The Grand Finale

Saturday morning, we made our way to the Wittenberg train station. I boarded the train with one of my fellow colleagues who is experienced European train traveler. The 40-minute trip to Berlin, traveling over 125 miles per hour was smooth and easy.
I was greeted at the station by Stefanie. She was one of the chaperones who came with the German group last fall.
We got in the car and traveled to Vellahn. This beautiful village is where our partnership with churches in Germany continues. Christian Lange serves this church. His father was one of two pastors who started this partnership with Larry Hoffsis and Epiphany back in 1985. We arrived in time to meet the confirmation class. They asked me questions about our country and our church.

I was welcomed into the home of Pastor Christian, Melanie and Jonathan Lange. Christian’s mother was also present. The two-day visit was filled with good food, conversation, worship and relaxation. Kinderkirche (Children’s Church) Saturday afternoon, a Memorial service for those who died in the World Wars Sunday Morning, followed by a walk to the cemetery, and an afternoon communion service to commemorate our German/American partnership. And all were followed by cake and coffee. I could get used to that!

Chrisian and Melanie Lange

Christian and his mother, Astrid

Pastor Charlie and Jonathan Lange

Christian is a Buckeye fan!

Lil’ Buckeye, Jonathan

Kinderkirche (Children’s Church)

Memorial Procession

Partnership Worship at Warlitz Castle

Cakes and Coffee

It was great to visit with Lange family again and to get to know Jonathan. I am thankful for our continued partnership and look forward to Christian bring a group next summer to Epiphany. I am excited to see the ministry he is establishing with the young families and youth of his congregation.
Melanie continues to work on her practicum for ordained ministry. She is an intern at the church in Wittenburg (different than the Reformation town of Wittenberg). She told me a pastor came with a tour group thinking her church was the church of the Reformation where Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door. Oops. Wrong city! Missed it by 175 miles!

Pictures of Church in Vellahn

Monday the journey home begins. Overnight in Berlin and a flight home on Tuesday. So many stories and pictures to share and friendships to cherish. I am looking forward to being home. See you all soon.       Peace,   Pastor Charlie

Farewell to Wittenberg

Our study of Luther’s words continues. On Wednesday we focused on Luther’s Large Catechism section on Baptism. We had a very helpful discussion on the understanding of signs in worship and our relationship with God. For Luther there are two kinds of signs.  

The first is a sign that is philosophical. This is a sign that is present because of something that is not there. But the sign gives direction that points us to it. In this, the sign is a symbol or a reminder. An example of this is my wedding ring –  even when my spouse is not present here with me, there is a reminder and a sign that I am married. The key here is that the sign represents something that is absent.  

The second is a sign that is theological. In this understanding, the sign is something that is present. For Luther, this is what happens in the sacraments – God is truly present IN the sign. In the waters of baptism, together with God’s word, God is present. In communion, we believe Jesus is truly present in, with and under the bread and wine.

On Wednesday, we traveled to three small congregations in the Wittenberg area. Pastor Jacob introduced us to a Senior Group, who blessed us with INCREDIBLE homemade cakes and coffee. Joachim, who has been our group’s host and leader while here told me that there is an unofficial competition to see whose cakes were the most popular, which can be seen by how many pieces are left over. At this church, built in 1953, the crucifix in the church has no arms. It is a reminder of the brokenness from World War II. There was discussion about repairing this, but they decided this reminder was important to keep in front of them. 

The other churches we visited are over 800 years old. Can you even imagine?        

Thursday’s lesson focused on the Sacrament of the Altar or communion. The promise of forgiveness and the strength to enter into the world to serve the Lord are wrapped up in this meal. We talked at length about our different communion practices, and learned we have much in common with others around the world.  

Our final lessons of Martin Luther included letters he wrote to family members and colleagues, as well as several of the hymns that he wrote for church worship.

Our last two days in the Wittenberg were given to shopping and more sightseeing. The town is beginning to decorate for Christmas, so that is fun to see. I climbed up the 293 steps to the top of the steeple at the Castle Church to get some pictures. It was worth the climb and the new hip worked just fine.

