Wine Country

Asked if I could help harvest grapes for a family wanting to expand their Bio-wine industry; I agreed, and found that it was more than just grapes that were harvested.

A local family which we have come to know, began a business venture a few years ago producing ecologically friendly wine. Bio-wine, as it is known in Germany, has some tightly controlled standards which involve everything from the growing of the grapes, the maintenance of the vines; to the fermentation process, and end product. When I agreed to help I was simply told when to meet at the house, and the departure time to the Kaiserstuhl area where the vineyard is located.

I arrived at the beautiful rustic farmhouse to find some family members out in the field attending to the horses, and others attaching trailers to vehicles that were brimming full with colourful boxes and further supplies needed for the harvest. A group of about 12 people sat around a dinning table still laden with a hearty breakfast and I was met with the sent of warm bread, strong coffee and a number of different languages: German, French and English. A loud welcome was heard, and it was quickly announced that here we all use ‘Du’ the informal you whilst people poured out of the narrow doorway of the dinning room like sand in an hourglass to find rubber boats, jackets and bags, everyone shaking my hand in greeting.

A number of vehicles transported the group to the Kaiserstuhl region, an old volcanic area now teared with various vineyards, the hill cross-hatched with fencing and vines now heavy with grapes. Today we will be harvesting Spätbegrunder (Pino Noir), a full bodied red grape with compact bunches. After a quick tutorial about watching out for signs of fungus, rot and insects; some small plier-like sisores were placed in my hand and I was paired up with someone to work a row.

A few hired hands had also been brought to the vineyard, and as it seemed everyone had done this before, the people seemed to speed away down the sharply slopped land filling box after colourful box with a load of grapes the only sounds being the snip of scissors and shuffle of boots in the damp grass. The process was really very simple. Cut the bunches, pick out any signs of rotting fruit (easily seen, and smelled with the waft of vinegar) and place the grapes in the box, then repeat until you reached the end of the row, at which time you and your partner found another row to harvest. The work sped by as you quietly discuss things with your helper, getting to know about your individual stories and backgrounds. Every so often, one of the two young men who own the operation would come past to chat and take a look at the progress, often producing their own pruning sheers from pockets and working along side you in conversation, both quality control and encouragement.

At midday the sun has made the grey sky a lighter grey; the call to stop is shouted out, and a ‘table’ has been set using boxes and an old table clothe. Wine is poured into real wine glasses and we all wait until everyone has be served, and ‘Cheers’ is announced by the brothers together to which we echo with raised glasses, the sun appearing briefly to add sparkle to the ruby liquid in our wineglasses. We all begin to eat and drink as soup, sandwiches, chocolate and coffee are served. The two brothers who own and operate the vineyard make sure that everyone is well fed and happy. People sit around on upturned empty crates chatting to one another. For some, they have gathered here every year, and others much like myself, have only just started to work. The sun emerges from behind the high cloud cover and we have a view to the Rhein valley and beyond; all of it making the wine in our glasses taste all the more better.

By mid-afternoon we have cleared out one area of the vineyard and need to move to the next, which as it turns out, is easier said then done, as we are not the only ones on the hill harvesting today. Rains and a shortage of labourers have made it difficult and the window of opportunity will soon be slammed shut so tractors, both large and small, modern and ancient are travelling around the steep hill and the many narrow switchbacked roads. We move everyone and all the equipment down to the ‘crater’ where the village is, and over to the other side of the hill which affords more views. Cliff faces full of holes from nesting swallows and breeding pairs of Bee Eaters remind us of the ecologically sensitive area. Having taken a short 15 minute break as the smallest of all the vehicle present opens and beer has been unloaded for everyone to drink, no sooner is has the bottle been finished that we are back to work with another partner, and the snip of scissors and shuffle of feet is matched with the fall of grapes and rise of conversations.

A micro-climate change has happened from one location to the next so that despite only a short ‘hop’ from one location to the next, here the grapes are larger, less tightly compact and very fresh, making the boxes fill quickly. A short rain shower passes and everyone is told to look out for a rainbow; a full one is found stretching across the whole valley, some take out mobile phones to photograph the scene, others talk in amazement.

