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Keeping the Faith: Religious Differences and Experiences Abroad

November 12, 2017

Before actually making my way over to Germany, I had lots of conversations with my friends about what it will be like to be maintaining my faith while I was away. I was quite worried and really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard the stereotype that Germany was a secular country, and I had looked online a little bit about Germany’s religious demographics, but I still wasn’t sure how that was going to affect me and my religious walk during my stay. In this post, I want to share with you my observations about German religious life and also talk a bit about how I have handled a different way of participating in my religion while away from home.

One of the first things I noticed about Freiburg was that there are a lot more women who wear head coverings than I would have ever seen in my hometown. Initially, it was a shock for me, and if I’m being 100% honest (which I strive to do), I wasn’t sure how to react to it. But after a week or so of sitting next to women on the Straßbahn that wore head coverings and just seeing more of these women going about their daily lives, I became very used to it and honestly don’t even notice it anymore. But this however, was probably one of the most noticeable cultural differences for me upon my immediate arrival.

Another thing I have taken note of while being here, is that many native Germans have mentioned in conversation that they do not claim a religion. Once again, I was shocked by this, and not because I wasn’t prepared for it. As aforementioned, I was aware of the stereotype of German secularism. Rather, I was shocked that it was something that people so willingly shared in conversation, without me inquiring as to whether they proclaim a religion or not. It almost seems like people here are proud to not have a religion. Please understand that I am in no means am I hating on German culture by saying this. My goal is only to point out a difference that I have noticed while being here. A cultural difference that I have learned about in class is that those who are members of a church have to pay a church tax. When one doesn’t want to pay the tax, they can revoke their church membership and write to the government that they are not longer members and then they are exempt from paying.

As far as religious buildings go, the main church in Freiburg is easily one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen. None of my personal photos do it justice, so please go on the internet and search for the Freiburger Münster. Thank me later. It is a catholic church built nearly 800 years ago and survived bombing during World War II when the rest of the city was destroyed. I’ve been inside it a few times and the inside is just as beautiful as the outside. It still holds services today, and though I am not catholic, I have the goal of attending a service.

And now on to my personal faith while abroad. I am Protestant and when at home or at college I attend Sunday church services. I knew this would be a little bit different for me while abroad and I didn’t really know what to expect. Because of my travel plans, I honestly have not been in town on most Sundays and haven’t gone to church. As a substitute, I have watched sermons on line and have continually read my bible. I have found myself reading my bible much more regularly abroad than at home, and I think part of it is due to me looking for the English language. Whatever the grounds, it has been a very vital part of me maintaining faith while abroad. A friend and I attended a church service together that was recommended for us in our student manuals from our program because it was in English. We decided, however, that it wasn’t the best fit. A few weeks later, the same friend and I (plus one more) decided to try out a church that was in German. The website said it was English and German, but we weren’t really sure of what to expect when walking through the door.

We quickly discovered that the service was in fact in both English and German. The main sermon was preached in German but every sentence was translated to English. As far as an academic experience goes, this was amazing for me and I couldn’t believe a person was able to so quickly and so accurate translate what was being said. It was also a great place to meet some more native Germans and I felt so welcome. My friends and I went back there again this week and it was just as good as the last. My only regret is that I didn’t come across this church sooner.

Things are definitely different for me here as far as religion goes, but I am thankful for all of my experiences here, whether they are shared with people of the same faith, a different faith, or of no faith at all. May religious differences never keep us from being kind and loving to those around us.

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