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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The church on the hill

"My" monastery, Kloster Petersberg, stands solidly on a hill overlooking a stone quarry, several small villages and Halle, one of the most industrialized cities of the former East Germany. Its dull gray walls bear droop-shouldered witness to the coal dust that used to cloud air and lungs. But the church on the hill squares its shoulders and stands proud. At the top of the hill, the smog is left behind and dull gray gives way to red brick. The church is all flowing curves and plain, sturdy solidness, cross-shaped on the inside, proclaiming silently.

In this building, the magnificence of God's glory is overshadowed by the solidness and modesty of God's abiding presence.

The brothers are waiting with open hearts to welcome visitors into their little community. I'm drawn back again and again by the rhythm of prayer and faith and joy, the heartbeat of a church that for centuries has drawn brothers and sisters to lives of ora et labore (prayer and work).

The four brothers here belong to a larger order — a Lutheran community — one of several that sprung up in the wake of World War II, when German society was panting for a foundation, community, spiritual depth and Christian connectedness. This community borrowed its rule and structure from St. Benedict and its theology from the Reformers who found a new way to comprehend God's grace amid upheaval.

Brothers Markus, Lukas, Johannes and Andreas moved to the St. Peter Church six years ago, bringing new life into a house of God that was merely a monument during communism's subtle, pervasive persecution of those proclaiming Christianity. Gently, quietly, persistently, the brothers open up old wounds for healing. The rhythms of their daily prayers and table fellowship draw curious Christians new and old, all welcomed without fail. The brothers' ministry cooperates with local congregations. They visit shut-ins, care for the elderly and offer retreats.

And so here I am, again, seeking an Easter experience shaped by the rhythm and worship and fasting and silence and celebrations. I join 20 other young adults from near and far in this quest, along with the many visitors streaming in and out. The brothers are intentional in their commemoration of Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday, we take up basin and towel and serve one another. We rouse ourselves from slumber to pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, "not my will but yours be done." On the Way of the Cross, we rip the cloth that symbolizes Jesus' robe, we extinguish the Light. On Easter, we move our feet and bodies to the rhythms of many different celebrations of the Resurrection. We sing in four-part harmony that "He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!"

Through these commemorations and celebrations, the rhythm winds its way into my heart. We keep silence and fast. It's a remarkable feeling to gather for a meal without the ritual of filling one's stomach, without the comfort of small talk. Take those away, and what is left is community: We look into each other's eyes and see more deeply than if we'd filled the air with our chatter. When we speak again, it's as friends, not strangers.

The experience forms and transforms us. At the Petersberg we are accepted as is — regardless of our beliefs or piety — accepted and loved. Through the community, or the rhythm, or the dancing, we experience the grace of the resurrection in our hearts. For me, that is the mystery of the church on the hill; the mystery of grace, community, faith.

If you come to the church on the hill, the brothers will invite you into their rhythm, into the mystery. They will offer you the chance to join in the fun, to dance and pray and throw up your arms and ventilate your old stuffy thoughts a bit, and to just plain be.


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