As the sun prepares to set, the final preparations are made for departure. I am in one of the vehicles assigned to get some of the Romanian workers back to their lodgings, but we find ourselves all a bit frustrated, in that the lead car with the navigation and address has made it down the hillside quickly and left us behind as we slowly reverse down the narrow lanes with the sound of our tires slipping underneath. The driver I am with turns out to be from out of town, Berlin, and has no idea of the surrounding villages and we discover once he has pulled over in the village streets, his phone has no signal. My mobile alerts me quickly, that I am apparently in France and Roaming, just before the screen goes dark as the battery has run out of power. We turn to ask the Romanians where they live. They don’t know and they cannot answer even with using German and English we try to piece together were they are staying. The man who does the only speaking says it is near the ‘Rewe,’ a grocery store chain which is about as frequently seen as an Aldi, or Lidl in every village. He pronounces a name of a place which sounds like a garbled version of a village listed on a directional sign so we take a chance and head out.

Eventually we find ourselves pulled to the side of the road with me leaning out the window asking people for directions to this mysterious place where the farm labourers reside and to my astonishment a woman remarks, “Down the road, over the train tracks, then left.” We drive with renewed vigour having only to brake suddenly for a passing tractor hauling three wagons full of grapes. We find the road closed for construction and our led out several kilometres in the now dark valley. A large REWE sign illuminates our path ahead, and the man in the backseat starts looking around keenly with a hidden instinct of recognition.

“Not here!” The fellow shouts out. “Go.” he says and points straight ahead. After a few kilometres more, he says, “Slow,” and then he seems to have found his way more clearly by memory and he gives us a steady stream of directions as he yells out, “Left” while he points to his right, and “Right” as he points to his left. In the beginning of all this our van does a quick swerve at each instruction as the driver responds to the vocal response, and I have to reinterpret, glancing back to hand gestures pointing in the opposite directions. Soon the driver and I are speaking about the “other left” and the “other right” and our van remains steady on course. As the darkness surrounds us in the countryside the labourers are safely back at a large barn where they are housed.

A car waits for us in the dark and everything is explained about how we got lost and had the perfect combination of people in the van to get even more confused and disoriented. Now for the remainder of the the journey the driver and I have a more lighthearted conversation. We get to know each others backgrounds and he jokes in saying that for the last ten days he has been helping with the harvest and maybe knows a little more about what it is like to be a priest. He explains the routine of eating and work, but that each day is a different vineyard, often with different helpers. You are well fed, not paid well, and have to listen to people at what he called, “the vineyard confessional.” I laughed as he explained how the vines often obstruct the ‘co-worker’ on the other side of the trellis as does the screen in a confessional box. The conversation, he remarks, is also rather confessional, as people end up telling you their life-story. The driver also said that at the end of the day he is simply so exhausted that he has no energy left for himself, he cannot even make it through reading a newspaper article before falling asleep. Then he is woken by an alarm and a new day has dawned.

While I am now tired, and I am sure my muscles will let me know more about it tomorrow, I believe that the whole experience will be like a fine wine, better as it ages. Maybe, in due season, I will be asked again to help out with another harvest and my appreciation for those who labour and toil will make the food and drink taste all the more richer, and that while listening to the life stories of others mixed in with the snip of scissors and the swish of dew moistened grass, we may all be encouraged to pause glance upward and await a rainbow.

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Intergenerational Worship

At a recent gathering of the Anglican and Episcopalian Churches in Germany we had opportunity to collectively think about how our chaplaincies work (or maybe don’t work) on an intergenerational level. The two dynamic leaders were Diane Craven and Harvey Howlett. The theme for our yearly educational event came from the chair of the organizing committee after reading an article by Diane in the Church Times which addressed issues of intergenerational work, worship and witness with areas focusing on: Learning together, Praying together, and Serving together. The article is here to read if you are interested.

