Catholic priest leads bathing hut ecumenical service in Switzerland

Bathing hut service creates a good mood

How wide is the sea?

Father Michael Hermann celebrated an ecumenical service in Rorschach's old bathing hut on Sunday. "We come to the bathing hut service every year," says Erika Schmid from St. Gallen. Bathers next door look on with rapt attention.

It stands there in Lake Constance like an imposing pile-dweller's house: the wooden bathing hut of Rorschach. Shortly before half past nine, some people head for the wooden footbridge leading from the shore.

People attending church services come to the bathing hut.

Once over the footbridge, they pass a few restaurant tables and head for the cash desk. But there is no ticket: Admission to the service is free. Only bathers have to pay, they say. Choral singing can be heard. The local Columban choir is already rehearsing.

Lively talk

There are about 60 chairs and several parasols on the wooden deck. In front is a table with candles - and next to it the Easter candle. There is also a lectern. The sun is burning hot.

The place fills up, soon all the chairs are occupied and about twenty people have to participate standing. People talk animatedly to each other. "I go to the service regularly, whether it's here or in the church," says a senior citizen who has managed to grab a chair. "The nature here is beautiful."

"I think we Christians should get together, that would be Christian."

Erika Schmid, worshiper

"We've been coming to the bathing hut service every year for a long time," says Erika Schmid from St. Gallen. The Catholic is there with her friend Erzsebet Porzo, who lives in Rorschach. The two retired women worked together as nurses in the cantonal hospital in St. Gallen. "I think we Christians should get together, that would be Christian," says Schmid, alluding to the ecumenical Badhütten service. She also criticises, without being asked, that women still have "too few rights" in the Catholic Church.

Lavender perennial in front of her eyes - during the service

"The atmosphere here is open, the topics discussed are interesting," says Porzo, pointing to one of the many plant pots. "And look at this lavender, it's beautiful."

A gong sounds. "Welcome to the service in the Badhütte," says Michael Hermann in a friendly voice. The Catholic parish representative of St. Kolumban in Rorschach and Rorschacherberg is leading the bathing hut service for the first time, as he says later.

All in summer clothes

The religious educator wears summer clothes: a white shirt without a tie and black trousers. The visitors, mostly women over 60, are similarly summery. No one is there in bathing costumes. Curious bathers look at what the 80 or so people attending the service are doing.

"Louder," voices sound from behind. Michael Hermann picks up a new microphone. Now his voice can be heard clearly. "In the name of God, Father and Mother to us - in the name of Jesus Christ, called Son of God - in the name of the Spirit Power, Guardian of Life," Hermann begins the liturgy.

"The water makes me feel the connection with nature and God's creation."

Michael Hermann, Parish Commissioner

Shortly after, the first song of the musical service follows. "Wide as the sea is God's great love," sing the choir and the visitors. Hermann tells us that he grew up in Toggenburg, surrounded by mountains. During his holidays he got to know the vastness of the sea. And now that he lives on Lake Constance, he also experiences a vastness here. "The water makes me feel the connection with nature and God's creation."

Soon the Bathing hut service begins.

Hermann then reads a psalm praising "the Lord of all nations" and the work of his creation, which reaches into space. The next song is followed by a reading from the Bible - about the rescue of the Egyptians from Pharaoh's troops - thanks to a divine parting of the sea.

Biblical borderline experiences on the water

Hermann echoes other biblical texts that have to do with events on lakes or seas. Jesus, who gets caught in a storm with his disciples. Paul, who suffers shipwreck on his mission across the Mediterranean. "It's often a matter of life and death," says Hermann. But in the end there is usually a happy ending.

"We too belong to the people of God. God also wants salvation and deliverance for us. We, too, are part of this wonderful creation," Hermann refers to the current moment - and ties in with the salvation of the Israelites.

Humming as a carpet of sound

In remembrance of the Ukraine war, the community then sings "Let There Be Peace On Earth", a US song by Jill Jackson Miller. And then "My Hope, My Joy". Every second verse is hummed, after which an intercession is said - by women and men spontaneously asked by Michael Hermann on the spot.

Almost all of them speak on the subject of water. "For the migrants who take the dangerous long way across the sea", "for access to clean water for all people", "for enough water on the fields". Meanwhile, the seven candles on the table in front are lit.

Everyone stands up for the "Our Father". A little later, Michael Hermann finds, "We ask God for our blessing and do it with the song 'Keep us God, keep us God'." It is a 20th century Reformed hymn composed by Eugen Eckert. Immediately afterwards, the choir sings a lively Spanish song that makes both the singers and the listeners shine. And moves all the bathers next door to take a look.

Bathers on the neighbouring wooden deck of the bathing hut "Sensational, super beautiful."

Verena Tobler, worshipper

"Sensational, super beautiful" was the service, says Verena Tobler enthusiastically. "The priest did a good job," she says of the Catholic service leader. The Reformed visitor has a Catholic husband, got married ecumenically and is generally ecumenical. "I attend both churches," she says. This is her fourth time in the Badhütte.

Tobler is with her neighbour, whom she told about the service. "I like going to church," says Caché Bischofberger, a Catholic. It is her first time and she thinks she will come again: She will come again, she liked it.

Crux question: female disciples?

Then Tobler approaches Michael Hermann to find out more about the worship leader. Another woman wants to know why Hermann spoke of female disciples and male disciples. The disciples were all men. That is not entirely true, says Michael Hermann. There were also women around Jesus, such as Mary Magdalene. "This is not a political statement," he adds with a smile to reassure the sceptic.


Cathcon: Ecumenical Synodalism is for the over 60s, as can be seen from the photographs.