The German-speaking Church: Laudate House

The German Church at 1 Chalmers Crescent has, since 1954, been the home of the German Speaking Congregation which is recognised as the successor to an older congregation established in 1862. This had its own church building on the north side of Edinburgh but was disbanded at the outbreak of World War 1.

In 1954, the congregation, which between the wars had met in a side chapel of St Mary’s Cathedral, moved into the building formerly occupied by Glendinning’s Academy of Dancing. They converted this into a church cum manse but dry rot set in and as a result the building was demolished and the present church centre built in 1967. Since members come from a variety of denominational backgrounds, the worship incorporates elements of both Lutheran and Reformed practice. (These sketches are indebted to various sources, including material from a Newsletter item by Elsa Hendry, and ‘The Kirks of Edinburgh’, A. Ian Dunlop.) Sheila Reid – July 2003

Walther Bindemann
Standing in front of 1, Chalmers Crescent you may not even recognise that this building is a church. It is a concrete building made in the 1960s that seems to be a workshop rather than a place of religion. However, at a second glance you will see a large stained glass window which, of course looks more impressive from the inside than from outdoors. And perhaps you will even find out that the building is named ‘Laudate House’. I once received a letter from a church official in Germany. Its opening was informal: ‘Dear Mr Bindemann, not many people can boast such a joyful address – Laudate House!’ Laudate House is the home of Edinburgh’s German-speaking congregation, and accommodates a church hall, lounge, manse and nursery. It is not the first German church in this city. From the 1850s, services were held occasionally, with various preachers. In 1862 the first German minister was installed and, with support of Scottish churches, a German congregation was established. In 1880 they got their own chapel at Rodney Street/Cornwallis Street. It is still there; however, when the FirstWorldWar broke out the congregation was discontinued and the building was sold. After the Second World War a fresh start was made. At that time a huge number of Germans lived in Scotland. There were thousands of prisoners of war and a fair number of ‘war brides’ who had followed their husbands to Scotland. Other young women came to Britain for jobs. Many needed spiritual and social support. Therefore, German services started at the end of 1947, first in St Mary’s Cathedral, later on in Holy Trinity Church at Dean Bridge. In 1952 Dietrich Ritschl, a young minister from Switzerland, started working with the German community, and with the help of Scottish churches and financial support from Churches in Germany a German-speaking congregation was re-established. The minister lived in a flat at 38, Warrender Park Terrace where initially also Bible studies and other meetings were held while services still took place at Holy Trinity Church. As the congregation grew the need for a permanent home became urgent. So in November 1953 a Dancing School at 1, Chalmers Crescent was bought, refurbished and named ‘Laudate House’. In February 1954 the congregation moved in. However, the building was still in poor condition. Therefore plans were discussed to build a new church and manse. After a period of fundraising in 1966 foundations were laid for the present Laudate House which was finished and consecrated in 1967. The dedication service started at Argyle Place Church; from there the congregation walked over to Laudate House where they had to stand for the rest of the service because there were no chairs yet in place. The church is a bright, friendly, flexible room, furnished with chairs and a movable altar. The stained glass window, designed and made by George Garson, dominates the room. A solid wooden cross, carved by a former prisoner of war reminds us of the beginnings of the German-speaking congregation in those difficult post-war years. Services, usually in the German language, are held fortnightly. The manse is occupied by a minister who has to serve German-speaking congregations in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle and Middlesbrough as well as smaller groups in Aberdeen, Inverness and Dumfries. Like the other congregations, Edinburgh’s is not called ‘German’ but ‘German-speaking’. It is not a national church; but it is committed to the spiritual heritage of the German Reformation. In fact it is a colourful ecumenical mixture of all sorts of Protestant and Catholic Christians from Germany, other German-speaking countries and from Britain. The congregation is scattered over a large area; people come to church from Fife, from Galashields, the Central Belt and East Lothian. But a fair number of our members live nearby … We all benefit from the excellent location – I cannot think of a better place for Edinburgh’s German-speaking Church than this spot at Chalmers Crescent.

Walther Bindemann – August 2003