Our final evening here will include closing worship and communion, and the festive reformation dinner. The group will depart on Saturday heading to different parts of the world.  

I cannot begin to tell you how meaningful this conference has been for me. I am thankful for the many opportunities we have had:

  • The opportunity to study Luther’s works.
  • The opportunity for discussion and reflection with colleagues from around the world.
  • The opportunity to laugh together.
  • The opportunity for a devotion and worship.
  • The opportunity to walk the path of the Reformation.
  • The opportunity to learn and grow.
  • The opportunity to share our stories and ideas.

Thank you to Epiphany Lutheran Church for your support, which has given me these opportunities.


Pastor Charlie

Luther, Teach Us!

Another week of classes have begun. Monday, we focused on Luther’s approach to studying scripture. Luther offers a three step process to this – hear or read the word of God, meditate on the word of God, and finally focusing on the tension between God’s word and the things we experience in our daily lives, our struggles and tensions.   In dealing with the troubles of the world and one’s own struggles, Luther believed it is the word of God, NOT faith that gives us the ability and strength to face these things. Faith isn’t what overcomes the conflict, but the Word of God that carries us through. The experience of the negative things thrown upon Luther caused him to go deeper into the Word of God to face these things. The word of God is external, but by receiving the Word of God through hearing and meditating, it becomes more of who we are. And so we do not interpret the Bible, it is the Bible that interprets us!  

Tuesday’s lesson focused on a letter Luther wrote to his barber, who asked him about prayer. Luther suggests that scripture and the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments can be excellent tools for prayer. In praying the Ten Commandments, Luther shows how one can focus on each one in prayer by seeing each commandment in four different ways:
  1. As instruction – a school text
  2. As thanksgiving – a song book
  3. As confession – a penitential book
  4. As prayer or petition – a prayer book


It is amazing to see the detail Luther can find in each command. It is a blessing to be led by our gifted professors.

Click here for article about the boat burning.

Monday afternoon we met with the Mayor of Wittenberg, and signed the official guest registry of the city. We expressed our shared grief and sadness with the mayor of an incident that occurred this past weekend. As we gathered Friday night to remember the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis that escalated 80 years ago on November 9 – Kristallnacht (see my blog from that day) – another act of hatred, discrimination and bigotry occurred in town. A refugee boat, placed in a local park to commemorate the many refugees who had recently come to Germany, was set on fire. As we prayed for peace, we realize we have a long way to go. 
Tuesday afternoon we visited the new Reformation Library at the Castle Church. There we got to see up close books from the 10th century, a Bible from the late 1400s with incredible artwork (Noah’s Ark) and books with Luther’s writing on them. Not under glass, but right in front of us (pictures but no touching).

Tenth Century Writing

Bible, 1489


Luther Book

Luther’s Writing

Monday I cooked for the group – some good American Chicken and Wild Rice Soup! And on Tuesday, Pavel from the Czech Republic made Czech Goulash, with sauerkraut, pork, onions and garlic and lots of paprika, served with dumplings. It was delicious.  

And finally we had an opportunity to hear of the ministries of the rest of our colleagues. 
Myriam is a woman theologian from Madagascar, which is the fourth largest island in the world. The Malagasy Lutheran Church does not yet ordain women, but the hope is soon. The church has 5000 congregations and six seminaries. She loves that she belongs to a strong, living church.  
Nikola is our local representative, belonging to the Lutheran Church of Saxony In Germany. She shared of the struggles the church had after World War II in East Germany. When she was 12 years old, she and her family joined in the Peaceful Revolution took place in Leipzig the summer before the wall came down. Politics and an angling population are concerns. She loves being a pastor.  
Wolfgang serves as a teaching theologian in Malaysia. The Lutheran Church in Malaysia began in 1953 with missionaries who were kicked out of China were brought into Malaysia to care for and serve the Chinese who were encamped in that country. The Chinese were separated from society because they were seen as a national threat. Once freed, the church continued to grow – now 56 congregations in the country.
Beata is from Hungary and serves as a university chaplain. The Lutheran Church is the third largest church, behind the Catholic and Reformed churches. Political issues, lack of pastors and financial issues are the problems they face, but the growing youth opportunities are exciting to see.    

