I've now been here 2 Sundays and been to 2 churches. Here are my verdicts.
The first Sunday I had been invited to a service held by the Universitäts Bibel Freundschaft. One thing to note is that the congregation there is dominated by Koreans, but that's not surprising once I found out that the Bible Society is actually an international organisation that was started in South Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War. But boy is it weird to hear Korean-accented German. Seriously, you get used to it. So I went to the address and found it to be a hall, but well equipped with an office (with a telephone line, internet access and comfy chairs), several hooks, toilets and a kitchen. That last part is significant. I felt a bit weird walking in since there weren't exactly loads of people so I stuck out like a sore thumb. But the people made me feel welcome and nudged me in the right direction. Now the service itself is not led by any one person, strange in itself but explicable considering they don't have a pastor. So no robes either. At first we do lots of singing. There are songs projected on the wall for us to see (the newer ones) and there are songs sung out of the hymn books (the more traditional stuff) and there are even songs in English (I'm naturally the only one who pronounces the words right). Then rather than have a Reading someone reads out while we follow in our Bibles (yes, you're given a Bible at the door-a Lutheran one if anyone cares for the specifics). Then comes a half-hour sermon/lesson thingy. Very boring.
Throughout the entire service it was startlingly obvious how without a service book we were. That was fine though, there are no prayers to say together and very few responses and each segment of the service was announced, with an introduction of the person doing the bit. After the service finally ended (by which time I was very hungry-it lasted over an hour and a half) we were put into little groups to discuss what we had learned in that day's service. It was through the doors opening that I smelled something cooking-so I was enlightened by the fact that every week there's a free meal after the service; much like the coffee and biscuits in most churches there's a rota for a different small group in the congregation to be in charge of preparing a 2 course meal every week. Before bringing tables out though, we had to discuss what we learned and our thoughts from the very long lesson. Now there is nothing harder to talk about in a foreign language than any religious/philosophical topic, but I was able to convey what I wanted to say. Once I left, I'd felt welcomed, happy with the thought of a regular free meal and confident I would definitely go back, since I wanted to be a part of such a thing again. I promised them I'd go back in 2 weeks, since I explained my desire to see an Evangelical Church (something more traditional and familiarly German).
Little note here: from now on I'll use the term Evangelische Kirche since German Evangelicals don't want to be related to the equivalents in England or the US. Quite right too, they're completely unalike.
So yesterday I went to Peterskirche, whose bus stop is the chief stop for students going to the various faculties. The church itself was originally Catholic, as revealed by a sign on an outside wall. First impression was that the church was very pretty, but I felt rather alienated since there was no one to welcome newcomers. The sidespeople giving out hymn books were actually young boys; a charming sight it was (I did the same thing when I was their age) but it was clearly expected that anyone coming along should know what to do. Luckily for them, there were service trademarks that were exactly the same as those in the Lutheran Church in Sydenham. So unlike in the Freundschaftsgottesdienst there was familiarity. The hymn books were even similar to the old ones we had in Sydenham and I was able to understand the hymn board, which would have looked alien to any Anglican who knew no better. (Speaking of which, there's actually an English-speaking Anglican church here in Heidelberg. I have no idea what it's doing here and I can't believe anyone felt there was a need for it. WE'RE IN GERMANY GODDAMMIT!)
But it seems that most German churches (Protestant ones at least) seem to think a service booklet is an unnecessary expense. I had noticed this in Potshausen and the only reason we have some in Sydenham is because half the pages are English translations, designed to explain to the English visitors what's going on. An Order of Service would actually have been very nice since I didn't know most of the chants yesterday and I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't know the German Creed or Lord's Prayer very well. This service also went for an hour and a half, but I think that's just because there was a Baptism and rather than having a special Baptism service, there's an extra Baptism ceremony in the middle of the ordinary Eucharist.
After the service there was juice, champagne and a special sweet Brötchen available. Most of the people just went home and those who stayed behind just huddled in small groups, clearly knowing each other. I generally don't feel this church does enough for newcomers or its community.
So what will I do? I thought it unfair to prefer one over the other but the Bibel Freundschaft definitely had me leaving happier. I will go back to the Peterskirche though. The thing about my first trip to the Bibel Freundschaft was that I left at something like 14:30. So Peterskirche will be the church to attend when I have little time to spare and at least once during December. It would be nice to spend Advent in a pretty building in an old-fashioned town...city. Yeah it's a city, far too large for a town.