As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches, the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau (EKHN) has launched a quintessentially German religious initiative: "Bible on a beer mat." But who's footing the bill?
Distributed among some 1.6 million members of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau (EKHN), the beer mats condense the Bible's 39,442 verses into just three sentences: Love God (Maybe get to know each other first?); Love yourself (Regardless of what the mirror says today); Love others (Whatever the cost may be).
"In 1517, the monk Martin Luther, gained new beliefs and triggered the Reformation as a result of intensive study of the Bible," President of the EKHN Volker Jung said.
Five centuries later, the EKHN now hopes to prompt church-goers to re-examine the Bible in a new light by means of their beer mats.
"Beer mats point back to pubs and other places where people sit and discuss the fundamental questions of life," EKHN spokesman Volker Rahn told DW. "The EKHN would like biblical themes and religious beliefs to be part of this," he added.
According to the Protestant Church of Germany (EKD), there are currently some 22.3 million protestant Christians across the country, while, overall, 60 percent of the population belongs to a Christian church.
With Germany also currently ranked fourth in the world for the consumption of beer per capita, it seems anything but chance that the EKHN has united the Bible and Germany's love for the amber nectar, in a bid to increase conversation about the Christian scriptures.
"I doubt it's any coincidence that the idea came from a group, largely made up of people from the wine regions," Rahn said.
Tax payers foot the bill
Initial reactions to the beer mats have varied. "Of course, there are church members who are threatening to end their membership," Jung said.
Most complaints about the initiative have been aimed at the cost. At around 685,000 euros ($761,970), the bill for the project has been footed by Germany's church tax payers. Registered Church members in Germany pay an amount equal to between eight and nine percent of their income tax to the Church.
EKHN spokesman Volker Rahn defended the financial implications of the project, however.
"At first the figures sound huge, but split between our 1.6 million members, the initiative costs around 43 cents per member," Rahn told DW.
"The response has been very positive, but the funding of church projects is always a contentious issue, regardless of what the initiative is," he added.
"We're always going to be asked the question, 'couldn't we spend the money on something better?'"
Justifying the costs, Rahn said that church members can continue to benefit from the project in the future.
"These beers mats can be brought out time and time again," he told DW. "Whether at parties, church festivals, wine festivals, even Octoberfest."
30,000 verses in three sentences
With the costs covered, EKHN spokesman Volker Rahn, said that choosing the quotes for the mats - taken from St. Matthew's Gospel, chapter 22:37-39 - wasn't a hard task.
"The question of what is the most important part of the Bible is a recurring topic. But we simply used Jesus' answer: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Of course we modernized it for the beer mats," Rahn added.
Not everyone has appreciated the somewhat shorter version of the original text, however. One Protestant, Nicole Lauterwald, commented on Facebook: "What's the Bible doing on a beer mat? It has so many pages to discover. Jeremiah alone is too complex for a beer mat!"
Rahn said, however, that such comments are largely in the minority.
"Most people understand, of course, that you can't fit the entire Bible on a beer mat. But that in itself in a great theological topic of discussion: if you're not happy with what we put on there, what would you write? What's most important to you?"
"Bible on a beer mat" is expected to continue for the next two to three months, in the run up to the Christian season of Advent.
"As far as I'm concerned, the project can run right through till Christmas," Rahn said. "The beer mats are more than fitting to the festivities."