ralf dates his exciting start in being actively involved in Church work somewhere in the mid 1980s. “At the time, we had many refugees from Sri Lanka in our congregation.” The civil war (1983–2009) in this island country in the Indian Ocean had caused a mass exodus of families of Tamil descent, who sought refuge in India, Canada, and Europe. Ralf, who was still at high school, was taking English and he accompanied the ministers during visits to interpret for them and often even interpreted divine services into English. “Three young people in our district were active as interpreters.” He remembers that it was a bit of a culture shock for the traditional congregation at first. “But being together and sharing caused the congregation to open up; it made us look to the right and left, and all of a sudden we liked the newcomers and then they were simply part of the congregation.”

His dedication in the Church also helped his English-language skills along and eventually brought him professional advantages. After studying industrial engineering, he started working as project manager for a certain company. Later, the company made him division manager. He then moved to another company with headquarters in England and worked there for fourteen years.

The language of love

It was thanks to his love of languages that Ralf met his wife. They both attended Portuguese classes offered by the Church. “We met through Portuguese classes. Eventually we were the only ones still taking the classes, since it was a chance to see each other during the week,” says Ralf Pilgrim.

At the age of 19 Ralf Pilgrim was ordained as a Subdeacon. Further levels of ministry followed. By the age of 31, Evangelist Pilgrim—married and father of two small children—was already rector in his home congregation.

New responsibilities

In 2018 there was a career change in Ralf’s life that brought other changes with it. “The company I had been working for was taken over by a large corporation, which ultimately resulted in my looking for a new job. Since I had known the company that I work for now for a fairly long time already, I inquired whether they had an opening. This is how I ended up as managing director in the automotive industry and working here in the Harz Mountains,” Ralf Pilgrim reports.

In the summer 2018 he started his new job, and became a weekend commuter. During the week, he lived in a small apartment in the Harz Mountains, close to his work. He attended midweek services in the Bad Harzburg congregation. Evangelist Pilgrim smiles as he remembers: “The first time I showed up unexpectedly, there were some astonished looks: ‘He’s a familiar face.’”

And they did know each other, namely through the shoe-box campaign at the International Church Convention (ICC) in Munich in 2014. Some might remember the pictures: shelf after shelf of shoe-boxes in which congregations were displayed in miniature. It was a kind of networking opportunity to bring congregations together. “This is where the congregation of Bad Harzburg took fancy to our congregation’s shoe-box,” the former rector of Spenge recalls, and adds: “This is how the friendship between the two congregations came into being with regular mutual visits. Many a personal contact came into being.”

A new home

Eventually, Ralf Pilgrim realised that his being a weekend rector wasn’t really working. At the beginning of March 2019 he was relieved of his function as rector, and a year later he and his family relocated to be closer to his new company.

On 9 September 2020 Apostle Helge Mutschler visited the Bad Harzburg congregation, where he confirmed Ralf Pilgrim in his ministry. Another year later, on 29 September 2021, Apostle Mutschler was in Bad Harzburg again and appointed him as rector of the congregation.

The new rector has a vision for his congregation: for everyone to get along well, to be open, and to joyfully make their way to the goal. Not to overstate the risks, but to see and seize the opportunities together. This this is what matters to him, he says.

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