Pastor explores what it means to be German

  • 2004-03-01
  • By Elena Banks, RIGA
Characteristically, Martin Grahl doesn't look like a typical pastor, but rather a contemporary man with a light and natural persona. Grahl has lived in Riga with his family since last May and plans to continue preaching in Latvia for six years. He holds services at the German Evangelical-Lutheran Church for an expat community made up of people of German descent - including those from Russia and the Baltics- living in Riga. During the summer, German tourists attend his sermons as well.

"To be a pastor is an exciting job," the pastor says. "When I was ordained as a pastor, one part of the ordainment is that you must learn your entire life. This is a very exciting thing. As a pastor you learn from the people and you also learn life-long lessons about your own theology," says the pastor. "There are different expectations what church could be."

What makes Grahl stand out among other Lutheran pastors in Latvia is that all of his sermons are in his native language of German. He currently preaches on the first and third Sunday of every month at the Jesus Church in Riga and also preaches in Dobele, Valmiera, Daugavpils and Liepaja.

With a congregation consisting of such a variety of German backgrounds, finding a unifying dialog would seem a difficult task. However, Grahl relies upon religion to unify people.

"In this situation you can find groups in society where there are highly educated people and people with different confessions coming together," Grahl says. "There are a lot of differences in the social levels they have. You can talk to all of them about Bible stories, because they have the same Bible."

One of the most common subjects that Grahl speaks about to his congregation is what it means to be German. It is a difficult, yet important subject for both Grahl personally and the people who come to hear him preach.

"We have a bad history and good history at the same time," Grahl says. "For us, nationalism is not a good word because we had very bad nationalism. And so now we think about what it means to be a German in this situation with our experiences. We know the danger of too much nationalism. But on the other side, we are Germans and have something to say about the situation in Europe."

Grahl comes from the eastern part of Germany. His decision to become a pastor was influenced by his father, who was a priest. However, the fact that becoming a pastor was a way to escape from the Soviet system was an even stronger motivation for Grahl.

"There was a big distance between me and the communist system," Grahl says. "One of the ways to live in Eastern Germany was to lead a religious life. So I decided to be a pastor. With out this, it wouldn't be possible."

Grahl says that there is not a particularly big difference between churches in Latvia and Germany.

"In a way it's the same church, of course. The German church is very big. There are a lot of old traditions, reformed traditions and Lutheran traditions. In Germany the Lutheran church is more pluralistic than in Latvia."

Grahl emphasizes that although he preaches in German expats in their native tongue, there are more differences within his congregation than similarities. Socially, economically and culturally the churchgoers hold very different views. But the congregation is made up of people who have come to listen to Grahl in their native German language and find answers to life's questions.

"I think that people are looking for the answers to the individual questions that they have," Grahl said. "All of these different answers can speak with each other in this open culture that we have, not only here in Latvia, but in the entire world."

Related Articles

Please enter your username and password.