Manlun is a bishop from the northern region of India – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Himalayan State. The church is only 15 years old. There are 23 pastors and the church is just starting to grow. There is a strong women’s organization and an orphanage home. The bishop says he has many miles yet to go.  

We see the end is coming soon of our conference. We have made new friends from around the world who are working together to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. What a great experience this has been.

Weekends are for Tourists

This weekend has been filled with many good memories. On Saturday we traveled From Wittenberg to Erfurt to visit the Augustinian monastery where Luther began his life as a friar or a monk. We worshipped in the sanctuary where Luther gathered with his brothers to worship seven times a day. The stain-glass-glass windows include a rose which could well be the inspiration for the Luther’s seal or Luther’s Rose. 
We ate lunch at the Golden Swan restaurant in Erfurt which is the same place we ate two years ago on our tour.

We then traveled to Wartburg castle where Luther was taken after the Diet of Worms (I cannot recant. Here I stand!) for his safety. While in the castle, Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German in just eleven weeks.

On Sunday we worshipped at the Town Church, just a five minute walk from our place. This is the church where Martin Luther preached over two thousand times. A visiting acquire from Berlin provided special music throughout the service. Members of our group participated in worship, and I was blessed to serve communion with the pastor and my colleagues from around the world. I will cherish this moment forever.

Following the service we walked to The Luthergarten where Soliette, a pastor of the church in Nicaragua and fellow participant in this seminar planted a tree on behalf of her church. This is an apple tree, and when she gets home they will plant a mango tree in commemoration of this one.
After lunch we travel to Torgau, about an hour’s drive from Wittenberg. This is an important town in the history of the Second World War and the Reformation as well as the burial place of Katharina von Bora, also known as Katie Luther.  
It was in Torgau where Russian and American troops met each other along the Elbe River near the end of World War II. There you will find it sculpture and plaque commemorating this important event. How moving to be here on Veterans Day.

During the Reformation, the town council closed all cloisters in 1523. Citizens of Torgau destroyed the paintings and statues of saints in the churches and stormed the Franciscan monastery. After Luther had driven Andreas Karlstadt (Bodenstein) from Saxony in 1524, he enforced the expulsion of Karlstadt’s followers in Torgau in 1529.  The Torgau Articles, which was a draft of the Augsburg Confession was composed by Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen and Jonas in the town in 1530.

Frederick the Wise, also known as Frederick III, Elector of Saxony and successors had Hartenfels Castle at Torgau built by architect Conrad Pflüger and his successor Konrad Krebs. The court chapel, constructed in 1543-44 by Nikolaus Gromann, was consecrated by Martin Luther on 5 October 1544; it is thus the second oldest newly built protestant church in the world, after the court chapel of Neuburg Castle which was consecrated in 1543. Luther designed the chapel with the pulpit in the middle of the sanctuary. 
After our tour of the church where Katie Luther is buried and the Hartenfels Castle and Chapel, we walked through the town before heading home to Wittenberg.

It has been a great week of study and fellowship, worship and sightseeing. We are back to the lessons tomorrow.




Pastor Charlie 


A Day of Remembrance

The past two days, our classes have focused on more foundational pieces of the Lutheran faith, specifically Law and Gospel, and baptism. I am thankful for the opportunity to revisit these lessons of Luther, and to have colleagues from around the world to discuss them. It is like being in seminary all over again, with classmates from around the world. 

We have had a chance to wander the streets of Wittenberg, and taste some of the local fare, including apple strudel, pretzels and soup and gelato. And on Thursday night, we visited with people of Wittenberg who gather every week to drink beer and work on their English. I spoke with Thomas, a retired teacher of art and chemistry. He now leads tour groups in town.

Today I was fortunate to run into Pastor Steve Kimm from Beavercreek, who is traveling with a group and had a day in Wittenberg.

Today, November 9, is a day of remembrance in Germany – some good remembrances, but the others are definitely very difficult and painful.

