NORTH PORT — Around Christmastime, choral groups are fond of the novelty of presenting “Silent Night” in its original German.
That’s not to say native English speakers aren’t able to bring out the beauty of Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr’s “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,” but it’s still not the same as hearing the inflections and reverence straight from those who’ve been speaking — and singing — those words their whole lives.
That was a highlight of a special Christmas-themed service Dec. 22 at North Port Community United Church of Christ, where a congregation of about 30 German speakers meets monthly for worship and fellowship, all in their native tongue from start to finish.
This is the home church for the Rev. Attila Szemesi, pastor, who hails from the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, but became fluent in German after growing up in Germany and attending schools there. He has led North Port Community UCC since 2014.
Szemesi started the German services in North Port a couple of years ago, also around this time of year, making this the third Christmas the group has celebrated, he said.
His sermon this Christmas, “Eine interessante Familie,” or “An interesting Family,” referenced the Christmas story in Matthew and touched upon immigration in the modern world. This reporter’s limited German couldn’t interpret much beyond that, but the congregation had no trouble following his take on how Christ’s birth remains so important to Christians today.
Together, they sang through hymns, recited the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer, shared offerings and communion, then retired to a fellowship area for coffee and cakes.
The style for the services, Szemesi noted afterward, is more like a traditional German Lutheran service than a typical UCC service, and, thus, is more somber and disciplined.
He gave the example of a congregation often clapping in appreciation of the music at an English-language service, but that being unheard-of in old German services.
He said a lady attending one of the German services looked to him once to see if it was OK to clap, as it was so unusual for the more reserved atmosphere.
Communion, while not offered at each service, is a recent addition, Szemesi noted.
The next local service will be at 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at North Port Community United Church of Christ, 3450 S. Biscayne Drive.
Szemesi, whose said his own UCC offering the service is fairly rare around the state, also travels to Lutheran churches in Sarasota and Clearwater to present additional German services each month, with Jan. 13 and 27 being the next respective offerings.
Of the North Port congregation, Szemesi proudly observed how the group has come together in the two years since they started meeting.
When the services began, it was common for people to leave directly afterward, he said. Now, it’s not unusual for people to stick around and enjoy fellowship with one another for an hour and a half or so, as it’s the only time they can really speak with others who share their language and culture.
“It’s a community that supports each other,” Szemesi said.