A German pastor, sent here by the German Protestant Church (EKD), looks after both the oldest and one of the youngest German Lutheran churches in our catchment area.The centre of the congregations’ area is situated in Cambridge, close to the city center and on the edge of the Botanical gardens. This is where you will find our church community centre.
Merchants from the Hanseatic League and seafarers founded the Hamburg Lutheran Church in the east of London in 1669. It is the oldest German congregation in Great Britain. During its long history, the Hamburg Lutheran Church became the centre point and place of refuge for generations of German immigrants in Greater London where they found a spiritual home in a strange environment and, in the church’s heyday, could also be looked after in its own hospital and retirement home. During the 1960s the people in the working class areas of east London had to give way to the industrial areas. Therefore, many Germans who belonged to the congregation moved to the southern parts of Essex. The German church work continued all the same and has remained a focal point for Germans living in the area of Chelmsford and Basildon. Services and Bible study and discussion groups take place regularly in the houses of church members. We are also grateful for the hospitality offered to our church by local churches who allow us to use their churches and parish halls.
Church work amongst Germans in Cambridge began actually shortly before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. At times over 1000 people who were forced to flee Germany because of racial or political reasons found refuge, but they had come with nothing but their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, at that time himself a pastor in a German-speaking congregation in London, arranged for his friend Franz Hildebrandt (on the photo with the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple) to come to Cambridge.Together with Anglican congregations, he managed to continue German services and pastoral care right through the war years without interruption. This was due mainly to the, for that time, astonishing ecumenical openness of the Anglican congregations and many gestures of togetherness across all denominations.
After the war, prisoners of war who had remained in the country and women who were either married to English men or who had come to Britain looking for work, formed the backbone of the congregation. The congregations became a ‘home from home’ which manifested itself as much in language and hymns as in many social events that took place over the years.
During the 1950s and 1960s further congregational groups were founded: Bedford in 1959, Ipswich in 1960, Norwich in 1963, Bury St. Edmunds in 1965 and Milton Keynes in 1989.
Increasing mobility within Europe and increasing internationalism in the economy, research and teaching have meant a clear change in our congregation. Young people and families don’t just ‘travel through’ but do find a home here. The most recent census revealed that ca. 12,000 German-speaking people live in East Anglia permanently.
Life abroad has become much less complicated because of cultures moving closer to each other, increased knowledge of foreign languages especially by the younger generations of Britons and Germans, the many possibilities of travelling and much shorter travel times. At the same time, however, looking for a cultural identity has become very important to young people as well as adults. People value worshipping in their mother tongue.
We are grateful that the work in both congregations is intertwined in the ecumenical context of the local areas. This includes joint events with local churches. There are close partnerships with an Anglican church in Cambridge and Norwich. The invitation to join a German church should not lead to a ‘niche church’. However, it is important to stress that language and tradition have a special, not arbitrarily exchangeable meaning in church and spiritual life.