Going to Church in West Prussia in the early 1800's

Brandt's history of the Protestant church in Flatow ("Unsere Väter hofften auf Dich!" published c. 1930) includes an account of Sunday in Flatow in the first half of the 19th century. It's a bit romanticized, and I've left out a lot of the moralizing about homespun piety in my summary:

The day of rest started with the church bells being rung on Saturday evening. On Sunday the country people would start arriving in town about 8 a.m. The shops were open on Sundays because this was the day in the week when the country people would come into the town. They had to close when the services were being held, i.e. from 10 to 12 in the morning and 2 to 3 in the afternoon. The men wore coats made from cloth their womenfolk had woven and dyed, mostly brown or dark blue. They carried a stick of oak, hazel or juniper wood, which they would have carved themselves. The women wore pleated/gathered skirts, and colored aprons, again from cloth they had woven themselves, and colored or black scarves on their heads. Sometimes people would bring wax candles as gifts to the church. Cut grass and wild flowers were strewn around the outside of the church. The church doors were opened wide, so that the candles could be seen burning on the altar. Women who had walked from villages outside Flatow would sit on the church steps with their children to wait for the start of the service.

Brandt describes the church furnishings, including the crucifix on the altar, a gift from King Friedrich Wilhelm III, together with two candle holders representing praying angels, "products of the royal ironworks in Berlin"...

On entering the church, the women would kneel to say a short prayer. The men held their hats or caps in front of their faces while praying. The organist would play for the first hymn, which would be sung in a long, slow, drawn-out style (described by Brandt as very old-fashioned, but expressive of the peace and tranquillity of the day of rest). The congregation would then stand for the liturgy. When the name of God was spoken, the men would bend their heads and the women would bend the knees in a kind of curtsey. After the liturgy, the bible reading, the creed, the main hymn was sung. Here Brandt takes the opportunity to praise the "sturdy old German Lutheran hymns" in contrast to the feeble products of effete English and American hymn writers! Then the sermon, the notices (births, marriages and deaths), final prayers, and the blessing. And the congregation would leave the church, leaving their offerings.

Many of those who had walked into town from their villages were fasting, because they were intending to take communion, apparently at the afternoon service; so they would have been very tired by the time the service was over. After the communion, "half a dozen christenings", and then the services were over for the week.

On a less romantic note, Brandt says elsewhere that the church built in Flatow in the 1820s suffered from the beginning from damp. This was partly because it was built over a well which had been covered over and partly because the walls had not been given adequate time to dry out during building. So during the consecration ceremony, a shower of plaster fell onto the congregation. Also that immediately after the new church came into use, quarrels broke out between various families and guilds about who should have the best pews. The cloth weavers' guild, with only two masters, wanted as large a pew as it had had in the previous church, at a time when there were over 30 masters in the guild. Some claims were sorted out without too much trouble, others went to court to pursue their cases.

This new church had been built because the previous one was too small to hold the congregation from the surrounding villages. In the villages the service was often taken by the teacher who would simply read the prayers. In two villages - Lugetal and Glumen; it was the Catholic teachers who performed this service for the Protestants.

The 73 Jewish families in Flatow had to contribute to the building of the Protestant church; and both the Jews and Protestants had also had to contribute to the building of the Catholic priest's house.

This translation with comments is by Alathea Anderssohn of El Jadida, Morocco