Christopher Jage-Bowler brings the Bible to the football pitch… and the pub!
Christopher Jage-Bowler is Berlin’s official Anglican pastor and the chair of the Council representing the Anglican and Episcopal Churches in Germany. His highest earthly boss? Queen Elizabeth II. For those in the dark, Anglicanism considers itself a “middle way” between Catholicism and Protestantism, evolving under the Church of England over four centuries – think “more colourful services, but the theology is Protestant,” says Jage-Bowler, who’s been working full time at St George’s, Berlin’s Anglican Church in the western edges of Charlottenburg, for over 20 years. Like Protestants, Anglican pastors can marry, and Jage-Bowler has a wife and two grown sons. This isn’t just an anecdotal detail, as the woman he fell for while studying theology in Cambridge was a Berliner. “I moved here for love,” he admits with a shy smile, following his partner here in 1996, and starting as an assistant to the Scottish pastor of St George’s at the time.
Jage-Bowler came to faith as a geography undergraduate at Nottingham University, after being involved in a car accident in which two people died. “At this point I felt a need. It was like the penny dropped.” As fate would have it, another car accident cost the life of St George’s pastor the very year he arrived in Berlin, and he was appointed as his replacement. Since then, Jage-Bowler’s witnessed many changes. “I have seen Berlin develop from an Eastern city on the fringes of the mental map, to an incredibly international place. When I first moved to here, I was struck by how few non-white faces there were,” he says, often pausing for long intervals, as if to better hear the coo of a wood pigeon and the rustling wind on the green outside the church. “Now it is becoming increasingly international. A cross-fertilisation of nationalities,” he enthuses, pointing to the North African, Syrian and even Chinese congregation members who attend his 100-strong Sunday morning service. Jage-Bowler also regularly takes his beliefs outside the church, namely to his bi-weekly discussion group at the ALEX pub on Alexanderplatz. Whether here, at the neighbouring Marienkirche, or at St George’s, Jage-Bowler strives to go beyond “simply telling Bible stories” and prefers to “energise” their messages in pragmatic, lasting ways, be it by addressing the excessive emission of CO2 or the need to create bridges between communities.
His engagement in current affairs inevitably extends to the political, and though he possesses German citizenship, the chaos of Brexit still burdens him. “What distresses me so much about Brexit, is how divided and intolerant Britain has become,” he remarks, his brow knotted above his earnest brown eyes. “Walls are sometimes physical, but often they exist in people’s heads. One of the most exciting things about preaching in Berlin is attempting to work across those walls – uniting communities and learning from one another.” Championing the words of Francis of Assisi, “Light a candle rather than complain about the darkness,” Jage-Bowler initiated an annual interfaith football tournament between pastors and imams which has expanded into yearly partnerships between religious congregations across Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. “The synagogues, mosques, temples and churches all worked together last year to fundraise for the construction of a well in a war-torn community,” he explains excitedly. They raised €14,500 to build a well in Aljufainah, Yemen.