2014 UEK Report from Wisconsin Conference

2014 UEK Report from Wisconsin Conference

In the State of Wisconsin the UCC engages with the UEK in all settings of the church: conference, association, and congregation. The Wisconsin Conference has partnerships with two regional churches (Landeskirchen); the Southwest Association (SWA) has been partnered with a church district (Kirchenkreis) in the Rhineland for 25 years; partner congregations are also to be found.


In the State of Wisconsin the UCC engages with the UEK in all settings of the church: conference, association, and congregation. The Wisconsin Conference has partnerships with two regional churches (Landeskirchen); the Southwest Association (SWA) has been partnered with a church district (Kirchenkreis) in the Rhineland for 25 years; partner congregations are also to be found.

These partnerships have in the past relied heavily upon the personal leadership of the conference minister, in collaboration with the UEK-UCC Working Group, and the SWA association minister. Though the retirement within a single year of these two individuals (both of whom long served the conference and are strong proponents of Kirchengemeinschaft) occasioned reassessment, Wisconsin is blessed in finding strong support for the German partnership in both the interim conference minister  and the current chair of the Board.

As for leadership, the board of the Wisconsin Conference at its March meeting approved Jim Gorman (Waukesha) as chair of the Wisconsin UEK-UCC Working Group, and I (Fritz West) have agreed to represent the conference on the national UEK-UCC Forum. Bill Kapp (Sauk City) chairs the SWA partnership committee. At its meeting in May of this year, the Board of the Wisconsin Conference will consider a proposal intended to strengthen the relationship of the UEK-UCC Working Group to the Wisconsin Conference Board of Directors (appended to this report).



190th Anniversary Celebration of the Berlin Mission. The visit to Berlin of Michael Obenauer, the Interim Conference Minister of the Wisconsin Conference, on August 20– September 2, 2014 for the celebration of the 190th Anniversary of the Berlin Mission, is undertaken at the initiative and invitation of EKBO. While in Berlin, Michael will provide worship leadership, both at a Sunday morning service and—along with the EKBO Bishop, Dr. Markus Droge, and the Lord Bishop of London, the Right Rev. Richard Chartres—in an evening service commemorating the beginning of World War II.  Michael will be among the guests of the Evangelical Church of Anhalt on an outing to Reformation Cities, such as Wittenberg, and at a reception at the regional church headquarters at Dessau. Plans are also being considered for an extended stay, either before or after the Anniversary Celebration, to visit pastors, church leaders, and historic sites (Herrnhut, Dresden, and Goerlitz).

Gospel Choir Tour.  September 15-29, the Westend Gospelsingers of Eberswalde, Germany will tour the Wisconsin Conference, concluding their trip in Chicago. This tour is part of an ongoing exchange, the Westend Gospelsingers visited Wisconsin in 2006 and 2010; The Gospellers,  a gospel  choir of the Wisconsin Conference, toured Berlin-Brandenburg in 2008 and 2012, with a third visit planned for 2016. This fall the 35-member  German choir will sing ten times in worship and concerts in UCC churches and institutions. UCC congregations in the state will provide hospitality and concert venues. Members of The Gospellers will accompany the Westend Gospelsingers and together these two choirs will provide the core for two workshops, one in Appleton, Wisconsin on Saturday September 20 and another in Chicago, Illinois on September 26-27.

Tour to Gorlitz. On March 11, eight persons of the Wisconsin Conference, from Greendale and Sheboygan tour Germany and Poland. A part of this trip was for pleasure, another to visit local churches in the partnership that the Wisconsin Conference has with EKBO.  The group toured Berlin and the “Lutherstadt” Wittenberg before traveling to Cottbus where local church folk engaged the group with the culture of the Sorbs.  This western Slavic people, who are religiously both Roman Catholics and Protestant (Lutheran), are being pushed out of their homeland by a policy similar to “the right of eminent domain” here in the US—a concern of area churches. After celebrating in worship the 125th of the Evangelical Church in Weisswasser, the group journeyed into Poland for two days in Auschwitz, associated with the atrocities that took place at the camps Auschwitz I and Birkenau—a difficult time.  Returning to Goerlitz the group visited local sites and churches, participated in a panel discussion on what local UCC churches are doing in their communities, and toured Reichenbach, birthplace of Louis Eduard Nollau. The stay in Görlitz ended with worship at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul; the tour ended in Prague with a couple days of sightseeing.


Study Trip: A delegation of four Wisconsin clergy and laity will travel to Roatan, Honduras to gather with partners from Germany and Honduras, May 18-22. The event includes a colloquy focusing on how Jesus’ instruction offered in the Sermon on the Mount can be lived out in our very different contexts today, and visits to area churches. Sponsored by the Mission House Center of Lakeland College, the event is part of an ongoing partnership between the Wisconsin Conference and the Evangelical and Reformed Synod of Honduras, and of the Evangelical Churches of Westphalia and in the Rhineland.


Young Ambassadors Exchange: For the second part of the Young Ambassadors exchange—SWA youth were in Germany last summer—the association is preparing to host youth from Moers Germany July 6-22, 2014. The theme is poverty, including an urban immersion project in Milwaukee.  The youth will experience cultural diversity through worship and hands on experience, networking with partner ministries of a local congregation for work projects. They will serve breakfast to guests on Saturday and Sunday morning, prepare bag lunches for the breakfast guests, work in a food bank, help with elderly/disabled housing, and assist in a community garden. Other activities will include a Concert on the Square in Madison at the state capital, a ropes course and group building, a day trip to Great America theme park, a two-day group cabin experience, and three days exploring Chicago (with a possible worship experience at Trinity UCC).

