Art as inspiration for a new beginning in the Church?

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Art as inspiration for a new beginning in the Church?

The church in Germany is in a crisis. However, one congregation has taken a new path to reach people with a Christian message: through art.

Germany and the church crisis

The German Catholic Church is losing more and more members. Last year alone, around 360,000 people left the church.[1] One major reason for this is the abuse scandal but, by no means, is this the only one. Frequently cited reasons include alienation and lack of commitment. According to the religious educator Ulrich Riegel, a lot of those who have left the Catholic Church have done so due to it being an institution “consisting of power interests and intrigues.”[2]

Different solutions

Both Catholic and Protestant churches are looking for solutions in the fight against membership decline. For example, members and representatives of the Catholic Church are trying to work on a broad reform package. The project has been running since 2019 under the title Synodal Way.[3] Meanwhile, the Protestant Church is also working on new participation formats. In April 2022, the Protestant Church in Germany announced that in the future it would actively involve those affected in dealing with cases of abuse. This is intended to strengthen public trust in the institution.[4]

Consequences for church and society

Apart from the fact that the churches in Germany are among the largest employers, church associations are losing important income due to the resignation of members. Consequently, the financing of church projects, including the restoration and maintenance of church buildings, is under pressure. Many churches throughout Europe are now being deconsecrated.[5]

A different situation in Tholey

In contrast, the situation in the German municipality of Tholey is completely different. Here, the oldest abbey church in Germany is being restored at great expense. With the restoration, new world art has emerged. Most of the old windows by the artist Robert Klöck from the 1960s have been replaced by new ones. The Muslim Afghan artist Mahbuba Maqsoodi designed the majority of the windows, Gerhard Richter, the world’s most important contemporary artist, designed three more.[6] Many visitors are attracted by this, not only religious, but also and above all those interested in art. The church’s monks were happy about the stream of visitors: “We wanted so much that people would come and that we could also bear witness to them.” The guided tours in the newly renovated abbey church have partly been taken over by the monks.[7]

On the one hand, the Tholey artworks are deeply rooted in the Christian tradition of historical glazing. On the other hand, the windows evoke associations with carpets from the Arab-Muslim cultural sphere.[8] All in all, a kind of transformation, an opening to the profane world, has taken place in Tholey that seems to be unique so far. In addition, this bears witness to the importance of autonomy in the artistic creation of the 21st century. Art and religion have entered into a symbiosis.[9]

An inspiration for the whole Catholic Church?

Could this path via art help churches achieve the longed-for new beginning, or at least inspire it? Does the project show a new culture of welcome towards other beliefs that could be exemplary for other church institutions? Both from a general religious and specific Catholic perspective, there is a need to open up to others with the intention of showing solidarity, especially in times of crisis. Indeed, this need corresponds with the Christian message of mercy and compassion applying to all people.

Maike Domsel

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[1] Katholische Kirche in der Krise

[2] Kirchenaustritt hat viele verschiedene Gründe

[3] Die Kirchen verlieren ihre Mitglieder – warum die Austritte auf Rekordhoch sind

[4] Die Kirchen verlieren ihre Mitglieder – warum die Austritte auf Rekordhoch sind

[5] “Wohnt Gott hier nicht mehr?”

[6] Weltkunst in der Abtei

[7] Immer mehr Besucher in Abtei Tholey mit Richter-Fenstern

[8] Enthüllt: So sehen die Kirchenfenster von Gerhard Richter in der Tholeyer Abtei aus

[9] Enthüllt: So sehen die Kirchenfenster von Gerhard Richter in der Tholeyer Abtei aus