The good days include this day in 1918, World War One in Germany came to an end, and the great day in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down.

But it was this day in 1923, Adolf Hitler made his first attempt to take over the German government but failed.

And in 1938, eighty years ago today, Kristallnacht or “Crystal Night” also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass. This was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians. The German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were smashed (information from Wikipedia).

To remember this night, we gathered with people of Wittenberg outside the Town Church under a sculpture that is found high on the wall in the corner of the church. It is the perfect place to meet tonight.

From the Christian Century, these words about the sculpture:  “Perched 26 feet above the ground, on the exterior southeast corner of the Town Church, is a 14th-century sandstone sculpture of a pig with two people in identifiably medieval Jewish hats suckling at its teats and another holding a piglet’s ear. An additional Jewish person lifts the tail while looking into the sow’s rear. Written above the relief is an inscription with the words, “Rabini Shem Hamphoras.” This nonsensical reference to the Jewish appellation of God’s name, added after Luther’s time, quotes a derogatory comment in one of Luther’s writings.”

The counter-monument’s role, as explained on the wall, is to not allow this history to be forgotten. The design of four blocks with cracks in between symbolizes a cross that wells up as a sign of guilt and atonement.  The memorial plaque installed Nov. 11, 1988, the words surrounding the plaque state, “The true name of God, the maligned Chem Hamphoras, which Jews long before Christianity regarded as almost unutterably holy, this name died with six million Jews under the sign of the cross,” followed by words in Hebrew from Psalm 130, “Out of the depths, I cry to you.”

This night, we gathered with the community to remember and to pray. We lit candles and laid stones on the sculpture on the ground, remembering the six million Jews who were killed in the concentration camps in World War Two. It was a moving and powerful service.



We concluded the night with a concert of Hebrew music – viola and organ, then a reception in the Town Hall. 
Tomorrow we are off to Erfurt and Wartburg Castle. Sunday we go to worship at the Town Church and visit Torgau. I will post again after the weekend is over!


Pastor Charlie

The Foundations of Lutheran Theology

Today’s seminar focused on one of the most foundational documents of Martin Luther entitled “Martin Luther’s Treatise on Christian Liberty” or “The Freedom of a Christian.” The lengthy document can be summed up in two sentences:

  1. A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
  2. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful serving of all, subject to all.

While these two seem to be diametrically opposed to each other, Luther goes to great detail explaining how we are first set free by God, who gives us faith to believe and trust in God. In doing so, we come to know that it is by God’s doing, not ours, that we are saved.   Because we are free, we are not made right by doing good works. But we DO good works out of love and obedience to God. Good works are not done to gain approval of God, but rather in response to our relationship with God.    We spent the whole day in this text. For me, it is a great opportunity to revisit these works with my colleagues from around the world. The conversations have been insightful and helpful.

This afternoon we walked to the house of Philip Melanchthon, a professor, theologian and writer of the Augsburg Confession.
Melanchthon came to Wittenberg at the age of 21 to teach at the University. His house was next to Luther’s, and the two worked together in writing and leadership in the Reformation movement. When Melanchthon died, his position was replaced by FOUR professors. He was a brilliant man.


Tonight, Beata cooked an Italian
dish for us – she is from Hungary,
but her husband is Italian. We had pasta with pumpkin and spices, salad and yogurt with fruit. 
In the evening, four colleagues presented information about their ministries.
Pavel is from the far eastern area of the Czech Republic. His country is one of the most atheistic countries in the world. While the church is supported by taxes given to the government, the country is removing this support, and the churches will have to independently support themselves in the next couple of years. His hope is to continue to bring the Gospel to the people who don’t trust the church. What he loves most is about his ministry is Jesus!

Dhanaraj serves the Lutheran Church in the southernmost part of India. There are 12 Lutheran church bodies in India. In his church, there are about 1000 families, and they celebrate about 100 baptisms a year. Dhanaraj loves his church wholeheartedly, because the church gave him an education and taught him the love of God. He gave each of us a wooden medallion with a Bible verse written in his native language.  

