Munich church becomes sanctuary during shooting

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During the shooting rampage in Munich that left nine dead, visitors to the nearby United Methodist Church of the Redeemer (Erlöserkirche) experienced both fear and divine peace.

When the shots in the Olympia Shopping Mall were fired, a group of Wesley Scouts was meeting in the garden of the nearby Church of the Redeemer.

“One could have thought it was firecrackers, like on New Year’s Eve, but it was just a few seconds later that people were frantically running down the street,” said church member Alexander Badstübner. “They fought through the bushes and climbed with their dogs and bikes into neighboring properties.”

It became clear quickly that it was gunshots, not fireworks. The volunteer leaders of the Wesley Scouts reacted immediately by bringing the children into the building and gathering them all into the sanctuary. Some people who had been shopping at the targeted mall also found refuge in the sanctuary.

The blinds were lowered, although police sirens could already be heard outside.

“Fear spread amongst both the children and the adults,” said Badstübner.

The youth leader invited everyone in the sanctuary to pray. Drinks that were already prepared for the youth worship service were offered to all. The worship leader of the youth band picked up his guitar. Young and old gradually began to join their voices together in song. Music and singing helped to bring peace to the group.

“Anguished sobs were transformed into singing for the glory of God,” Badstübner said. “Peace spread throughout the sanctuary, making it a sacred place within the building.”

Then a church representative, per a recommendation from the police, communicated to the group that they should move to the basement and stay away from windows. All rushed to the basement and took refuge in rooms that were not visible from the outside. Then, the kitchen team brought plates and food, offering a rich buffet.

“God set the table for us and provided us a full meal. His spirit empowered the church volunteers and leaders to sing encouraging songs that helped dispel the children’s fear,” Badstübner said.

After a while, all was presumed to be safe and clear. The people were allowed to leave the basement to go back into the sanctuary and to other spaces in the church, but were advised not to leave the church yet. Public transport in Munich had been completely halted; taxis were not even allowed to drive during this time. The area around the mall had been secured and sealed off.

Next, a police car drove alongside the church and from it came a member of the crisis intervention team to ask if the church could be used as a refuge point for those who had been evacuated from the shopping center. They had been using a fast-food restaurant a few streets over from the church, but it was becoming overcrowded. One-hundred-fifty people were to be brought to the church and cared for there.

“We willingly agreed, because God had already provided for us and prepared us for such a circumstance,” said Badstübner.

Immediately, the sanctuary was transformed to provide incoming people with food and drinks that had already been stored for an upcoming scouts’ camping trip. Soup was cooked, cakes were sliced and fruit was set out for all. The children were put to bed after an opportunity to call their parents. It had become clear that it would only be possible for them to be picked up in the morning.

Munich deployed 2,300 police officers to lock down the city Friday night.

Because the church had not been officially deemed as a secured zone, instead of the people who had been at the shopping center, police officers and paramedics came to rest and regain their strength. Gradually the situation calmed down and some guests, church volunteers and church leaders were able to head home, while others remained overnight in the sports hall and tried to get some sleep.

“We have experienced God in this strong team, which has been empowered by the strength of God and, by the connection to God, did not become tired, so that they could do what was necessary,” Badstübner said. “With gratitude and amazement, we see God's intention to provide for us in abundance and to put light in a world that is frozen in fear and bewilderment.”

The morning after the rampage, the church volunteer for Community Help had provided a flower arrangement for mourning and a book in which the troubled people could write down their fears and desires. The book was laid below the cross in front of the church where the community on Saturday had celebrated the Experience of Salvation on the Cross.

“Tomorrow in worship at 10 a.m., we will revisit these themes,” wrote pastor Friedemann Burkhardt on the church’s Facebook page before the service on July 24. The service was already planned to include a baptism and a new membership vows and ritual ceremony, and the service’s guiding passage was to be from John 16:33: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Volker Kiemle is a communicator for the Germany Conference. 

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