In our first "Meet a Bishop" episode — a new addition to Get Your Spirit in Shape — we chat with Bishop Harald Rückert of the Germany Central Conference. In the conversation we learn about his call to ministry, what he does for fun, and what he does to keep his spirit in shape.
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This podcast episode was released September 1, 2017.
Joe: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications’ and UMC.org’s podcast to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.
On this our very first “Meet a Bishop” episode, we’re chatting with the bishop at the Germany Central Conference, Bishop Harald Rückert, which is a terrible pronunciation of his name. I asked him to say it for me so we could hear it correctly.
Bishop Rückert: Harald Rückert. It’s not so easy for an American tongue to pronounce my last name.
Joe: We had a great conversation where I learned a little about his call to ministry…
Bishop Rückert: And I really felt called by God to change from technology to theology, not to provide food for the body, but to provide bread of life.
Joe: …and what he does to relax.
Bishop Rückert: The times are not so easy to find to play the alto saxophone.
Joe: I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation.
Bishop Rückert, it is really good to speak with you today. And thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
Bishop Rückert: You’re welcome.
Joe: Can you tell me about your faith journey? Like, where did you grow up and did you go to church every week with your family or how did all of that begin for you?
Bishop Rückert: Well, I grew up in a Christian family. My parents and my grandmother, they belonged to the Methodist Church. So I grew up knowing I am a Methodist. But we lived very far away from the next Methodist Church, and at that time Sunday school was after worship service. And so therefore I couldn’t attend the Sunday school or the children’s school in the Methodist Church. And I went to the Lutheran Church alongside with my boyfriends from my…and schoolmates. So I got to learn the Lutheran Church although I knew I’m a Methodist. I had a very early ecumenical experience.
Joe: Right from the start, yeah.
Bishop Rückert: Right from the start. And later I attended the YMCA which is not a specific Methodist institution. It’s a Protestant institution as well. But nevertheless I always considered myself to be a Methodist. I joined the Methodist Church at the time when I entered confirmation class. I was able to take the train to the church, and I got involved more and more and got to learn some of my fellow young people. And then I entered the youth group and I felt home in my home church, United Methodist Church, in Nuremburg, Bavaria. And that was the starting point for living with a United Methodist Church in a very, very specific way.
Joe: Were there people early on that were important to you as you were growing up in the faith?
Bishop Rückert: Yes. It may sound funny, but a very important person was my grandmother. She was…she was a very…. I don’t know the English expression. …very simple person. She was not very well educated. She had a very hard life to deal with, but she was very pious. And her faith was very simple. She always taught me, pray to God and work hard and have trust in God. And that was the way she…she mastered her life. And that influenced me a lot. She was a very happy person, very confident, although she had a very hard life to withstand. And this made a very great impact on my life. And the second part, some people…not from the Methodist Church, but outside…parents of some of my schoolmates, they belonged to a little very pious group. And we started a circle which students at school to read the Bible and they supported us. And later when I entered my church in the youth club, it was the leader of the youth group. And we had a very good pastor in the United Methodist Church later when I was a youngster. And all those people, alongside with my parents, they…they taught me how to believe, and they formed my faith.
Joe: So you went to university. And I saw in your bio that you studied food technology. And I have to confess I have no idea what that is. So what’s food technology? What were you studying at university?
Bishop Rückert: Well, it’s kind of an engineer profession. It’s about how to produce and to preserve food in industrial ways. I was working in a dairy for example. And we produced cheese and yoghurt and stuff like that. And all things related to the technical part of producing and selling food. It’s called food technology. It’s a bit of engineering. It’s a bit of food chemistry. It’s a bit of merchandising, a bit of everything, all around food.
Joe: What drew you to that? Why were you interested in food technology?
Bishop Rückert: I was interested in science in general. Well, food is very essential to everybody’s life. And in a global perspective food, in a way, is a problem we have to solve for the future. And I tried to get into that and learn more about that, and to work in that field. That was my…my, yeah, my motivation at first.
Joe: To work in a field so that you could help provide food for those who don’t have enough?
Bishop Rückert: Yes. That’s not…that was not the only thing, but it was part of the whole picture for me, yes.
Joe: Was that part of your… Did your faith kind of influence that decision? Was that something you were doing as a faithful person, to reach out to like, as a mission field kind of thing?
Bishop Rückert: Not really. To be honest. I prayed to God to lead me, his path, and show me his way, but I didn’t get an answer. And then a good friend told me, Well, if you want to get an answer by God, you have to take the first steps alone and then God can lead you. And then I made a decision out of not really knowing what to do as a Christian. And I went to university studying food technology. And later, looking back, it was the first step into ministry. But I didn’t realize that at that time, because when I studied food technology only one year. And then I had a very personal experience, spiritual experience. And I really felt called by God to change from technology to theology, not to provide food for the body, but to provide bread of life. That was my personal calling. And I quit the study course food technology at university, and applied for ministry.
Joe: Would you mind…. Could you tell us a little bit about that personal spiritual experience that you had? Was it kind of an overwhelming presence of God?
Bishop Rückert: Well, in a way it was… Well, it was a time when my personal relationship with God was not very good. I had a lot of questions. I tried to run away from God. I didn’t have a very good time with God. And one day when…one night I sat in my room, a little room (I couldn’t afford more as a student.) …and for a long time it was the first time that I read in the Bible again. And it was a verse John 6 which said, (I only know the German wording, not the English; you have to look it up.) …the word which said, Don’t care about the food for your life, but for the bread of life that lasts forever.