Isak is from Namibia. He lives in the city of Windhoek. The churches in town worship about 1500-1800 each week, and the national church has grown about 13% over the past six years. 39% of the population are members of the national church.  Isak loves being a pastor, and he is thankful that his church is a singing church.    

Klaus is also a pastor in Namibia. He serves a church in the coastal town of Swakopmund. His church has its roots from being the first colonial town founded by Germany. He sees the need for the church to focus on the issues of the past genocide, and work on reparations and satisfaction, and ancestral land issues. His church worships about 100 each week.  
We spent time today sharing pictures of our families with each other. I think we are all a bit homesick. But the joy and laughter we share is contagious and therapeutic. It is a blessing to be together as members of the body of Christ.  
Pastor Charlie    

A Beautiful Day in Wittenberg

Today’s seminar focused on some of Luther’s earliest writings on justification.
1. Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Writings: In this document this recalls what it was like to finally understand that we are made right in the eyes of God — but God’s doing and not ours. This was like the gates of heaven opening for him. He came to understand that we are justified by faith and faith is a gift of God.
2. On the Remission of Sins: In this paper Martin Luther focuses on the remission of sins as an act of God and not the act of the priest or pastor. Instead of being the judge or ruler of who is forgiven and who is not, the pastor or priest is the conduit through which the gift of forgiveness is given.

Our day begins with devotions in this small chapel.

Outside of the chapel where we do morning devotions.

This afternoon we toured Luther’s house.
A statue of Katerina von Bora, Luther’s wife. She was a strong woman and a true partner of Luther. Here she is with the women pastors of our group.
Here is the pulpit from the Town Church – Luther preached over 2000 sermons from this pulpit.
Pictures of the original living room of Luther’s house, where table talks and meetings were held.
For dinner tonight, Soliette made us an authentic Nicaraguan meal – delicious!
This evening five colleagues shared information about their congregations.
Ari is from Guadalajara Mexico, which is famous for tequila and mariachi. The Lutheran Church in Mexico in his area began in the 1940s by the American Lutheran Church. In the 1970s it became an independent organization. The main focus of the church is preaching a meaningful gospel message to a society that does not trust institutions including the government and the church. Ari’s brother is his bishop.
Shwe is from Myanmar where 5% of the population is Christian. The Lutheran Church in his area started in 1957 and now has 143 congregations. Missionaries are sent out into the countryside to the tribes to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Most of the country has no electricity or internet. How would we survive?
Peggy serves the Montana Synod of the ELCA. She is the director of evangelical mission in that center. Her role is to help congregations strengthen their outreach and stewardship. The Synod is home to seven native American reservations and the hope is to continue to grow relationships with these communities. There is a clergy shortage in the synod, but a growing group of lay ministers who serve several smaller congregations in the synod.
Lisa is a pastor in central Pennsylvania serving four congregations. These congregations joined together about three years ago to work together and share resources. Lisa a preaches at two churches each week and a lay person serves the other two churches. They switch each week. And exciting Ministry for her congregations is providing food bags for families each weekend when the kids are not getting meals at school.
Susan is a pastor in Denmark serving three congregations. Her focus is to preach Jesus Christ every Sunday. She has found it important to take time to be in her community to get to know people and, over time, let them know that she is a Pastor and then invite them to the church. The church is supported by taxes paid to the government – there are no offering plates in Denmark. And passing the peace is unheard of in the church.
I must say that we are learning that we have much in common and even more unique facets of our ministries. Yet we all worship one God, and proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord. And when we sing together, the harmony is beautiful.
Pastor Charlie

In The Days of Martin Luther

Today began with devotions in a small chapel next to the Town Church here in Wittenberg. Then it was time for classes to begin. Our lecturers are Professor Theodor Dieter and Professor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson. They have lead this seminar before and are well-versed in Lutheran history and doctrine. The structure of the seminar for the next two weeks will be mainly on the writing of Martin Luther. We will have three challenges:  
  1. Challenge to understand text
  2. Challenge to understand the setting of the text
  3. Challenge to apply them to our current setting


The first two will be covered each morning, as we will be considered students of Martin Luther. In the afternoon, we will have an opportunity to discuss how these apply to our current settings.  