Rarely is the church not intergenerational. Even if people like to highlight ‘missing generations’ that seem not to be present in the gathered community; on the whole, church is intergenerational, with my only experience of it not being so is at a number of ‘mega’ churches which felt more like a concert than church, and if you paid enough attention, you would realize that there were a variety of ages represented.

The real question for me, having had some time to reflect on the three day event is, how do we relate to each other if, in reality, our congregations are evenly spread through with a number of generations. At times, it is majority rule, and other times it is like being held hostage by a small faction of determined individuals; as the church joke goes, ‘what’s the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.’ (Groan) I think that at the best of times, the gathered people is like a community which is similar to a family set about a common or similar aim. For this reason, there is a lot of emphasis placed on meals together. One only needs to think of a family meal in which a number of generations gather, which apparently happens less often in by today’s standards — some estimate that we spend 30 minutes a day with ‘family’ and over 8 hours a day on some electronic device.

Every cohort of a generation will have different needs and expectations of what it is to be church; this leads to friction of course, as differing needs collide. Being reflective and intentional might be the best way forward. Reflective in how we learn, pray and serve at different stages of life and faith development. As well, we need to be forgiving because we will not always get what we are looking for and find that there will always be some group or individual which is somehow alienated: be it the singles at the family service, the crying infant and overwhelmed lonely single parent at the meditative Book of Common Prayer service, the elder who hears nothing but feedback as the loud music plays havoc with hearing aids as the printed font used for the projected worship service is too small to see; or the immigrant who desperately wants to be in a community, but finds that she cannot understand all of the language so that words which are packed with meaning only lead to more confusion and a growing feeling of alienation.

Each generation will think that they have the answer, as the answer is them, and they must be right. Over the years I have heard strange phrases from the mouths of otherwise pleasant people like, “They will learn to like the BCP if they hand out the prayer books in their role as sides-people and stop loafing around,” or “No wonder this place is half dead, all they care about is investing thousands of dollars on redoing their memorial garden, but they won’t let us paint a youth room.” There might be some value in shifting our perspectives, that our own generation has got it right, and other generations have it all wrong, to something a bit more positive and collaborative and forgiving, such as, “I am, because we are.”

However, rather than focusing on what might be seen as dividing lines between generational needs, there is actually a great deal of good things going on. Such as a church outing to the ice rink when Children’s Church teachers fall flat on the ice and the children skate daring circles around them; the adults have been made into the pupils and the child the teacher; an interaction which then changes the relationship when they next meet on Sunday to discover that we all fall down, nobody is perfect, and we all have something to learn. Or another role reversal when a server does not turn up to help with distributing the bread and wine of communion and a child is eager to help, and does, bringing tears to some as they receive this sacred meal from a child who knows no proper phrase, or liturgical response and has no special ‘license,’ but simply beams with love and enthusiasm. And finally an example of praying together when despite the years of theological study by the youth leader/quasi-theologian a young boy who has started to come to youth group proclaims that knowing God is simple, one only needs to look at an acorn from an oak tree — and the idea strikes the leader as he suddenly realizes that this sounds awfully familiar — like a saying from an ancient female mystic, or one of the desert fathers.

There is no easy way to ‘solve’ intergenerational worship, especially as our own needs and desires, as we search for God, continue to change. I might want a rock band today, but long for simple silence tomorrow. While people change and develop, so does the nature of our churches, and our society where there never seems to be one particular model or identifying factor, rather there is a lot of things all mixed together where we might feel that the church is like a social club today, and tomorrow a group of pilgrims. I imagine it is a bit of both, and more.

Rather than intergenerational: seeing the generations (however we define them) as separate and then somehow linked together; maybe it is better to speak of intragenerational where we recognize that within a church, or chaplaincy structure we have webs of connectedness and that at times, those who may be students are at times the teachers; and those who are leaders are sometimes servants. But then, that’s really about my generations needs, and so it must be correct. Right?

