100 Years of the New Church in Germany 1
Kurt P. Nemitz
New Church Life 121.5 (May 2001): 20407.
The good news has reached us that the New Church in Germanyand Switzerlandis alive and active. We have heard little about the church societies and activities in these countries because they are not part of the General Church (nor are they formally associated with the General Convention of the New Church).
The New Church society in Zurich has been active for over a century and a quarter. It was organized in 1874. Its present pastor is Rev. Thomas Noack, who also serves as the editor of Offene Tore, a German-language New Church quarterly magazine. Besides, Zurich is where a New Church newsletter for all German-speaking people, Neukirchenblatt, is published. Its editor is Agnes Landert.
The New Church in Berlin, too, dates back to the latter part of the 1800s. Last year the Berlin Swedenborg Center celebrated its 100th anniversary (although from a 45-page booklet published on the occasion, we learn that the first New Church service of worship in Berlin actually took place in 1896). The congregation began as' a circle that gathered regularly to read the Writings.
An academic interest in Swedenborg and the Writings was stirred in Germany and Switzerland especially by the great scholar Dr. Immanuel Tafel, and his sons Dr. Rudolph Tafel and Dr. Louis' Tafel. We read in Annals of the New Church that Immanuel Tafel was the president of the first conference of receivers of the Writings, held in Connstadt, Germany in 1848.
However, the pastoral role in the development of the Berlin Society was played by Pastor Fedor Gorwitz from the Swiss Association of the New Church. He began visiting the "Berlin circle" prior to 1896. The foundation of the New Church in Berlin was brought to completion in November, 1900. In 1909 the small congregation took the name Gemeinde der Neuen Kirche in Berlin (Society of the New Church in Berlin). From 1922 to 1964 it had a resident pastor, Rev. Erich Reissner. Besides ministering to the members in Berlin, he cared for other New Church people in the German-speaking region of Europe. In the years following the First World War, thirty-two children received instruction. The congregation at that time had sixty members.
Slowly the life of New Church society bloomed. Swedenborg groups began to form in Bochum, Stuttgart and Dresden. But with the arrival of National Socialism (Nazis) the New Church began to suffer repression. The Gestapo put a stop to the founding of a Swedenborg association, for which 2,000 interested individuals had applied. Nonetheless, before the beginning of the Second World War, more Swedenborg circles had formed: in East Prussia, Hamburg and Wurttemberg. In 1939 two hundred and fifteen members belonged to the group forming the "German New Church."
Two years later the New Church was banned by the Nazis. The last service of worship of the Berlin congregation took place on the 8th of June, 1941. And the next day their pastor, Erich Reissner, was interned by the Gestapo and put in a concentration camp, and deported to the USA six months later.
When the war was over, twelve members of the church in Berlin gathered together in 1946 and brought the New Church to life again. In 1950the 50th anniversary of the societytheir number had risen to 88. In 1956 the society acquired the property where the Swedenborg Center in Berlin is located today Fontanestrasse 17a (Berlin-Grunewald). A year later an organization was registered in the judicial district of Charlottenburg under the name Die Neue Kirche in Deutschland (The New Church in Germany).
When its re-patriated Pastor Reissner died in 1964, the society was destitute. Since then a layman, Peter Keune, has taken on holding services of worship.
In the mid-1960s, Friends of the New Revelation of Jacob Lorber made contact and were allowed to affiliate with the Berlin society. The society's anniversary publication remarks: "On the one side, however desirable these new additions were, on the other, a few of the conservative members in the Swedenborg congregation, who were skeptically opposed to Lorber's thought, regarded this affiliation with suspicion." (Lorber believed among other things that it had been revealed to hint that Lucifer was the first created being, who subsequently turned away from God and was cast out of paradise.) In their opinion it "paved the way for an infiltration of the society by a foreign element." Nonetheless, through the mediation of Rev. Friedemann Horn, the Zurich-based general pastor of the New Church in Continental Europe, accommodation was made to include the followers of Lorber in the Berlin group.
The present name of the society, the Swedenborg Zentrum Berlin (Berlin Swedenborg Center), appeared officially for the first time in 1984, although it had earlier been used unofficially. This name was chosen to overcome tile "concern about pressure" that the word "church" raises with many. Today the Berlin "center" numbers about 80 members.
It continues to hold close contact with the Swedenborg Zentrum Zurich, whose present pastor was originally a member of the Berlin society. There is likewise a close contact with tile Swedenborg Zentrum Lüneherg, a group of some twenty in northern Germany (leader: Arnulf Kreuch) which was formed in the beginnings o the 1990s, and with the Gemeinde der Neue Kirche nach Swedenborg (Society of the New Church according to Swedenborg) in Moos-Weiler in southern Germany. The society in Moos-Weiler, was established in 1998 and also numbers 20 members.
In the 1990s the Rundbrief des Swedenborg Zentrums Berlin (Circular of the Swedenborg Center Berlin) began publication. In 1999 the society listed seventy-five events on its calendar (services of worship, celebration of holidays, lectures, devotional programs on the radio). An associated cassette-recording service sent out approximately two thousand cassettes last year! The list of lecture subjects for the year 1999 listed 700 different themes. The Swedenborg Center in Berlin also presents itself on the internet on its own multi-faceted web page, www.Swedenborg.de.
The authors of its anniversary publication say they are filled with the hope and desire "to work together with all New Church and related spiritual friends in the whole world, on the great work of the Lordbringing the heavenly Jerusalem to earth and growing spiritually."To facilitate this working together for the sake of a New Church, Pastor Noack and others have again organized a Jahrestagung, an annual gathering, in Germany.2 It will be held May 2227 at a conference/vacation hotel in Horath, Rheinland-Pfalz. The lecture topics listed on its program are: Swedenborg and Goethe, Solomon's Temple and Its Spiritual Representation, What Happened on the Cross, The Bible's Symbolism, Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg's Doctrine of Degrees. Upon hearing of my plans to attend the gathering, Pastor Noack has told me that he would like me to report on the New Church in the United States. I intend to take this opportunity to tell our German-speaking friends particularly about the Academy of the New Church and how its college is developing, attracting many students from outside the United States. The gathering will conclude on Sunday with Divine worship and the Holy Supper. Then we will all return to our separate lives, inspired with a deepened appreciation of the truth the Lord has given anew the Word of His Second Comingof His mercy toward all kind.
1 I am grateful to Dr, Eberhard Zwink, curator of the Swedenborg Collection., at the Wurttemberg Regional Library, for sending me the article 100 Jahre Neue Kirche in Deutschland (Materialdienst, 1/2001), upon which this article is chiefly based.
For more information see www.swedenborg.ch.