“I want to make the whole richness of our faith tangible”

Talking openly about one's own faith is tantamount to a taboo. It's a private matter, most people argue. Quite apart from the fact that they no longer know how to put the unspeakable into words.

Interviewer: Ms. Kohler, just a few decades ago, people would stand together in the church square after Sunday service and talk about their faith as a matter of course – about what they liked or didn't like about the sermon. Often even the pastor was involved. Today there is a new term for this kind of exchange: faith communication. Old wine in new bottles, or what is to be understood by it?

Kristell Kohler (Consultant for Faith Communication, Department of Adult Pastoral Care in the Archdiocese of Cologne): With faith communication is actually meant something ancient and yet at the same time also quite fresh. The term may be modern, but what it describes is not. For behind this in the Archdiocese of Cologne – as in other dioceses, by the way – lies the consideration: How can we bring faith back into the conversation under changed social conditions?? How can we express the supposedly self-evident in a new way, approach it? And these questions have always occupied people, even in the time of Jesus.

In our time, the content of faith, the practice of faith and participation in parish life can no longer be taken for granted. As a result, we ourselves often no longer talk about what faith means to us for our own lives. We also experience that knowledge of faith is lost or becomes foreign. In addition, the forms of our life together have changed. When does a family still sit together at the same table to talk about such topics?? So there is also a lack of opportunities. Nevertheless, we should dare to reflect more on our faith and make it a topic: in the family, among friends, at work. Everywhere where our lives take place.

