In the pulpit at 18

Eva Steinbach (18) is the youngest lay preacher in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover. Photo: epd-bild/Jörg Nielsen
Eva Steinbach (18) is the youngest lay preacher in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover. Photo: epd-bild/Jörg Nielsen

Eva Steinbach is the youngest lay preacher in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover

(LWI) – Just graduating from high school, she is already entitled to preach before the congregation: Eva Steinbach trained as a lay preacher. With programs like these the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover aims to strengthen the young generation.

Sometimes Eva Steinbach feels "nudged by God" a little. Church, God and faith play an important role in the life of the 18-year-old high school graduate: "I have noticed that God has given me the gift of being able to speak freely to a group of people – what could be more obvious then than talking about my faith in the church?” Parallel to her final exams at school, the young woman from Jherings-Boekzetelerfehn in East Frisia, Northern Germany, was trained as a lay preacher and is now allowed to preach in her parish as the youngest lay preacher of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover.

Steinbach participated in a pilot project of her church. For the first time, this member church of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) trained young people under the age of 25 to become lay preachers. "A great success," says Michael Held, responsible for the training course. "Usually, we see mostly women in their early 50s and men in their early 60s in our lay preacher training." Young people have come only rarely so far. After the positive response with 14 participants for this initial course, further courses are now planned.

For the first time, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover trained young people under the age of 25 to become lay preachers.

"Not called to be a pastor"

In their training, the prospective lay preachers get to know the elements of a church service. "These include liturgy, prayers or blessing," explains Held. In addition, participants learn to acquaint themselves with a reading sermon written by theologians and to rewrite it to fit their own context. After the training and their induction, lay preachers can lead church services independently.

Eva Steinbach had thought about studying theology before doing the course, but then rejected this idea again. "I think you have to be called by God to be a pastor, and I haven't received that call yet," she says. She will now do a study course in management and administration.

"It's important to me to have a strong connection to my congregation," she says. Her mother had already taken her to the service every Sunday when she was a baby. This has continued to this day throughout her confirmation classes and when she was a teamer in youth work. "I can't imagine life without the church and the congregation."

Friends respect her faith

Course leader Michael Held is convinced that lay preachers have a different approach to preaching than full-time theologians: "They are rooted in their occupation or family life. They bring these experiences to the service and thus enrich it." According to Held, 1,330 lay preachers are active in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover. In addition, there are 522 so-called predicants who receive even more advanced training.

Eva Steinbach enjoys respect and recognition in her circle of friends for her firm faith. Occasionally she is asked about political issues as well. Recently, for example, a friend who "has nothing at all to do with the church" asked her what she thought of the Bavarian decree to have to display crosses in public buildings. Her answer is clear: Everyone must have the right to live their religion. However, religion should not be imposed. "And whether the Spirit of God works in a building doesn't depend on whether there's a cross on the wall."

Lay preachers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover

By Jörg Nielsen (epd). Translation and editing: LWF Communications