The “class president” of the cathedral chapter

The 'class president' of the cathedral chapter

Msgr. Guido Assmann in Cologne Cathedral © Johannes Schroer (DR)

Guido Assmann has been the representative of Cologne Cathedral for 150 days and heads the Cologne Cathedral Chapter. Despite the mood of crisis, he has found his way into the new job well. Even if it is completely different from what Assmann did before.

Interviewer: Can you still remember the first days after you arrived on foot in Cologne?

Monsignor Guido Assmann (Provost of the High Cathedral Church of Cologne): I can remember quite well. It was not that long ago, although it was a lot of impressions. First everything is completely new. Not only is there a new church, namely the Cologne Cathedral and new staff, but also the task as provost of the cathedral is quite different from the task of a pastor in several parishes or even as district dean.

It was a move to another city, to a whole new environment. There are new work assignments – and all this in the time of lockdown and of restrictions and of distance. This does not necessarily make things easier.

Interviewer: So the biggest difference is that you don't have your own community now?

Assmann: This is already a big break. I was active in pastoral care for 30 years. I also grew up like that. I was an altar boy and altar boy group leader, did vacation camps and sexton services in the home party – before I went to university as well as during my studies. Then I was chaplain in two different places, then pastor in two different cities, dean and district dean.

I have appreciated this diversity: working with the children, going to kindergarten, saying school Masses, having family Masses on Sunday, preparing a funeral and talking to brides and grooms at the same time, plus some administrative duties and leading several parishes. Today, as a pastor, one usually has not one, but several parishes. Bringing this together with the many committees is a very different job and a very different task than the one I have here now.

Interviewer: Cologne Cathedral has as many nooks, crannies and roofs as a village. How did you come up with this building?

Assmann: I also got the same impression. Cologne Cathedral is a village in two respects: first, the cathedral with all the people who come there, who work there, whether they are volunteers or employees of the cathedral.

At the same time, the cathedral chapter lives together in a small village, as the cathedral chaplains themselves say. In the first weeks – and fortunately I succeeded in most places – I tried to visit as quickly as possible the many workplaces of the people who work in the cathedral, at the cathedral or for the cathedral.

I thought: Whether this stone is 100 or 132 years old is not unimportant, but I can learn that later. It was more about letting the people who work there tell me why they do it and what is so important to them. This has given me an immense amount of joy. So I also tried to get to know as many of the employees as possible, at least initially. Whereby I sometimes wonder whether one would recognize oneself on the street without a mask, when the time of the pandemic subsides a bit or perhaps is over.

But still: There are 180 employees at the Cologne Cathedral. In addition, there are the many volunteers and, of course, the faithful who come to Mass every day.

Interviewer: To take a complete look at the cathedral is also a time-consuming affair…

Assmann: I took several days in the first few weeks and went with the cathedral master builder and his deputy for a whole Thursday on the so-called site inspection, which takes place weekly, as I was then informed. We first went through the cathedral, where the mosaics on the floor are cleaned, we were in the cathedral building workshop itself, with the blacksmiths and the apprentices, with the stonemasons, in the glass workshop, and in the restoration workshop.

We also climbed on the roof of the cathedral. There we met one of the employees who is responsible for cleaning the rain gutters. There are 3.5 kilometers of gutters and sewage only at the cathedral, he told us. It takes him a whole year to get that sealed and then it starts all over again. We have been on the scaffolding that is still hanging on the north tower and will be taken down soon. That's 100 meters. That is already impressive. We've seen the stonemasons chipping away at joints there in autumn temperatures to regrout.

Then there is the administration and the restoration workshops. There are also many young people involved who work there. Some of them have been hired for projects and certain restorations, and they told how they make sure that a glass gets a certain color that is as similar as possible to the original glass. You can't order or buy it from any hardware store.

Interviewer: You are also head of the cathedral chapter, which determines the fate of the cathedral. What exactly do the members do?

Assmann: The special thing about Cologne Cathedral is that it doesn't belong to anyone. A parish church usually belongs to a parish – there are always exceptions – and is administered by the parish council. Or a sanctuary might belong to a religious order. But Cologne Cathedral belongs to no one but itself. It is even a corporation under public law.

There must be someone who represents the cathedral in legal matters. Construction work has to be done or contracts have to be signed when something takes place there. The cathedral chapter is responsible for this. It is also a separate corporation under public law and consists of twelve priests here in Cologne. The prerequisite for becoming a member of the cathedral chapter is that you are a Cologne diocesan priest, i.e. that you belong to the archdiocese of Cologne. One of these twelve cathedral chaplains is the dean of the cathedral.

In the Domsingschule with the children of the elementary school I explained it this way when I introduced myself there: You can say I am the head of the Cologne Cathedral. But I can not decide everything alone. This is not necessary and does not make sense. The cathedral chapter decides together and one of them, the dean of the cathedral, is the chairman. Quasi the class representative. I also have only one voice in the chapter, but I am responsible to represent the chapter like the cathedral to the outside world. If there are contracts to be signed, to sign them or to prepare the meetings, to implement the resolutions.

Then there is the cathedral dean. A second of the twelve, he is more responsible for the liturgy and the services of the chapter and the cathedral. We both represent each other when one is absent or a matter cannot be postponed.

Interviewer: Now it is also the task of the cathedral chapter to advise the archbishop. How do you handle it?

Assmann: In legal terms, the advice given to the archbishop consists mainly in the fact that the cathedral chapter must support the archbishop in major economic matters. If a church congregation has to spend a lot of money because a very large construction project is pending or it has to borrow a lot of money, then the so-called four-eyes principle applies. In this case, there are more eyes, but from the idea is that not one decides alone.

In addition to the cathedral chapter, there is also the economic council in the archdiocese, in which people from the parishes are elected. Both bodies are presented with such matters, each must vote freely on them, and then the archbishop can approve certain economic matters or legal transactions. In the pastoral work of the archdiocese, the cathedral chapter has no special advisory function.

Interviewer: Now you also have to discuss how to proceed with the Cologne Cathedral after the Corona pandemic. Is there already something planned?

Assmann: We are just as far along as the rest of the population. We all hope that someday there will be the opportunities to meet again. Just for our cathedral chapter. About the cathedral, there is a joint meeting once a month. But how important it is that we see each other in between? Of course, we sometimes see each other in the cathedral during services. But even we cannot meet at the moment.

People ask: Will there be organ concerts in summer? They are very popular. Will there ever be an open cathedral night when other churches are open? Just such actions that invite and welcome people. At the moment we don't even know when it will be possible again.

At the moment we look more to the Easter days. How can we celebrate the Holy and Easter liturgies?? How many people can enter the cathedral? At Christmas, we were able to make very good experiences with the fact that we have a very good concept with distances, which is not a problem in the cathedral. But I would hate it if we had to tell someone at the door: You can't come to this service now because it's full. And "full" actually means at most 250 people, if that many at all. So fully in the sense of spacing bids.

The interview was conducted by Heike Sicconi.

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