Interviewer: Getting out of one's comfort zone oneself in order to set a good example in one's own social environment, however, certainly does not yet fully describe this large term, under which many things are subsumed..
Kohler: No, the own active doing is only one aspect. Of course, we also deal with the topic theoretically: Where and when do people come across the contents of our faith?? Where they come into contact with church offers? This can happen through the showcase as well as through the sexton, the catechetical areas or faith courses. The work of faith communication is very diverse. We create concepts for further education, organize workshops and think about new ways and formats to deepen the faith. In doing so, we should take into account that not only church life has changed, but also society and we people. Our forms of communication have become more passive; we consume more and share less about what is really essential. The social media often only represent a truncated communication. I can share an opinion, but I don't have to take a stand. Real dialogue looks different. This development falls on our feet in the church today in some areas. Because we are seeing fewer people witnessing and speaking openly about their faith.
Interviewer: Do you have a solution for this?
Kohler: I can only speak of myself. In times of crisis, one must become active. Faith is fun for me. That's why I get in touch with people in congregations and test in a very practical way how topics of faith can be brought back into conversation – for example, through questions like "What do I believe??" or "Why do I believe?" With a wide range of conversation possibilities I want to make the whole richness of our faith tangible.
Interviewer: Which prerequisites are necessarily connected with faith communication, if I want to speak about something that moves me??
Kohler: Something must burn in my heart. It's like falling in love. What the heart is full of, the mouth overflows with. It is important that someone is enthusiastic, has had a positive experience. This strengthens one's own willingness to talk about it then as well. It is also important that people experience that faith and the content of faith have to do with their own lives. It must be possible to experience this authentically and analogously. And then faith can catch fire.
Interviewer: Can you explain this in more detail?
Kohler: Experiences of faith must have meaning for everyday life. The Bible has a lot to tell us about topics like joy and happiness, but also failure and flop. For the disciples of Jesus, for example, the mission of their master seemed to have failed on Good Friday. But the experience of the resurrection gave them a new perspective on what had happened – let's think concretely of the Emmaus narrative. And then it is also very important which images are used when God is spoken of. Theological topics need a presentation and language that is relevant to life. The ten commandments, sin, grace – these are big terms from the insider vocabulary. But they are in need of explanation nowadays. That's why I first let people explain and paraphrase terms of faith themselves in workshops. I am interested in the ability to fill such terms with experiences from one's own life and to explain them.
Interviewer: Why does it make sense to think about talking about God at all??
Koehler: We find that expressing our faith does not come easily to our lips. Religion and politics have become taboo subjects. Many people retreat to the position that this is a private matter and no one's business. In doing so, we should again speak boldly about God who is at home in our world. Because it has relevance for our lives. We live in a world where people can freely choose between many offers. And that's where, unfortunately, many choose not to go to church services or other church offerings. So we should create and promote new situations in which it is possible to talk about God and try to put something unspeakable like God's greatness and His omnipotence into words without it becoming embarrassing. What we used to be able to do through the many biblical stories, because we were more familiar with them and had a greater capacity for abstraction, we now have to achieve through other approaches. And when reading the Bible, many people now need translation aids, even though the topics in the Bible are actually the topics of our everyday lives.
Interviewer: Which one specifically do you have in mind??
Kohler: Dealing with illness and infirmity, the search for home, the longing for someone who gives us security. For all topics that are anchored in our society, we find corresponding texts and references in the Bible. Now it is necessary to think anew about how we translate them. If we want to inspire people about God, we have to talk about it. This is my credo. Language is our medium. If we want a new evangelization, it is necessary to speak first of what fills us.
Interviewer: Can this be practiced??
Kohler: It is not that we do not communicate. Even how I speak about God is a form of communication. Or what posture I adopt, how I look, whether unredeemed or with joy…I can learn to bring the content and form of speech into harmony. This is exactly what is currently getting the Church into big trouble. If we see ourselves as "brothers and sisters in the faith" but argue and disagree on ies, that doesn't make the church attractive to the outside world. The form already tells a lot about the content. In addition, communication must take place at eye level if the message is to be received. It is less about teaching than about telling about God without purpose. If you want to be authentic, you have to radiate liveliness when you speak and be convinced of your message. We are an institution with a high moral appeal – it reflects on us if we do not live up to our own standards and do not live up to them. We may not be able to change the big things ourselves. But peaceableness, mercy – these are already goals that I can start to achieve myself.
Interviewer: Which support offers are there for it?
charcoal maker: On the one hand, we advise congregations on offers to deepen their faith. There are very different variants of faith talks and courses, which we then select according to need and in coordination with the respective congregation, This can be a course concept or just the offer of a single evening. I look at which method suits the people who are to be reached. It makes a difference whether we are talking about "advanced" faith work or about a first contact. And on the other hand, faith communication can also take place through workshops, training courses and further education.
Interviewer: What does it look like in the parishes themselves, where the actual talking about and with God takes place?? Are there any special initiatives?
Kohler: In fact, many good ideas come from the grassroots themselves. For example, a parish recently came up with a classic missionary project and gave commuters at the train station a travel blessing to take with them on vacation. Or there is the initiative "Himmelsleuchten" in Dusseldorf, which has set itself the goal of reaching out to people and drawing attention to the church and faith in the city. These are good examples of people having the courage to bring their own faith back into the conversation. With which attitude am I on the way? What do I believe?? How do I become able to speak? These are also questions that can occupy a parish council. Then I go to such committees and help people to talk about their own experiences. These are exciting, sometimes very touching moments that can completely change the work with each other, but also the lives of the people in the place. I then ask: Who told you about God?? Which biblical figure fascinates you? Of course, daycare parents need a different approach than seniors or committed women from the kfd. Some things just need to be rethought: for example, it can be helpful to look at the different catechetical groups that prepare for baptism, communion or confirmation together. Talking about faith in a larger group strengthens the feeling of belonging to a group and motivates people. And we can learn from each other and with each other.
Interviewer: What promotes or hinders successful communication??
Kohler: Authentic appearance is the key to good communication. For me it is a matter of conveying: Faith is a gift. That is, it is about an offer that corresponds to my innermost need. This also includes taking the other person seriously if he or she rejects this offer, and leaving him or her as he or she is. Very important: I want a meeting at eye level and in no way want to teach or sell something. But of course I hope that the other person will not close his mind to this offer.

Communication fails, however, if I do not respond to the questions and doubts of the other person, if there is no real willingness to engage in honest dialogue, or if I only use empty words that I do not fill with life. To put it positively: Communication only succeeds when it is true to life. You have to reach your counterpart where he or she is at the moment, and not reel off your own program. Maybe my interlocutor has just lost touch with the faith, then maybe you can tickle something awake again and arouse curiosity. The important thing is that when I talk about my faith, I have to know exactly what I'm talking about.

The interview was conducted by Beatrice Tomasetti.

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