Sonntag, 24. Mai 2015

travellers & the church


article by Anna Lipphardt 
anna in the middle of the nomadic kitchen

(teaches Cultural Anthropology at the University of Freiburg where she also directs the research group Cultures of Mobility in Europe)

Because the NOMADIC VILLAGE this year happens to be located right next to St. Anna Church in Cerkno, here are some spotlights on the complex interrelations of travelers and church. While alternative travelers come mostly from subcultural, leftist milieus and are thus rather antagonistic or indifferent to all things religious, though some take religiously inspired good luck charms onto the road.
For traditional travelers, that is circus people and travelling show people, puppeteers or market vendors, religion is very important, in many spheres of their lives. Their experiences and practices in respect to the church open surprising perspectives on the interrelation of mobile and sedentary members of society, as well as on the question what constitutes a community. 
good luck charms in the cars of former and current nomadic village inhabitants
In regular, local communities, members go to church, a prominent building in the center of the village or town, with the priest holding a position of great social power. The local priest is usually the first person to go to for travelers arriving at a new place, because of the church’s doctrine to provide support to everyone in need.  In Germany, as in a number of other European countries, the Catholic and the Protestant Church have both established specific mobile units providing pastoral care to occupational travelers (for more see here and here). Instead of community members coming to the church, these priests travel within a specific district to meet their community members, wherever these set up their shows or attractions. Instead of using a local church, religious services are held on the premises that serve as the temporary work space and home base, in an auto scooter or circus tent temporarily converted into a church. With this constellation the power relation between priest and community changes radically. First of all, while local communities are stuck with their priest, for good or bad, travelers can decide to accept a priest into their community – or not. It is the priest who is the outsider who has to earn the trust of his/her constituency. Priests who have worked with both types of communities, say it takes 1 to 2 years to get accepted by local residents, but between 5 to 7 years to be really let in by travelers. If one has gained their acceptance though, the encounters with community members – which take place with long temporal intermissions in-between – tend to be much more immediate and cordial, and extend far beyond purely religious affairs. In fact, the travelling priests today often assume an important position as lobbyists and interlocutors, mediating between local authorities or individual local residents on the one hand and travelers on the other.
For many travelers it not to so important, if a Catholic or a Protestant priest marries them or baptizes their kids, and for some of the priests this confessional division also does not seem to be crucial. One protestant priest, who has worked with travelers for over 20 years, has e.g. adopted the baptism ritual – instead of declaring a baptized child, a new member of the Protestant Church, he declares: “You are now a member of the Travelling Community.” (“Du bist jetzt ein Mitglied der Reisenden Gemeinde.”) Way to go for the rest of the Church…  
If you want to learn more, check out the Research Project on Pastoral Carefor Travelers @ Uni Tübingen.
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