What is a church?

It was during the preparation for the evening prayer last Friday which was the first public evening prayer in Oberrieden. In terms of the content, everything was quite clear, but we had different opinions about the arrangement of the church interior. Each of us hastily drew a sketch of the church presenting his own ideas about how the chairs, the cross and the candles should be set up. In hurry we paid little attention to the proportions. Small wonder then that the circular church building resembled times an egg, times a mushroom. But still, everyone commented his outline with the remark: “This is the church”.

As I took a look at those three circle-like drawings I was amused and asked “What is a church?”. The three of us laughed and worked on.

But afterwards the question still haunted me: “What is a church?”


What is a church?

Immediately, thousands of pictures crossed my mind.

Old and new churches, little and big churches, thick and thin …

I thought of the church in my home parish,

of the little Romanic church in the village of Taizé,

of the majestic dome in Speyer,

of the youth church in my hometown illuminated with spotlights.

And in the middle of all this, the three churches that we got to know here at the Zurich Lake:

Langnau with its big glass front,

the traditional building in Thalwil

and the rotunda in Oberrieden mentioned in the beginning;

each of them with its own, exciting history.

But somehow that didn’t answer my question. Wasn’t a church something more than a sanctified building, something more than tangible?


What is a church?

Press headlines came into my mind:

“The church compliments …”,

“The church criticises …”,

“The church allows …”,

“The church says …”;

many news highlights about decisions, statements and ideas which appeal to me times more times less.

But this too could not be the answer. Wasn’t a church something more than an institution that issues decisions, positions and proposals?


What is a church?

I had to think about recent days here at the Zurich Lake – by now we’ve already crossed the halftime of our small provisional community.

I remembered the services we were involved with,

Taizé prayers,

caring about little kids in the kindergarten and the twinkle in their eyes,

many conversations with pupils, times challenging, times purely joyful;

different “Soup-Days”, when many people gathered to eat and talk,

the plant-workshop related to the Lent,

cooking for old ladies.

In all this I recalled the kaleidoscope of faces: dedicated employees and volunteers who make all that possible day by day, with lots of energy and joy. And I also recalled all the others who eagerly and gratefully respond.


The word “church” comes from the Greek kyriaké” which means “the Lord’s (house)”.

Of cause a house needs walls, open (!) windows and doors, as well as committed management. But what would a house be without people inside? They are the ones who fill the house with life and the taste of God.



A song written by Anton Schwarzmann, Johannes Klehr and Stefan Hoffmann says:


Dies Haus aus Stein,                                      This house made of stones,

es soll lebendig sein.                                      it has to be alive.

Gebaut für uns, für jedes Kind,                       Built for us, for every child,

für alle, die Gemeinde sind.                            for all who make a community.


That is the answer! That is a church!




2 thoughts on “What is a church?

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