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Photo by Janina Gallert
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Photo by Janina Gallert
Name of Group: Berlin CLC (Christian Life Centre) Started in Berlin: 2008, weekly services started in 2009 Members in Berlin: ca. 150 Meetings: Sundays (17:13) at Park Inn Berlin-Alexanderplatz, Mitte Holy Book: Word, the New Testament in a glossy magazine version, and the Bible
The elevator at the Park Inn Berlin-Alexanderplatz is made of glass, so you can see the floors drift by while you climb Berlin’s famous highrise. The soundproof elevator rises slowly, the outside world rendered mute. Three floors later, the doors open: rock music beats at your ears as two smiling Christians, young and effusive, greet you at the door. Suddenly, the world is alive again. People hug, laugh and talk; the room vibrates with energy.
It’s Sunday, the clock says 17:13 (a meeting time chosen solely for its ridiculousness, not in reference to any scripture), and for the people gathered in the Park Inn’s conference room, it’s Jesus time. Berlin CLC (Christian Life Centre) has been meeting here to worship every week for a year. Though the group is linked to Hillsong, a Pentecostal- influenced international mega-church founded in Australia 30 years ago, its message of love and Jesus has found a wealth of new believers – and plenty of sceptics – in the secular German capital.
“Jesus was a pretty cool guy. I mean, he turned water into wine, so he must have been pretty fun!” a girl says, entering a low-lit conference room where a seven-man band is ready on stage. Euphoria begins to waft through the air as a big screen above the stage displays a countdown. When the counter hits zero, there is only one word: ‘Jesus’. People start to holler and raise their hands in the air as the music begins.
To the untrained eye, it looks like any other concert. But the lyrics are a far cry from sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. They’re all about the Saviour. In unison, the audience belts out updated versions of the Christian psalms. “My God, he’s mighty to save” and “Living to make your name high, Jesus” are repeated endlessly.
MISSION: REPOSITION JESUS
“Our background is Jesus, our goal is Jesus,” Mark Wilkinson says. “He’s the answer for humanity. He changes the inside of you so you can change the external.” Wilkinson is the founder, CEO and pastor of Berlin CLC. After his education in church management and leadership at the Hillsong Bible College in Australia, he settled in Berlin with his family, also dedicated CLCers, to “reposition Jesus in the minds of secularized Europeans”. But 150 followers are not much compared to the ca. 30,000 Hillsong-followers worldwide.
“Berlin is a sceptical city. People here are not very religious and they run away screaming as soon as you mention the words 'Jesus' and 'church'. That’s why we have a job to do here – why God sent us to Berlin,” says Wilkinson, whose congregants have an average age of 30. He’s determined to get Berliners to put their Jesus-glasses on to see the world as God sees it: as a world of love. Well, maybe not always.
As a branch of Hillsong, CLC follows the ‘father’ church’s position that homosexuality is unnatural, opposes stem-cell research and supports creationism and intelligent design. But for Wilkinson, the Christian message is a modern one that should be conveyed by modern means.
Eager to distance themselves from the usual archaisms associated with the cult of Jesus, the church resorts to many gimmicks: screens filled with fast-pace infomercials about the church’s activities, a service with stand-up comedy elements and loud rock music. Hillsong is on Twitter and holds online services several times a week.
And it is a young audience that comes to Park Inn every Sunday. They’re positive; they have ‘seen the light’; they read the Bible in the shape of a glossy Vogue-like magazine. But is the message drowned in modernity?
“Jesus is with us the whole time,” says Wilkinson, “and all the gimmicks are just the generational way of getting the message out there.”
"I'M NOT A CON-MAN"
When asked about money, his breathing gets heavier. Run by some 50 volunteers, the church is 100 percent funded by the churchgoers. As pastor, Wilkinson is a full-time employee. He’s weary of the scepticism cast on self-funded churches. “I’m not a con-man or a Scientologist,” he says, adding that donations are optional. “If people want a glimpse into the church’s accounts, they are welcome.”
Today, Wilkinson’s congregants were particularly moved by his sermon. As he addressed the difference between ‘knowing about Jesus’ and actually ‘knowing him’, the crowd was worked into an orgy of emotion.
Some burst into tears or cried out. “It’s not always like that,” Wilkinson contends. But as he bids goodnight to his flock, his face illuminated by the screen, there are people still in tears in the black leather seats of the conference room.