Friday, June 27, 2008

The waters of Berne

One of the things that I like about Bern is the way the Aare River surrounds it on three sides. Hundreds of years ago Bern built a moat on its west side so that the city was completely surrounded by water. But the moat is gone. The river is a beautiful and clean blue and rushes past the city quite fast, almost looking like rapids in places. The river begins in Lakes Brienz and Thun, flows through Bern, and then goes to the Rhine River.

The Bernese like their river and they swim in it. Unfortunately I did not have my swimsuit with me when I was there. I visited the river and the free swimming pool with a friend I met at Taize and the place was full of people enjoying the sun and the water. We finally had some heat and sun after a full month of cooler and wetter weather.

The first photo is of the Aare River. This general area was once a port, apparently when smaller boats were used. Today Basel on the Rhine River is the only port in Switzerland. One of the ways that Bern tried to deal with its Anabaptists in the late 1600s was to ship them down the Aare River all the way to Holland, where they would be exiled to America, and then would not be able to return. As I think I already mentioned, they would exile Anabaptists but then they would return anyway.

I have mentioned before my ancestors Isaac Kaufmann and Elsbeth Mergerdt. Isaac moved around a lot over his life time, as he tried to avoid authorities. He became part of one of these ship schemes. In 1699 there is a reference to him being sent to a ship in Amsterdam, which would then take him to the West Indies.

The problem the Bernese had with this is that the Dutch would not cooperate. As soon as these prisoners would reach Dutch soil, the Dutch let them go free. They did not agree with what the Bernese were doing, recognizing it as persecution.

And so it appears that in this case Isaac escaped to Cologne, Germany. And so an entry a year later mentions the authorities needing to pay 5 men to look for Isaac.

I had another interesting water experience in Bern. On Sunday, June 22 I attended the Bern Alttaufer Gemeinde, or Bern Mennonite Church. What a great day to attend! They had a baptism and communion service.

Daniel Neuenschwander, president of the congregation, hosted me for the morning. He picked me up and took me to the Wohlensee where the baptism took place. A highlight for me is that the officiant baptized his son, and asked the questions and gave the pronouncements in Spanish for him. So I could understand much better than the German questions. They are the ones in the second photo.

And then the father of the officiant (grandfather of the one being baptized) preached the sermon that morning, so that I first heard the sermon in Spanish, and then the son translated into German. So again I understood more of this sermon than any I have heard for a month. This family is apparently a missionary family from Spain, and so the officiant is now a professor at Bern University. Several other Swiss young people were baptised and it was nice to see all of them.

Daniel was an excellent host and I had good conversation with him. I was surprised how much I felt at home in this congregation in Europe. There is such a great cultural and geographical distance between this congregation and my own, but there also was so much that was similar. The baptismal pledges and formulas seemed very familiar, as was the communion practice, except for one small thing I find among Europeans, or maybe it is most other Christians. They eat the bread and drink the cup as soon as they get it. The American Mennonite congregations I have attended usually serve the bread to everyone and then eat it together, the same with the small individual cups of juice.


John David said...

Interesting. Almost all of the Mennonite communion services I have attended in the U.S. serve the bread and wine as you describe the Swiss doing it.

Doug Kaufman said...

I should maybe explain a bit more what I mean. When I was younger the most common communion practice I experienced as an American Mennonite was that first the bread, and then the juice was distributed to everyone as they remained in the pews. The loaf of bread was passed down each pew and then a tray of cups. After everyone had the bread or cup, the presider would invite us to partake together.

Increasingly American Mennonites come forward individually and receive the elements from the presider in the front. Then people do partake one at a time.

Then there are some variations on both of these approaches, but these two are the primary. And our congregation continues to participate in communion in both ways.

What was different to me in these European communion settings was that we could have easily waited for each other. At Bern the elements were distributed to us in our seats. So in my experience that is a cue that I should wait for the others. But that isn't what happened and so I noticed it. It was out of the ordinary for me. Another communion service was at Bienenberg and there we formed a circle and each person passed an element to the person beside them. In my experience that could go either way, but I am more accustomed to waiting for others.

These could be variations in regions or I am noticing that as time goes by our communion services are becoming more individualized.