Germans From Russia: An Asset? Returnees Find Transition to German Churches is Difficult
Yoder, Bill. "Germans From Russia: An Asset? Returnees Find Transition to German Churches is Difficult." Lutheran, December 1994, 46.
The Aussiedler bring new life to German churches.
|The Aussiedler worship at an independent Lutheran
church in Berlin.
On paper the flood of ethnic-German Lutherans into Germany
from the former Soviet Union is heartening.
A million arrivals from Eastern Europe have registered themselves
Lutherans, estimates the Rev. Siegfried Springer, head of the Evangelical
Church Fellowship. Roughly 200,000 German still arrive annually,
half of whom are Lutherans.
Springer points out what in a Wolfsburg church, "the pastor would
be left with 10 people in the pews if the Aussiedler [Germans from
Eastern Europe] stayed away. But now he has 200, and twice as many
attend the services held by Aussiedler themselves."
Thomas Winistaedt of Berlin's Evangelical Refugee Counseling Service
said, "We regard the Germans from Russia as a great opportunity.
Many of our churches are very empty; they can bring us new life."
The move from rural Russia or Kazakhstan to urban Germany is traumatic.
The daily Frankfurter Rundschau wrote, "The Aussiedler thought they
were returning home. Bu t hey arrived here only to discover that
the German culture they had upheld so loyally no longer exists in
Germany." Journalist Ralph Gehrke concludes, " This is no return
home, but a transfer into another world."
Gabriele Wagner, who directs a church home for recent Aussiedler
in East Berlin, reports that homesickness is a major problem, especially
for those in mixed [Russian-German] marriages. Alcoholic binges
On the congregational level, the beginning years have been rocky.
As the Rev. Hiltrud Schneider-Cimbal began her first sermon for
an Aussiedler congregation a decade ago, she was shouted down by
a male protesting her gender. A colleague reports that on occasion,
"someone will hold a speech at the end of a burial service correcting
Winistaedt said, "Aussiedler are initially highly uncomfortable
in church. They're accustomed to having the en on the right and
women on the left and women in scarves." Aussiedler never have sung
with organ accompaniment and are scandalized when congregations
remain seated during prayer.
Winistaedt distinguishes between generations. "Because their grandparents
were so strict, many of the young don't want anything to do with
the church," he said. Young emigrants are more Russian than their
Will Lutheran Aussiedler enrich the larger German church, or will
they instead create their own? The Evangelical Church in Germany
is committed to integrating Aussiedler into existing, longstanding
congregations. "We see it as our calling to have local congregation
offer rooms to Aussiedler so they can hold services in the fashion
to which they accustomed," Springer said. "There are 140 such Lutheran
meeting in Germany now, and we desire to create more appreciation
for Aussiedler within existing congregation."
Martin Kruse, the former Bishop of Berlin, said last year: We
cannot expect refugees "to simply take part in the existing forms
of church life. That would be merciless and shortsighted and would
force them out of the church."
Indeed many Aussiedler already have joined more intimate Baptist
or Mennonite congregations. Others have joined the small Independent
Evangelical-Lutheran Church allied with the Lutheran Church-Missouri
Synod. But thanks to the efforts of committed official such as Springer,
Aussiedler presence in pietist groups within the larger Evangelical
Church will surely remain and grow.
Reprinted with permision of The Lutheran.