Germany Connections

This past Sunday at Epiphany Lutheran Church at the Far Hills Campus, we began our 10:15 worship with a FIRST – we worshiped across the ocean with our sister congregation in Pritzier, Germany! We marked 30 years of partnership in ministry between our congregations. Through the wonders of the internet and the mastery of Dick Lane on our end, and the “German techies” on the other end, we were able to “video conference” greetings, prayers, blessings and songs, including a hymn in both English and German, and a handbell offering from our choir. It was pretty amazing that we could do this!
While I would LOVE to take credit for this idea, I must say it came from Pastor Christian Lange of the Pritzier congregation. My wife and I were blessed to have Christian and his wife, Melanie join us at our house together with a large group from their church last summer. I am confident our relationship will carry forward in the years to come, and these first 30 years are just a beginning.
Here are pictures from Germany this past Sunday!
10.18.15a b
Next summer, we are taking a trip to Germany. We plan to visit the sites of the Lutheran Reformation (the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is October 31, 2017). I invite you to join us on this incredible journey (July 20-30, 2016). If you wish to find out more information about the trip, click here for the Germany 2016 Trip Flyer and click here for Additional Information About the Germany 2016 Trip.
IN addition to this trip, we welcome those traveling to join us in leaving a bit earlier (July 17, 2016) as we will be visiting with Pastor Lange and his flock in Pritzier and Vellahn. We look forward to continuing the ministry and mission and partnership that has been established by those who have proceeded us.

For a better understanding of how this partnership began, I asked Pastor Larry Hoffsis to share with me how this all came about. Here are his words: After the end of WWII, German was divided. The Lutheran congregations in East Germany struggled, as the communist style government did all it could to hinder their rebuilding and influence.  The position of the government was that religion was nothing more than superstition and helps the rich maintain their influence and wealth and keeps the workers impoverished. West German Lutherans (and American Lutherans as well) tried to help with the rebuilding of East German churches by sending support and encouragement of various kinds. Once the Iron Curtain was in place and later the Berlin Wall as well, it became even more difficult to provide this help as the borders were sealed.  The Lutheran World Federation wrested a conciliation from the East German government which had proclaimed that it had religious freedom. In an effort to demonstrate that freedom, the East Germans agreed to an exchange of visits.  A group of 6 American Lutherans could visit East German churches one year.  Either 2 or 3 years later (can’t remember which), the East German Lutherans could send 6 persons to visit American Lutheran churches. These visitors were not allowed to be accompanied by a spouse…lest they defect and not return home. This program had been going on for a number of years before I was selected as one of the 6 for the Spring 1985 visitation. We flew to Berlin. We entered E. Germany through Checkpoint Charlie and were hosted by the East German Lutherans (always in the presence of observers from the East German government).  Our discussions were conducted in Berlin.  After nearly a week, our group of six were sent in teams of 2 to visit congregations in three separate Synods.  My partner and I were sent to Mecklenburg.   Two pastors agreed to host us.  (1)  Dabel congregation:  Pr Hansherbert Lange  (he and Astrid had two small sons–Christian and Andy–perhaps kindergarten and pre-school age.   Both eventually did their seminary practikums at Epiphany.)   We met with all the groups  at the church.  I gave the Sunday sermon.  We next went to the 2nd pastor — (2) Pritzier congregation: Pr Hans W Kasch (he and Ruth had 4 sons).  The same pattern…we met with all the congregational groups, etc.    At the end of the two congregational visits in Mecklenburg, we 6 Americans re-joined in Leipzig and after meetings with the seminary, did a Luther tour which ended in Eisenach at the Thuringian bishop’s office.

That’s when I asked if I might bring a youth group for a “cultural” not “religious” visit the next year.  The Bishop achieved permission from the East German government and we brought our HS handbell choir in 1986. Naturally we played concerts in Thuringia (our first concert was in Gotha) and then we traveled north to Mecklenburg and played in both Dabel and Pritzier. During that time we three pastors agreed to link ourselves in unofficial (maybe even illegal) partner relationships. 
In 1987 we took two sets of handbells — one to the Synod of Thuringia– Bishop Leich chose Gotha; and one to the Synod of Mecklenburg — Bishop Stier chose Dabel. Actually both pastors were allowed to visit Epiphany even before the Iron Curtain was removed in late 1989.   Kasch as one of the 6 East German visitors in 1988; and Lange as one to get training in handbell ringing. 
By a strange working of the call process (or better Bishop assignment process in Germany), Christian Lange received the call to serve Vellahn/Pritzier. His dad is quite ill with cancer and has had to take disability. And Pritzier is now combined with the larger Vellahn parish.   And Hans Kasch, no doubt because of his long relationship with Epiphany and his diligence in learning English, was tapped to be Pastor of Ecumenical Affairs and Mission for Mecklenburg in 1990 and then elected by all of German Lutheran synods to head up the Luther Decade in Wittenberg, which began in 2008.
I am thankful for this partnership, as it reminds us of our heritage as well as the great reach of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, that spans across the world and beyond physical, cultural and language borders. We are different. We are the same. We are one! One faith, one Lord, one baptism. Thanks be to God!
Pastor Charlie

One Response to “Germany Connections”

  1. Christian Lange says:

    “That was cool!” Thank you for all!

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