But today the focus was on an introduction to the Middle Ages and Martin Luther before the Reformation. I will give a brief overview and will save the details for classes when I return!  

In the Middle Ages, the average life expectancy was 30 years. Life was miserable – plagues, famine and death at every turn. So eternal life was the hope and desire of the people, that some day they would be done with this misery, and live forever in paradise. In order to achieve this goal, one needed to be baptized, and forgiven of one’s sinful nature – we are all sinners. But mortal sin – the things we do or leave undone – brought one back down to the level of sin and separation from God. So penance, asking for God’s forgiveness, would bring one back to a level of hope. One would strive to reach the level of righteousness in the eyes of God, but could never achieve it. So when one would die, a time in purgatory to pay off those mortal sins would be required.  

Penance was a major focus of the people in these days. This what much of Luther’s writings focused on – forgiveness and being made right with God.  

In 1505, Luther joined the Augustinian Hermites, became a student of Theology and a teacher of Philosophy. It was not that he was interested in Philosophy, but older students were often required to teach younger students. As a Friar (or Monk), Luther worshipped six times a day, hearing the psalms and scriptures read so that he came to know them inside out.  Luther’s training as a monk instilled in him the focus on the scripture asking the question, “what does this mean for me?” This was instrumental in his teaching approaches.  As someone said, you can take the monk out of the monastery, but you you cannot take the monastery out of the monk. And in Luther’s coat pocket when he died, a piece of paper was found that read, “We are all beggars.”  

Of course, our sessions went into greater detail. But this gives you a small taste.  

In the afternoon, we went to the 1517 Panorama display.  This incredible 360 degree display is a painting/photograph that depicts a day in Wittenberg 500 years ago. Martin Lither appears 14 times in the display. The detail is incredible. No picture does this justice, but I am bringing home a poster. Here are a couple images from the display.

This evening some of us shared about our church settings.  

Paula is from Brazil. She serves three congregations in the southern part of the country. She started studying English five months ago so she could come to this seminar.  The church has an active youth program, including camps and activities. Her church has a strong connection with the Catholic Church in the area.  
Soliette is pastor and a doctor in Nicaragua. There is a terrible political crisis in Nicaragua. She shared several stories about how the government is corrupt, causing many to flee for their lives. Soliette’s Grandmother is the founder of their branch of the Lutheran church, and is now the bishop. The church is focusing on empowering women and gender equality.  
Connie is from Swaziland, which is surrounded by South Africa. The church focuses on health issues, especially The prevalence of HIV on the country. 31% of the population is infected by HIV.  
Tara serves three congregations in the South Dakota synod. Her congregations are far apart in the rural ranch lands of the state. She works with the congregations to focus on justice issues in the community, and to be welcoming to all.  
Finally, I had a chance to share about Epiphany and my setting. I gave everyone in the group Epiphany sunglasses that we have leftover from the youth gathering. They will be seen around the streets of Wittenberg in the next few days.       
Tomorrow we start discussing writings of Luther.    
Pastor Charlie        

Together in Christ

Greetings from Wittenberg, Germany! The past twenty four hours have been a time of introduction and recuperation from Jet Lag! The group of Lutheran pastors from around the world (18 countries, four continents) have all arrived. With our leaders and hosts, we number 25. It has been a joy to meet colleagues from all corners of the world – in the next couple of weeks, I hope to introduce them all to you.

