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Pastor Koller retires: “Never wanted to be only a missionary”

Change at the ecumenical university chaplaincy at Hof University of Applied Sciences and the neighboring University of Applied Sciences for the Civil Service in Bavaria (HföD): Pastor Rudolf Koller, the representative of the Protestant Church, is retiring. According to the latest information, his position will not be filled. Although the Catholic vicar Sebastian Schiller will only be working for the university chaplaincy until the fall, his position will then be filled again. There will also continue to be a particularly successful university chaplaincy campaign in the future, according to Pastor Rudolf Koller in an interview with “campuls-digital”.

A hearty handshake with President Prof. Lehmann (left) as a farewell: Pastor Rudolf Koller leaves the university chaplaincy; Image: Hof University of Applied Sciences;

Pastor Koller, you have filled the university chaplaincy with life for years. How did this service come about in the first place?

“The idea of a Christian service for students began with my predecessor, Pastor Johannes Taig and the Jesuit priest Peter Waibel. Both of them were already offering discussion evenings at the former civil service college in the mid-1900s – at that time without any official regulations and purely as part of normal church work. This was later continued by the Protestant Church through Pastor Bezzel. Father Waibel stayed on until 2010 when the Jesuits withdrew from the area and thus also from Hof. I took up the position in 2008 and found a wonderful partner for this work in the Catholic priest Hans-Jürgen Wiedow in 2010.”

But only then did it really become official?

“Yes, of course we first went to the university management and asked whether we were welcome at all and whether we could institutionalize our offer, so to speak. All doors were really opened to us here. Together, we then set up the University Chaplaincy Court and from around this point, there was also a service regulation: I was allowed to dedicate a quarter of my full-time position to working at the two universities. That was the beginning of the best time and we developed a large network among lecturers, administrative staff and, of course, students.”

That sounds interesting..

“Yes, because the collaboration with Pastor Wiedow was simply great. We went on a retreat once a year and always put together an interesting annual program with lots of good ideas. Above all, it was important to us to bring the students into the city and give them a sense of home in Hof. That’s why we established the “Church, art and pub” series, which from then on took place three times a year. We visited the Hospital, Michaelis or Marienkirche churches and listened to an organ concert, and then we went to traditional pubs such as Finale, Meinels Bas, Trompeter or Treffpunkt. Once a year, we invited people to a brewery tour at Meinels Bräu. We always had to limit the number of participants to a maximum of 50 people.”

You might well ask where the faith aspect is to be found here..

“There were undoubtedly aspects of faith – whether in church music, art or conversations. But we decided early on that we didn’t want to be missionary. Instead, we wanted to show hospitality and ensure that our guests felt at home in a Christian environment and in their city of study. However, our gift tree campaign before Christmas was certainly Christian in the true sense of the word every year. It has the message “We are all doing well, please share something with those who are not doing so well”. This is one of the most important messages of Jesus Christ. And that’s why I really want to make sure that this gift tree campaign continues in the future. I am currently in talks about this.”

The Christmas gift tree campaign, in which gifts in kind are donated to social institutions; picture: Sebastian Schiller;

That’s great to hear. Looking back, what other experiences and events do you remember?

“I am also particularly pleased with the exhibition “30 Years of Debt Crisis”, which we were able to bring to the two universities in 2013 and – in an updated form – again in 2017. We wanted to give an insight into a global scandal. While every private individual and every company expects a constitutional procedure in the event of insolvency, countless so-called debtor states have been dependent on the mercy – or disgrace – of their creditors for decades. There is still no fair insolvency procedure for states, even though many organizations have been calling for this for a long time.

In the meantime, the Christian churches in Germany are suffering from an unprecedented wave of resignations – in stark contrast to the situation on other continents. How do you experience this situation and is it reflected among students?

“Yes, but not primarily among the students. I was a parish priest for 40 years. Of course, in this country we are dealing with completely different conditions in some cases. Rituals have been lost.

Church attendance is the exception rather than the rule, even on major holidays. Parents no longer teach this and so it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach younger generations. But in many congregations, people just carry on as they always have.”

Pastor Rudolf Koller

What needs to change?

“Basically, every single local church should reflect on what it is there for. The church service is one aspect of this, but not the only one. It’s about recognizing people in their life situations, with their problems, their fears, their grief and their insecurities. With all that faith can be a source of support and comfort. Especially in the world we live in today.”

What does that mean in concrete terms?

“It has always been important to me that my confirmation students, for example, have a good relationship with the church, that they feel comfortable in this circle and that they see the Christian faith as part of their foundation of values and as the root of our society. It’s also about identity and community. And about ensuring that we as a society do not become defenceless and defenceless in the face of aggressive external influences.

The church must do careful work at the turning points in life: when growing up with confirmation, when getting married and ultimately also when dying. In my view, religious education at school is also extremely important for our society, whether many people still want to hear it or not. Genuine Christian values protect against an incredible amount of stupidity.”

Pastor Rudolf Koller

What are your personal plans for the next stage of your life? You come from Munich – Untergiesing: are you going back to your old home?

“No. I’ll stay in Hof, but I’ll try to use my time for a few short trips. There are many cities not far from Hof that I’m very interested in and want to get to know better. And I want to write a book. The subject will be part of my own personal story.”

Thank you very much and all the best!

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