Back page Interview: Martin Reakes-Williams Chaplain in Leipzig
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
This year's Leipzig Bach festival (27 May -5 June) will not claswith the World Cup. Leipzig is a cultural centre as well as being fairly typical central European city [formerly in the GDR]. Music is a bithing: we have the historic St Thomas's Boys Choir, and Schumann anMendelssohn lived here.
The football stadium dates back to the Hitler days. It was thbiggest in Germany. It used to seat 100,000, and had these big earthebanks. It became derelict, and a new egg has been put in the centre, but thoriginal shell remains.
Leipzig does not boast a top-league team, but in the WorlCup it is hosting a number of matches, including Holland v. Serbia &Montenegro, and Spain v. Ukraine. Some of the churches are involved in helpinrun a World Cup campsite for fans. There will be big screens up around thcity, where I will watch the England matches.
At the chaplaincy, we are working with an Australian Christian groucalled Fusion. They are coming to help us run a big World Cup streeparty. It is not an overtly evangelistic event, but part of ongoincelebrations, and, of course, raising our profile.
We are an English-speaking church with people from all over thworld; only about ten per cent are Anglicans. We are getting aincreasing number of longer-term members, English speakers who marry GermansBut we also have a lot of short-term members, including students from thUniversity. It is a place where Christians from different backgrounds caworship and grow together. We focus on what unites everyone.
Sport is familiar to the city, as Leipzig was a candidate for th2012 Olympics. We lost in the technical stages, but because of the bia lot of money was already being ploughed into the city.
The city is looking very beautiful at the moment with lots of treesthe Germans do things very thoroughly. They are even bringing to lifan old covered river, the Pleisse. Our partnership city is Birmingham, anLeipzig is trying to recreate some of the waterways in the same fashion.
The churches in Leipzig played a vital role in the peacefurevolution which led to the Wall coming down in 1989. St Nichola[Lutheran] Church had been associated with prayers for peace for the previou15 years. It became the rallying-point towards the end of 1989.
There is a moving story from October when no one still had any ideabout the fall of the Wall. President Gorbachev had paid a visit tcelebrate the GDR anniversary, and it was just after the Tiananmen Squarstudent protest in Beijing. The feeling was that the prayerful protests werabout to be stopped.
Blocks were put on motorways; yet the church remained full.Leipzig has been transformed over the past 16 yearsbecause of the opening up of this part of Germany with both private and publiinvestment. In most parts of the town, three-quarters of the housing stock habeen newly built or renovated during this period.
There are some wonderful elegant old buildings from the 1870-191period. But there are still gaps from where the bombs fell. After thSecond World War, 700,000 people lived here. Now there are only 500,000.
Family is important. I am not married, but have thresiblings and 11 nieces and nephews; they come out to see me when they can. think one of the reasons I am quite secure as a person is because of my family
My degree was in German and Russian, and I spent a year iHeidelberg as part of it. There is a gap in Crockford after my curacyas I strongly felt called to work in Germany, so took time out while waiting tsee if anything came up.
The decision to make my parent's faith my own was probably mbiggest choice. But, when I was 14, I gave up Greek and took uGerman. That also coloured my life more than I could imagine at the time.
I would like to be remembered for making some contribution amonChristians in Germany about the power and trustworthiness of the scripturesWe are very near to Wittenberg, where Luther was, which I find verimportant.
My father was a strong influence: he died a year ago. Hwas always other-person centred. I also had a great friend at theologicacollege who was a great thinker and left this long-term legacy with me. I alsremember my housemaster, who was very influential.
During my year in Heidelberg, I remember coming back to London anhearing a sermon about the preaching ministry at St Helen's, Bishopsgate, bthe Revd Dick Lucas. I can remember being in tears, as it felt like confirmation of my vocation.
My favourite part of the Bible tends to be what I am preaching onBut, of course, that can be the part that frustrates me, as well.
I feel angry when people make unreasonable demands and do norespect boundaries. I think, as I am a single person, people sometimewant to own me. I am happiest when something has gone well or I am on a lonrun. I have done the occasional marathon, and have invested in a rowing machinfor the winter, when it is too icy to run.
One of my sisters regularly nags me about fair trade. It inot such a big thing here, but a sermon I gave recently really challenged mabout it.
For holidays, I enjoy both mountains and the sea. Leipziis warmer than England in the summer, and colder in the winter.
There was a hill where I used to live in Leipzig where I used to gand pray. But I am not near there now. I have a small bay window wherI sit and pray each morning.
My first thought was "on my own" if I had to get locked in a churchI am feeling slightly weary at the moment. But, on reflection, I woullove to have a theological chat with Luther