Joe: Oh, wow.
Bishop Rückert: And this verse of the Bible just hit me. And I wanted to avoid that, but I couldn’t. And this word was so strong and so demanding that I couldn’t get rid of it. Three days later I drove back from the place where I studied. It was near Munich. …back home to Nuremburg and I went to my pastor and I told him, I gotta talk to you. And right away I talked to him, and he said, Well, that’s God calling. Let’s call the district superintendent. You apply for ministry. So I did that in the same instant. So it’s a short version, and it’s not so easy to describe what’s…what happens inside of me. But for me it was a very spiritual experience. Someone else might not understand that. It might sound a little bit crazy or it’s very personal. So I don’t tell this story very often. But that was my calling. And it’s still lasts up to today. That’s my calling from God.
Joe: Yeah, those experiences that we have with God are sometimes hard to describe because, yeah, they’re so…so internal. But that have felt like that verse was written directly to you.
Bishop Rückert: Right.
Joe:What a powerful moment that must have been. So now you’re a bishop in the United Methodist Church after years of ministry. Can I ask, like, what’s the…what’s the best thing we might not think of about being a bishop? Like, what’s…what’s great about it? What’s fun about it?
Bishop Rückert: First of all it’s really a huge task. It’s a lot of accountability. It’s a lot of work. But you are right, to this part of ministry there’s a lot of good things. I have the privilege to work with a lot of very motivated and skilled people, pastors, lay people. And all of them, they want to work in the church. They want to be in ministry. They are very engaged. It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to experience our worldwide Methodist family, with a lot of really interesting and good people—to be connected with people in Africa, with people in the United States, with people in The Philippines. It’s really, really to experience this strong network we have in our church. It’s really a privilege. And the third thing I would mention, I’m a newly elected bishop. It might change in a few years. I experience a lot of people in my church telling me, We pray for you. And I feel a lot of trust, and they offer me…shall I say,…they offer me authority. They want to listen to what I say, not that they always say ‘yes’ to what I think. But they really honestly want to listen to what I say. And this kind of trust is really touching.
Joe: So can I ask you, like, when you’re not working, what’s your favorite thing to do to relax? Do you have a hobby?
Bishop Rückert: Play saxophone.
Joe: Ooops, say that again.
Bishop Rückert: Play the saxophone.
Joe: Oh, I didn’t know that. So you’re a musician.
Bishop Rückert: No. It’s hobby. I’m a bishop. The times are not so easy to find to play the alto saxophone. I love jazz music, and I love to play music with other people. Secondly, I love to outside especially in the Alps, in the mountains—hiking, climbing, just enjoying God’s creation.
Joe: That sounds wonderful.
Bishop Rückert: And the third thing is to be together with my family—my daughters, my granddaughter, my wife. So three very, very important parts of my life.
Joe: Let’s talk a little bit about jazz. Are there musicians that you admire?
Bishop Rückert: Yeah. Let me put it that way. I like almost all kind of good music and good musicians. So it changes. There are times I like Keith Jarrett on the piano. There are times I listen to Jethro Tull—which is not jazz, right? And times I listen to Johann Sebastian Bach. So it’s a very broad range.
Joe: I was gonna say, yeah, that’s pretty much every style of music I can think of. And there’s something about playing with other people. Do you get…did you do that? And do you get to do that anymore?
Bishop Rückert: I did it in my local church where I was a pastor. And I played at the church with some people. And I had a little trio, three people. And we played on a regular basis with each other. But since I was elected bishop all stopped. And right now I get…I have to find a new rhythm for my life and for my work. And hopefully I will find a rhythm to…to find time to make music and to rehearse and to practice and to find new people to make music with them.
Joe: Oh, that’s great. That is really great. I have one last question: What’s something that you do that helps you to stay in touch with God?
Bishop Rückert: I don’t have a recipe. What I experience, I find it’s not so easy to describe it in a foreign language. I… What helps me sometimes is to do it in a different way. Sometimes I just read the Bible and take some time to pray. Sometimes I try when I enter my office in the morning not to push the button of the computer, but to take the hymnbook and sing a song. Sometimes I read devotional literature, not in German, but in English or in Italian language, which is a very specific experience if you try to get a spiritual impulses alongside which rehearsing a foreign language. Also what helps me to…to stay in touch with God is change. Not always the same routine.
Joe: That is so good to hear. I mean, so often we hear people say they do the same thing every day. But I don’t think all of us are wired that way. That’s great. And then I heard you slip in there, you can speak…you speak some… Well, obviously you speak German, which is your first language. You’re doing great in English right now. You mentioned Italian. Are there other languages that you speak?
Bishop Rückert: Well, I learned…at school I learned French, but I’m not very good in that. I can understand, but I learned it for 5 years. So I speak Italian, French and English and German.
Joe: That’s just remarkable. I’m so bad with languages that whenever I hear somebody that can do that much, that’s just fantastic.
Well, thank you so much for talking with me today. I appreciate it so much and for sharing you journey with me.
Bishop Rückert: Thank you. You’re welcome.
Joe: That was Bishop Harald Rückert of the Germany Episcopal area, the first in our Meet a Bishop series of episodes. I so enjoyed learning about him, his faith journey and how he keeps his spirit in shape. And I hope you enjoyed it, too. Our bishops are fascinating people.
As always you can learn more about this podcast and others by going to UMC.org/podcasts. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back soon with more tips to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.