Without change, church faces extinction like the dinosaurs claim

The Dinosaurs also thought that they had time, as it says on the T-shirt.  The Church must finally change.....

What do domesticated dinosaurs have to do with the Church?  They too thought they still had time, says Carsten Leinhäuser.  A modern Catholic Church is needed that moves with the times.  A church that is also open to homosexuals.

Himmelklar: You deliberately bless homosexual couples under the motto #liebegewinnt and have even received an award for it.  How do you explain the bishops' fear of contact?

Father Carsten Leinhäuser (Holy Cross Parish in Winnweiler in the Speyer diocese): Can you really explain that rationally?  I don't know because this is not really a new topic.  I cannot look into the minds of bishops.  I suspect that many of them still have an image of ecclesiastical morality in their heads that is simply outdated from a theological point of view - and that urgently needs to be questioned, both psychologically and from a purely human point of view.

Himmelklar: And why do you think this should be changed in the 21st century?  Why do you oppose the teachings of the Catholic Church?

Leinhäuser: Well, for one thing, we are far too late.  And yes, it may be that we, who bless homosexual people and couples, are opposing the current "teaching of the Church", which is in great need of renovation, but in fact we do so in the awareness and in the strong conviction that Jesus Christ would have blessed such people and would have blessed such unions.

Himmelklar: At the beginning of the year, 125 employees of the Catholic Church confessed their homosexuality as part of the # OutInChurch initiative in the ARD documentary "How God made us". You think this is a courageous and at the same time important step.  Why?

Leinhäuser: I think it is important to make visible how many people, both full-time staff and volunteers, and simply Christians, are the way they are - also with their sexuality.  This was simply kept under wraps for a long time.  People were ignored or pushed into a corner.  They were not seen.  And now they are showing themselves.  That is totally courageous.  Especially when it's done by full-time staff who have or have had to fear personnel consequences, even if things are slowly improving.

Himmelklar: Is that one of the points you mean when you compare the church to a dinosaur?

Leinhäuser: Yes, that is definitely a point where I compare the Church to a dinosaur that simply does not manage to adapt to the times in which we live and to the changed circumstances in which we live.  Too often, the church is so lame that it simply misses the boat and loses a lot of people who say that this church has nothing to do with my life situation, that it has no Good News for me.  Then they turn their backs on the church.  And I think that's a great pity because we actually have good news for these people.

Himmelklar: You proclaim this good news on all channels and with very different methods.  During the Corona pandemic, for example, you also had a church service from the kitchen table, that is, from the kitchen in your home.  How was that received?

Leinhäuser: Well, it was not just one service, but many during the hard lockdown period.  The thought was simply: How can we somehow give people a bit of "spiritual fodder" to take with them?  Then the thought came up: Well, God is not only present in our church but he is there where the people are, so also in their home, in the lockdown.  And where do people sit together in the family or with friends?  Quite often in the kitchen - eating and talking about life.

That's how this kitchen-church service came about, which we then ended up celebrating weekly over a long period of time.  Not only in my kitchen, but over time also in the kitchens of people from our parish.  I then visited people in their homes.  They recorded texts, prayed prayers and from this we simply created a form of worship in which many people were present.

Himmelklar: How do you look back on the two and a half years of the pandemic?  You had to be inventive, but has that perhaps also been good for faith and congregational life?

Leinhäuser: I don't think you can make a general statement about whether it has been good or not. There are many things that were not good.  I have the impression that people have also said goodbye and realised:  Well, it's more comfortable at home on Sunday than in church.  I don't hold that against people, but we as a church have to ask ourselves: What can we do to make it more exciting to come to church on Sunday mornings?

But I also believe that a lot of creative potential was released during the pandemic.  A lot has come out of experiments like the podcast and like the kitchen church at our place.  People started to look at this: In what ways and how can we continue to live our faith in such times and live it differently?  A lot has shifted into the digital space.  I am also glad that this is slowly coming to an end and that people can meet directly.  But I think a lot of creative stuff has grown there.

Himmelklar: In the meantime, we have a war in our immediate neighbourhood.  The war is no longer so high in the media or mentioned in the first place, but at the same time we are a bit worried about our gas for the winter.  That also has to do with it - because it is being procured from Russia.  People have come to us from Ukraine, from the war zone.  The same goes for you in the Diocese of Speyer, in your parish.  You have set up an emergency shelter for refugees from Ukraine in Falkenstein and have collected donations there.  But not only that: many people lent a hand.  What was there to do and what kind of project was it?

Leinhäuser: The project came about by chance.  One Sunday evening in March, I was already sitting on the couch in my pyjamas when the doorbell rang and the mayor came to me in his jogging clothes and said: "Carsten, we have a huge problem.  Our refugee accommodation in the municipality is overflowing and we are expecting another 50 refugees in the next few days.  Can you help us somehow?  Then, within a few days, we managed to find a building, find almost 100 volunteers and then set up a refugee shelter virtually from scratch.  The mayor's idea was that we would do this for a maximum of two to three weeks to help the municipality out of an emergency situation.  In the end, we maintained our emergency shelter for seven weeks.  In the meantime it has been closed.

After that, we started a café in the parish hall, which is open twice a week.  Every time, 20 to 30 refugees come there to simply exchange ideas.  We help them with official matters, forms, finding accommodation and everything else that simply comes up.  And now, in autumn, we will rent a shop in the municipality in the town, which I will also finance through donations, in order to open a clothes shop there and continue to support the people there.  Not only the refugees from Ukraine, but all people who are in need.

