Colin and Muriel Barrett

wcr-Barrett-profileColin and Muriel Barrett
were Mission Partners
based in Germany. Colin
was minister of a Methodist churches in Freiberg and
one in Brand Erbisdorf that was one of only two Methodist Churches given permission to be built during the days before the Berlin
Wall came down. Muriel
helped with Sunday School
at both churches.

Here are some questions we asked Colin and Muriel during their time in Germany, to give you more of an idea of their work there:

How would you summarise the work you are doing as a mission partner?

Colin: Since August 2005 we have been living and working in Brand-Erbisdorf in Saxony, Germany. Brand-Erbisdorf is a small town half-way between Chemnitz and Dresden, which sees itself as the Gateway to the Erzgebirge. The Erzgebirge is a beautiful, unspoilt and largely undiscovered area of Germany close to the Czech border. It is famous for its history of silver and mineral mining, its wooden figures, its deep snow and the fact that it is the Christmas Wonderland of Germany.

Here we have only two seasons: Christmas (December - January) and pre-Christmas (February - November). We have two small congregations, one in Brand-Erbisdorf and the other seven kilometres away in the university town of Freiberg. We belong to the Dresden District which combines with the Zwickau District to make up the East German Conference. We are part of the United Methodist Church and our Conference is overseen by our Bishop, Rosemarie Wenner.

Our work is that of a "normal" minister and wife: preaching, pastoral work, administration, children's work, ecumenical relationships and travelling around the district talking about life and work in the English Methodist Church. We will be here until 2011 and then expect to return home to England.

Muriel: I came to Germany not really knowing what to expect and have found that my work has developed along two lines: Handicraft Work (or Basteln as it is called here) and Children's Work. The two are not always distinct. There can be lots of overlap. For example once a month I run a Basteln Club for children and one of my first jobs was to organise the Basteln Tent for children at the big Ecumenical Event we hold on the Market Place in Freiberg every Whit Monday.

We have come to an area where people are very creative and have lots of lovely ideas and it has been good to meet and exchange. Basteln can cover everything from stuff made with cast off cardboard, to greetings cards and knitted teddy bears. I now write a regular Basteln "column" for the German Church's bi-weekly magazine and also for the quarterly Children's Teachers Book.

I also get out and about doing Creative Workshops. Basteln comes in handy too when we want to fundraise. I started making some small ribbon crosses as part of a local talent scheme and ended up selling them all over Europe and in America too - and have even got a local factory owner developing a new template for me! Colin says that language can be a big hurdle. I have found that everybody understands the language of Basteln.

The work with children has been a great joy. They can be pretty straightforward when it comes to language. At first there were a few screwed up faces. But they soon straightened out what I was trying to say and now they tell their friends: Don't worry about her she's English! It's not all one way though. They have learnt a bit of English too and been pretty open to "foreign" [customs] and traditions. Now we have a Children's Weekend and a Christmas Party which are a delicious mixture of all our ideas customs.

The people here love their music too - and that has been a joy. I play in the local recorder group and sing in the ecumenical choir. Another great tradition here is to sing the Erzgebirge Christmas Songs in this wonderful dialect which is impossible to understand. I've worked out hat a few of them mean - but it doesn't really matter. The main thing is you link arms, sway from side to side, jump up and down - and have fun! Our next Circuit in England had better watch out. They don't know what's coming!

A more traditional craft here is lace-making - and I have been able to join the local club. (There's a club for everything here). The members are really keen to teach me the art of lace-making so I can bring it home with me. The club has introduced us again to lots of new people outside the congregation and taken us out and about to places we wouldn't have otherwise seen.

What has been your greatest challenge?