We all arrived on Saturday, November 3. After lunch and a nap, I took a stroll around the city and got gelato (in honor of my wife!). Dinner and introductions followed, then off to bed!
Sunday breakfast, then we walked five minutes up the street to the Castle Church for worship. This church was built by Frederick the Wise, and known best for its door! This is the place the 95 Theses were posted on October 31, 1517. The original door was destroyed in a fire over 100 years ago. The new door has the theses written in bronze, with a painting of Luther and Philip Melanchthon above it. This church is where Luther took the oath of the Doctor of Theology in 1512. The church was used as an academic chapel and auditorium. It also became the burial place for princes and professors, including Frederick, Luther (close to the pulpit) and Melanchthon (near the 95 Theses door).
The worship service was primarily in German, but with some sermon notes and a German/English worship cheat sheet, we followed along quite well. The Lord’s Prayer spoken in so many different languages was quite moving and powerful. Communion together with all gathered was as well.
After lunch, we took a tour around Wittenberg. Our first stop was outside the Town Church, where Luther preached over 2000 times, even though he wasn’t called to be the pastor there. Johannes Bugenhagen served there and was a good friend and colleague of Luther.
We made our way back to the Castle Church, then out to the Luthergarten, where 500 trees are planted (in this location, and two other areas around Wittenberg) to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Eleven denominations and more than 100 countries are represented in that garden.
In the center of the garden stands a sculpture called “The Heaven’s Cross.” Three crosses rising to heaven, and Luther’s Rose make up the artistic offering.
I found the tree given by Epiphany Lutheran Church, planted by Pastor Larry Hoffsis several years ago on behalf of Epiphany. I am happy to share that it is growing well!

We stopped by the courtyard outside the home of the artist Lucas Cranach, a contemporary of Luther and instrumental in the Reformation movement. His most famous artwork can be found in the Town Church, especially the altar piece, depicting Lutheran worship – baptism, communion, confession and forgiveness, and the preaching of the Gospel. I have a print of this work in my office!  We went back to the Town Church for a chance to see these paintings up close, and explained to us by a local tour guide.

The evening gathering was one more chance for us to get to know each other as a group. We shared some more about our families, our fluency in languages (we Americans were put to shame as the ones with the least training in languages other than ours). Our colleagues from India are fluent in several languages, with the ability to speak to the various tribes that make up their community. We worshipped together to end the night with singing a simple song, “Ubi Caritas, et amor. Ubi Caritas, Deus ibi est” which loosely translated is, “Where there is charity and love, there God is.”
Tomorrow we begin our seminar classes. I look forward to sharing with you what I glean from our time together.

Peace, Pastor Charlie

Travel Day — Unexpected Kindness

With my suitcase packed, along with my camera and backpack, I had my itinerary all planned out: drive down to Kentucky and park my car at a Lutheran church near the Cincinnati airport, contact Uber and get a ride to the terminal. After breakfast with my lovely wife, I headed down the road.

I arrived at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and was warmly greeted by Tina, the Administrative Assistant at the church. I had contacted the church ahead of time to ask if I could park there for the next couple of weeks. Tina welcomed me, offered to drive me herself, and offered coffee and a place to stay while waiting for my ride. Tina’s hospitality made me feel right at home, even if she didn’t care for my University of Michigan sweatshirt. Tina reminded my how important the person who greets the visitor at the church is in making a first and lasting impression. I believe we at Epiphany are blessed by staff and volunteers who do this well.

My Uber arrived within five minutes of putting in the request. Ed warmly welcomed me, offered me a bottle of water, mints and candy. He was not your “I’ll be quiet and let you enjoy the ride in peace” kind of driver. But that was okay with me. In the short 10-minute ride to the airport, we covered religion, politics, retirement (his, not mine) and more. Ed retired a couple of years ago, and his wife let him know he wasn’t going to sit around the house after 50 years of work. He played golf a lot at first but needed something else. His son suggested Uber. Never having used Uber, his first ride was a trip to nowhere – just riding with the driver asking questions. Ed has been at it for two years, and I was his 3,000th rider. He said that in all those rides, he had only two that were bad experiences. I don’t think I was number three. I enjoyed the conversation.

Marty and I are on our way.

Next stop – Germany!

As I have been preparing for this trip, there are many people I looked forward to meeting – fellow participants at the conference, friends in Wittenberg and at our partner churches. My encounters today were unexpected blessings. Thank God for the unexpected blessings, the friendly interruptions, the unplanned encounters with people like Tina and Ed. They made the first steps on the journey lighter.    


Pastor Charlie