Norway – Some Rain Must Fall

Traveling from the sunniest place in Germany to the rainiest place in Europe for a vacation was full of unexpected delights. Here are my ABC’s for our short, but enjoyable, time in Norway.

A – Another Race

I have started a tradition when travelling in that I look for a race in which to participate. While I did run through the city of Oslo, and up along the banks of the Akerselva river trail to see the fish ladders, spawning channels, rapids and waterfalls all with scenic cafés and clubs nestled in amongst moist air and velvety moss; this was not the main race goal for this vacation. The main race event which I registered for was part of the Bergen Marathon Carosel, which has a race every couple of months throughout the year of varying length through the forest trails near Bergen. The races range from a 10 km to an Ultra-marathon of 100 km, but I entered into the “Skogsmarton” for a half marathon. Determined to feel better and still taking medicine for my stomach condition, I planned the race ahead as something to aim for as I wanted to get healthy. The race itself was mostly gravel trail which undulated through the beautiful forest with a small section of narrow track that had turned to thick dark mud after a few hundred footsteps of those who had earlier in the day raced a 10km and marathon. Dodging roots, other runners, and trying not to loose shoes to the sticky mud, was the best part of the race as far as I was concerned. There are some very fit and friendly people in Norway, and while I didn’t get a personal best, I did place first for Canada (wink, wink). I walked away from the race with a nice race t-shirt and a ‘trophy’ shot glass in which to say Skål!

B – Book

Ok, who am I kidding, the title should read ‘Books’ as I can never read just one. Before I left for our trip I bought a small Jo Nesbø book called ‘Midnight Sun’ to enjoy while I travelled in Norway. However, even before I left I started reading a book passed on to me by some church members called, “Der Pfau” by Isabel Bogdan. Der Pfau, or The Peacock, is not available in English, but written with English humour – think Faulty Towers. I regret that due to having only carry on luggage, I could only take one book and settled on the Jo Nesbø simply because it was thinner.

Thin books rule went out the window on our last day in Bergen as I had long finished my copy of Midnight Sun and now had some space left in the luggage after giving away our presents that we had taken with us for friends and family as our travels took us north. Now the real hunt was on for the 5th volume of the Min Kamp (My Struggle) series by Karl Ove Knausgård entitled (at least in the English versions) ‘Some Rain Must Fall’ which is a wrist-breaker-of-a-book. We thought of getting another bag just to take my new book home with me, or maybe getting it a seat on the plane. The book highlights Knausgård’s years living in Bergen, and I am getting to travel the city again having been to many of the streets, cafés and locations that are mentioned in the book. In a way it is a holiday after the holiday ever time I open up the book for a read.

Oslo rooftop picnic panorama

C – Cold Water

Despite all the warnings of it being the rainiest place in Europe, Bergen proved to be sunny for the time we were there. As soon as we had boarded the airplane bound for return trip to Germany we were grounded due to a large thunderstorm. Maybe we really did bring the sun with us.

On a couple of warm sunny days we went swimming in the Bergen harbour at the ‘pool’ which is more than just a pool, rather it is a sauna and warm saltwater swimming pool with diving boards off the cliffs into the fjord. This place summarized all the swimming holes of the North Shore in Vancouver, and others along the coast of Vancouver Island. I love swimming in saltwater even if it is a water temperature of 14-16 Celsius. Jumping off the diving board and watching out for ghostly pale jellyfish the size of dinner plates was worth it, especially as cruise ships entered the harbour and waving passengers looked shocked to see tanned Norwegians and tourists alike, springing into the dark water made choppy with the wake of boat traffic.

Look before you leap – there’s a jellyfish below!

In almost every situation, not only at the poolside, did I find Norwegians striking up conversations. Usually I was addressed first in Norsk and once people figured out that I was an English speaker we enjoyed many short chats with the locals who liked to joke and were generally easygoing and relaxed.

I remain deeply impressed by Norway, from what little I was able to see of it, and could easily continue with an alphabet of new letters like ø and å of enthusiastic sights and stories.