Colin: Without a doubt the greatest challenge has working entirely in the German language. We live and work in an area where English isn't spoken and where many people also speak in strong local dialect, which even Germans find impenetrable. You don't realise how instinctive language is - until it's not! And only being able to say what you can, rather than what you want to, can bring its own problems. Life loses its spontaneity somehow. It makes preaching interesting though. Not only do we have Mary and Joseph riding into Bethlehem on a hedgehog rather than on a donkey and people eating the cat rather than feeding it - we also have the unusual spectacle of the congregation shouting at the preacher during the sermon. It's not as bad as it sounds. What they are actually doing is helpfully suggesting words and phrases that might be better than the ones I'm in the process of murdering.

I wasn't ready for the impact of culture either. Germany is very much like England in lots of ways and you can quickly settle down. But our customs and traditions and experiences shape us and make us what we are far more than we realise. As a foreigner ministering to strangers in their own land you are in a funny position. It takes a long time to understand where people are coming from and to understand their situation. And to minister amongst people who have lived for 40 years under an atheist and anti-Christian government brings an extra dimension.

The Methodist people in the Erzgebirge are a one big, lively, lovely family. It takes a long time to get to know them and to be accepted by them. But it's been worth the effort. They've invited me to preach at the Conference in Leipzig in May. The thought of all these East German theologians considering my every word fills me with dread. That's outweighed though by the realisation that I belong!

Muriel: Some things can be painful of course. You need to take a good long novel with you if you're going to the doctors and you are expected to be up and around in the morning well before the streets are aired. But there are compensations - a warm main meal in the middle of the day and Abendbrot in the evening. One could get used to that. We're now in to candles on every table - and we can even answer some of the questions on Germany's Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

What impact do you feel you've made?

Colin: Impact is a big word - and I don't think I would want to use it. In some quarters we were greeted at first with suspicion. Germany sends missionaries, she doesn't receive them. What on earth do you think you can offer that we can't do for ourselves? The concept of partnership and mutual encouragement and new insights which are both offered and sought takes time to sink in. People know all about the English. We are distant and reserved and, can you believe it? - we have no sense of humour!! Our worship is heavy, lifeless and boring. England itself is wet and cold and foggy. Why would you want to go back, when you can stay here? We are in the business of building bridges and demolishing walls that divide. We have discovered here a refreshing piety and a deep thoughtfulness - and if we could combine that with the English tendency to get up and do something - we'd be quite a team.

How do you think God is guiding you in your work?

Colin: God keeps saying: Stick at it! I had thought - and hoped - the work of a Mission Partner would be somehow different. I didn't expect to be sent to a small congregation with significant pastoral and financial difficulties in a town no-one had ever heard of - and left to get on with it. The temptation to want to rush around the country, to get noticed, to work with English-speaking congregations, to sit on international conferences and committees was great. But sometimes we are called to something smaller. Living on the job, sharing the joys and frustrations and daily life of God's people is what it's all about. Maybe the people here needed us. Maybe we needed them.

What has surprised you most of all?

Colin: That from a standing start Muriel can speak better German than I can! That I like living here. That in spite of some frustrations and difficulties we are gradually being accepted in our community - and we are making a difference. And the experience has been so enriching. This appointment has taken us to Austria, America, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We have made friends as far apart as South Africa, India, Fiji and Antigua. The Bishop of the German Methodist Church has been to stay and we have picked up our out-of work-neighbour who was beaten up on our doorstep. And the blessing has always been that we are accompanied by God who is out and about.

Muriel: One thing really did surprise me. We were 35 miles away in a town called Seiffen - the all-year-round Christmas centre of the Erzgebirge - and wandered in to a shop nattering in my distinctive foreign accent. The shop-keeper pricked up her ears and then claimed to recognise me. We had been on our local television a couple of times talking about English traditions and our work in the church - and she had seen us. Fame at last! What with that and a few turns serving on the Christian book stall on the Christmas Market - you soon begin to feel you belong.

Almost without realising it I've gone from wondering what to do and asking myself what being a Mission Partner is all about to feeling as though I was meant to be here. Developing partnerships, building bridges, accepting and being accepted, forging friendships, having fun together. God has given me a great chance to be involved in building his kingdom. And it's been a delight. That's mission for you!

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