Vesper Church: food for body and soul

During the weeks of Vesper Church it is very busy in Stuttgart's St. Leonhard’s Church. Photo: ELK-WUE/Monika Johna
During the weeks of Vesper Church it is very busy in Stuttgart's St. Leonhard’s Church. Photo: ELK-WUE/Monika Johna

Open doors during the winter months

(LWI) - A beautiful church, a delicious meal, an office manager and a homeless person having a chat, some support and advice, music and a short devotional. You can find all that in the Vesper Churches in Stuttgart. The German word “Vesper” in German means a substantial snack taken at the traditional time for saying evening prayers – vespers. The underlying idea is to turn the churches into comfortable places during wet and cold winter months, open to all regardless of their origin, income or social status.

For a period of a few weeks the downtown churches are transformed. The pews are pushed to the sides, tables are set up and meeting points are created to welcome people.

800 volunteers to welcome guest of all walks of life

Stuttgart‘s St. Leonhard’s Church was the first Vesper Church and there close to 800 people have volunteered to participate. Some are school students and confirmation candidates, others trainees or managers. They welcome the guests, serve food, organize, engage in conversations, make special offers or are active in other ways. “This diverse group of people is what makes the Vesper Churches” says Frank Otfried July, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg. “You would hardly find so many different people interacting in one place anywhere else,” he remarks.

You would hardly find so many different people interacting in one place anywhere else.
Bishop Frank Otfried July, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg

On average, 600 meals a day are prepared in St Leonhard’s Church alone, from 19 January to 7 March. They are free of charge, but the guests give what they can. In addition, donations and gifts in kind contribute to the preparing of varied menus and make the side program possible.

“That is how we envision a lively and hospitable church,” says July. “A church in which people are there for each other, come into conversation, listen to, comfort and encourage one other, and laugh together. But it is also a church which draws attention to inequalities and exclusion and stands up for mutual respect and participation.”

Diaconal and cultural program

Besides the meals, the Vesper Churches offer many other options. They range from daily prayers, diaconal counseling, support for job applications, hairdressing, to cultural events. For example, the Nuremberg State Theater is an important partner of the Vesper Church in that city. The actors and singers perform plays and concerts on Sunday afternoons without charging for entrance.

The first Vesper Church project began in Stuttgart in 1995. Since then the idea has taken off. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg has 30 locations at which congregations open their churches for this diaconal project. And other German regional churches are also taking up the idea, e.g. the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria with its program in Nuremberg.