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German ‘container church’ has new center


A new Oranienburg United Methodist Church center opened in Germany, replacing the original “church in the container” structure. A UMNS photo by Birgit Meinhardt.

A UMNS Report
By Elliott Wright*
May 21, 2009


Bishop Rosemarie Wenner preaches at the May 10 dedication service. A UMNS photo by Gerhard Mittelstädt.
 

The United Methodist "Church in the Container" of Oranienburg, Germany, has a new building  to serve a community with a dramatic past and acute contemporary needs.        

A new facility was dedicated on May 10 in a service attended by civic and church leaders. Like its predecessor portable container, the building is yellow, a standout in the surrounding White City, a complex of apartment buildings constructed for house workers at military factories during World War II.

In her sermon marking the dedication, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of the United Methodist Germany Central Conference expressed the hope that the congregation would remain as flexible in ministry -- now that it has a permanent structure -- as when it was in the transitional container. The biblical mandate for ministry, she said, is to be "on the road."

Mayor Hans-Joachim Laesicke, commenting on the "friendly appearance" of the new center, said that "God certainly will feel at home in this place" as the United Methodists continue to open their doors to everyone and respond to community needs.

Openness and response to the community are hallmarks of the congregation that was started in 1996 by a group of United Methodists who had moved to Oranienburg. The town, about 15 miles north of Berlin, has a storied history. Block after block of white-painted apartments were built to house workers in airplane factories during the Nazi era. Consequently, it became a target of Allied bombs. Even today, the area has many unexploded bombs that cause hazards for residents.

After World War II, the White City became barracks for Soviet troops and a prison for dissidents. The area was left in ruins when communist rule ended in the early 1990s. Adding to the picture is the museum at Oranienburg that marks the site of Sachsenhausen, the first of Hitler's concentration camps, where many Jews and others lost their lives.

The housing in White City was gradually restored, but there were few shops and virtually no community infrastructure or organizations for young people. Alcoholism and drug abuse rates are high.

Youth ministry

The United Methodists first made their presence known in White City with youth ministry. A playground was built in part by contributions from United Methodist Women at First United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga.


The original “Church in the Container” opened in 1996 to serve the needs of community youth. A UMNS file photo by Kathleen LaCamera.
 

With the Rev. Heinrich Meinhardt as pastor, the "Evangelisch-methodistiche Kirche im Container" opened in September 1998. Meinhardt, now retired, was succeeded by a clergy couple, the Revs. Birgit and Andreas Fahnert.

The first public church space was a large portable container with one room for worship and other events and a tiny office.

A part of the Berlin District of the North Germany Annual Conference, the Oranienburg church has received both local and international support through the United Methodist connection. Assistance has come from several general agencies, including the boards of Church and Society, Discipleship, and Global Ministries.

Districts of the Methodist Church in Great Britain are part of the church’s family, as well as congregations in the United States. General interest started in 2005 with a two-part series on the "Container Church" by Kathleen LaCamera that was distributed by United Methodist News Service.

The city of Oranienburg, represented by the mayor, was an early and loyal supporter of the initial Youth Pilot Project. The mayor encouraged the United Methodists in the 1990s even when they were branded as a "sect" and their facilities became the target of vandalism. At the dedication of the new church center, Laesicke praised the cooperation between the church and the community over the last 10 years.

*Wright is the public information officer for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The Rev. Heinrich Meinhardt contributed to this report.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

Board of Global Ministries

United Methodist Church in Germany

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