The cool thing is that through this project, which we have launched, a massive number of people from our parish and beyond have come forward who were previously not very active in the church and now suddenly say: there is a cause that makes sense, I'm really keen to get involved.  And that gives our parish an incredible boost, that there are so many committed people.

Himmelklar: That is also church, isn't it?

Leinhäuser: Definitely.  That's exactly how church should be again and again and more often ... It does not always need such a bad and sad background.

Himmelklar: Your book, which is about to be published, is called "The dinosaurs also thought they still had time.  The church must finally change".  In which direction or how?  Is it already too late or how can we make it now?

Leinhäuser: History will show whether it is already too late, sometime in the future.  Almost every day I simply hold on to the fact that there are still so many people with whom I have dealings, whom I meet, who say: Even if so much - please forgive me for using the term - shit happens in the Church, we are still convinced of the Good News.  And we think it is valuable to fight for the Good News to be lived in this church and through this church.

That's why I have such hope that we can take the reins out of the hands of the dinosaurs who want to hold on to the old times, ignoring the fact that they are perishing in the process and ensure that something new simply grows there again and that the church can continue to live differently, but simply more convincingly.  It is not about the church.  It is simply about the fact that God loves people.  And this message, which is so beautiful and so important, must be experienced.  In the end, it doesn't matter whether it happens with this form of church or in another way.

Himmelklar: It seems to matter a lot.  At least there are the conflicts between those who think like you, Christians, who set out and think "What can it look like in the future?" - and the conservatives who cling to it and say "That is our faith, that is our tradition". Do you see potential there?  Is it possible to somehow resolve this and perhaps also be a church together?

Leinhäuser: Ideally, that could be possible.  My example is always Taizé.  I went there as a teenager.  What always fascinated me there was that I met young people in Taizé who were totally different.  There were the more conservative ones and the completely out-of-touch (reform-oriented) ones - without meaning that in a judgmental way.  And they managed to live their faith together in this place.

I believe that if young people can do that, - my God, we adults should also be able to do it somehow.  It is allowed to have different forms of spirituality.  That is a richness of our church.  But when it comes to how we deal with each other, there comes a point where there can be no more compromises: For example, people cannot be excluded because they are homosexual or whatever.  For me, a point has been reached where there is nothing left to discuss.

Himmelklar: What ideas or tips do you have as a parish priest and also as a person so that Christians can live the church in our time?

Leinhäuser: I'm a bit cautious with tips because I think that would come across as a bit of a smart-ass.  In my book I simply talk about how I experience the church and how I try to live the faith together with other people with whom I am on the road.  If you want to talk about tips, then simply: turn on common sense, deal with each other in an adult and benevolent way.  If you don't understand each other, talk to each other, listen to each other and think about how to live faith together.  This may sound a bit shallow and general, but I think that in the end it is probably the recipe through which it has to work somehow, trying to live the Good News together.

Himmelklar: I would like to take up the comparison of the church and the dinosaurs again: When we think of the dinosaurs, it was of course also environmental conditions that led to their extinction.  We also have environmental conditions now that we should have thought about long ago.  So let us look at our creation.  This should be a matter of concern for us Christians in particular, and not only for us, but for all people who want to live on this earth.  With what concern do you look to the future when you think of climate change and climate catastrophe?

A dinosaur attempting to make a similar point at World Youth Day 2005

Leinhäuser: If we use this image of the dinosaurs - which is of course a bit weird because images always have grips and never fit exactly - but if I use this image for the church anyway, I can use it for the world in the same way.  Let's look at "Fridays for Future" and all the people who are currently working to save the climate and this planet.  They are saying the same thing: people, we are actually already much too late to adapt our way of life so that we can save the climate and this planet.

Of course, there is a danger that we will end up in the same situation in the long run.  I don't know exactly what the latest state of science was, but it is already the case that we are barely managing to get a grip on the climate and the temperature increases.  I think we've already reached the point where it's just a matter of damage limitation.  And even then, if we do nothing, I listen to what the scientists say.  And they say: People, we are driving the cart against the wall.  And then we'll end up like the dinosaur.

Himmelklar: Now you have said that the future will show whether the time for the Church has run out.  Are we already too late for climate change?  Probably already ... Where is your hope in all this?  What gives you hope?

Leinhäuser: What gives me hope, both with regard to the Church and with regard to our creation on this planet, are simply the people who say: there must be another way.  People who are pushing ahead, not only demanding things, but also doing things differently, simply living differently. I am not a prophet.  I actually suspect that this horrendous war, which has repercussions all over the world, will actually have the side effect that we will sooner or later have to rethink how we deal with sustainable energy sources, for example, because we are simply running out of fossil gas as a result of the war.  I hope that at least in this respect there will be a learning effect and that both politics and society will start to do things differently.

I don't know how much hope one should or can have.  The war means that we have less and less gas and simply have to look: What can we switch to?  Then, of course, sustainable energies are the obvious choice.  But it's really embarrassing for us that a war has to ensure that it comes to this.

One more thing about the dinosaurs is important to me, because I've actually found dinosaurs totally cool since I was a teenager.  I would have loved to have met some if they had been domesticated.  And it's the same with my church: I still think church is actually totally cool.  I think it still needs to be domesticated in many ways. I just hope that there are enough people who say: we can somehow get this church dinosaur, this old-timer, running again, not for the sake of the church, but simply for the sake of the people.  If we manage to do that somehow, if we manage to do that to some extent, in creative moments and projects, then a lot can grow there.