Rene Weber was a dental technician before deciding to sink his teeth into a new calling – the life of a Protestant pastor. Does the Bible provide him with an answer to every problem? Of course not, he says, but it offers him support and guidance in his life.
Weber, 52, is attached to the Evangelical Community of Bern Centre. It wasn’t easy to find his office. The best rooms in the chapel building are given over to German-language courses for immigrants. The pastor’s room is the smallest, right by the lift. It contains a small table and two chairs; one wall is completely taken up by a bookshelf, and there’s also a very simple desk with a computer – and without a chair.
When he was a young man it wasn’t at all obvious that he would end up in the Church. It was a long and thorny path.
The first event which turned his life upside-down was his parents‘ divorce. He was 16, and his world was shattered.
“I had problems relating to people. I didn’t know how to form firm relationships, with girls either. I thought I would never be able to find a way of communicating with anyone.” But one day that all changed – thanks to a Swiss army knife.
“I’d taken my sleeping bag up to the top of the Gurten, the hill where people from Bern like to go to relax. My idea was just to get away from all the bustle of the city so as to be able to think about things. When I got up the next morning I saw a group of campers just like me, about to make breakfast. They had a problem: they didn’t have a knife to cut their bread. But I did.”
And that’s how he met people who proclaimed their faith in Christ. They invited him, after a joint breakfast, to come along to a church service the following Sunday. “Finding myself in completely new surroundings, I was able to look at myself in a radically new way. I realised that a person, with all his weaknesses and strengths, is not just a product of his family, society or school. That behind each one of us is a Power which does not judge you, or reproach you, but to whom you can fully entrust yourself and your whole life.”
At the same time, Weber’s was doing well professionally. He was an employee of a successful dental technology company. But then his boss died unexpectedly, and Weber took over the business at a relatively young age – something which normally gives a person a feeling of strength and a meaning to their life.
But Weber did not feel that way. He realised that he needed to completely rethink his life and make new choices.
Making a choice
“I had to answer the question of whether my profession was my vocation, and if it wasn’t, to discover what my vocation was. And I said: Lord, if you have a vocation in store for me, so be it. And I heard, perfectly clearly, a call – which is what the word ‘vocation’ actually means… So I made my choice.”
He started by studying at the theological and pastoral seminar, or TDS, in Aarau. After his studies he was posted initially to the Emmental area, a rural part of canton Bern, about 40 kilometres north-east of the capital.
“People there had a completely different attitude to work. In remote places like that working in an office, at a desk, wasn’t regarded as real work. So I had to find special ways to approach people. As a rule, no one there asked any particularly profound philosophical questions.”
“Here in Bern, where I was posted next, people think a little bit differently, and the cares and concerns they bring to me are also different and more complex, although they are usually also to do with everyday problems.”
Mind map sermon
Weber explained that the Evangelical Community of Bern Centre is a member of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, but at the same time is a completely independent community of believers, financed solely by their donations.
“Some people regard us as a sect because we are not part of the ‘recognised’ structure. A lot of people don’t like the fact that we don’t simply want to declare our faith in words, but really to live in accordance with its ideals."
"We believe for example, that intimate relations exist not only for the propagation of the human race, but also for the mutual enjoyment of the partners. But when we say that sexuality belongs within the protective framework of marriage, this is often considered old-fashioned."
As a pastor he prefers to be more spontaneous in his sermons, and does not write them out beforehand.
“It looks unnatural if you read your text into a microphone. But you can’t manage without any notes either.”
He took out a piece of paper and drew what looked like a sun with rays going out of it. “This is called a “mind map”.
Thanks to this technique he has the main points of his sermon or address in front of him, each time choosing the words most suited to the situation.
God does not judge
Does he find answers to everything in the Bible and in his faith?
“Of course not. The Bible for me is the living Word, but this word was written a long time ago. When we read the Bible, we can learn the meaning of prudence or compassion. But what can the Bible tell us about how to drive a car, for example? On the other hand, the basic problems that people have have not changed a lot over the last 2,000 years.”
“The Bible is a book of instructions, not a recipe book. God is not a judge or a policeman; He is a coach, who stands at the edge of the pitch and watches the match. He might sometimes wait till half-time to tell you personally something that’s not too pleasant to hear. But the point isn’t to punish you, but to help you play better.”
Weber’s new life helped put him firmly back on his feet. “My faith gave me some basic principles which I try consciously to put into practice in my everyday life, rather than just proclaiming them in words. It’s not by chance that I have been happily married for many years, and that we have three children.”
The couple met in the church on the Nägeligasse. “I was going down the stairs, and Hanna, my wife, was going up. I couldn’t help noticing her. It turned out that she had spent a long time in Africa. That’s why I asked her if she was new to the community. And she laughed and said she wasn’t, but that I was. And that was perfectly true.”
When he is not working, he spends a lot of time with his family, and also plays the electric guitar. He proudly showed me the instrument and amplifier standing in the corner of his modest office. At home he has six more, both acoustic and electric. Music helps him to relax, change his mood and feel the harmony produced directly by his fingers.