Joint Study Trip to Italy: This coming fall (November 1-14 2014) a group of SWA adults (18 committed to date) will travel to Germany and, together with folk from the Moers Church District, will visit Waldensian congregations in Italy. SWA organized a similar trip nearly 20 years ago, when Nikolaus Schneider was superintendent of this Church District. The preliminary itinerary includes visits to Florence, Rome, and the mountains of northwestern Italy.


Congregational Visit: For a number of years Immanuel UCC, Plymouth (Town Herman) has engaged in an ecumenical partnership with the Evangelical (Reformed) congregation at Langenholzhausen in the Lippische Landeskirche. Continuing a fellowship begun under the pastoral guidance of the Reverend Wayne Drueck (with encouragement from Professor Reinhard Ulrich of Lakeland College), a delegation from Immanuel will in a few weeks again make a visit to their German partner congregation.


Full Church Communion

The affinity of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the German Protestant united churches is multi-layered and of long duration.

  • It is of course historical, with one of denominations that merged to create the UCC, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, being of German-Swiss heritage.
  • It is theological, through both our common roots in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and our shared hopes and concerns in contemporary theology.
  • One part of the German church, the Union of Evangelical Churches (UEK) within the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) shares with the UCC the experience of and commitment to being a united church. Neither specifically Lutheran nor Reformed, both these communions include congregations of both confessions as well as some founded intentionally as “united.”
  • The UCC shares with the UEK not only a living theological heritage, but also a commitment to service through diaconal ministries, global mission, and the establishment of just peace in God’s world.

In 1980 and 1981, building on their common history and present commitments, the national synods of the Evangelical Church of the Union (EKU) and the United Church of Christ (USA) voted to enter into a relationship of full church communion (Kirchengemeinschaft). This was more than mere mutual recognition. Churches in communion acknowledge each another’s baptisms and they share at the Lord’s Table. Churches in full church communion take the further step of serving alongside one another. This was most visible in the mutual recognition of orders, whereby ministers of the UCC and UEK could readily serve in the partner church. In a broader sense it was joining with one another to be partners in Christ’s service to the world. In 2003 the EKU evolved into the UEK.

Within the framework of full church communion, entities within the UCC and UEK—diaconal and educational institutions; congregations, associations and conferences—can themselves enter into partnerships.

German Partnerships of the Wisconsin Conference

The partnerships of the Wisconsin Conference UCC with German Landeskirchen (state churches) are the fruit of strong leadership exercised by Conference staff over decades. Specifically, the Conference has entered into partnerships with the Evangelische Kirche im Rheinland (EKiR) and the Evangelische Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg-schlesische Oberlausitz (EKBO), which translate into English as the Evangelical (United) Church in the Rhineland and the Evangelical (United) Church in Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lausitz. These are two of the strongest and most significant churches in Germany, the former being the largest and wealthiest, the latter centered upon the capital of Germany, Berlin. The desire of these state churches to enter into relationship with the Wisconsin Conference is an acknowledgment of the strength of our Conference and a mark of respect for its leadership in the UEK-UCC relationship.

Relationships between our Conference and these German state churches have resulted in a variety of activities, some pre-dating formal partnership. Here is a sampling:

  • The Southwest Association and the Moers Association in the Rhineland have had youth exchanges, pastoral visits, and joint missions, including presence in Egypt, Honduras, Russia, and Chiapas.
  • Pastors from Wisconsin and Germany have served congregations in their partner churches, theological students have served internships, youth have worked at camps, and congregations have exchanged clergy and lay visitors with each others’ parishes.
  • Joint educational endeavors have enriched our clergy and laity. For example, every two or three years, beginning in 1992 with a theological colloquy devoted to “Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation” and initially sponsored by the Wisconsin Conference, Lakeland College, the continuing education center in Schwerte, Westphalia, and the Evangelical and Reformed Church of Honduras, a theological seminar has taken place, rotating between Honduras, Germany and Wisconsin (USA).
  • Our partnership with the EKBO has expressed itself in song. Twice the choir of Greendale Community Church, Greendale, Wisconsin has toured in congregations of the Görlitz Regional Church of EKBO. The Wisconsin Conference Gospellers was formed to sing (in English) with gospel choirs in Berlin-Brandenburg. Every other year since 2006 either a German choir has come to Wisconsin or The Gospellers have traveled to Germany, as again in August of this year.
  • In 2010 one of the regions within EKBO and the Wisconsin Conference joined to celebrate the ministry and mission of Louis Nollau, a founder of the Evangelical Church Society of the West (which eventually became part of the Evangelical Synod of North America). On the initiative of the church in Görlitz and the Wisconsin Conference, convocations and celebrations were held that year in Reichenbach, Germany, the place of his birth, and St. Louis, Missouri (USA), the place of his ministry.


Anyone who has been involved with the Evangelical (United) Church in Germany can attest to the stimulation and encouragement these engagements bring. They show us a way of being ‘church’ that challenges and inspires. In the Wisconsin Conference work over decades has built a solid foundation, established hundreds of personal relationships, and open up numerous opportunities to collaborate in theological reflection and in projects related to social justice and mission. These need to be continued.

One particular expression of full communion has proved remarkably fertile. This approach has already been explored, experienced, and enacted by the Southwest and Moers Associations in Egypt and elsewhere as well by the three-way partnership involving education in Honduras, Wisconsin (USA), and Germany. In both cases persons from Wisconsin joined persons from Germany to engage with the developing world. In the case of Egypt and Honduras, the way was opened through partnerships of the partner church bodies, the Moers District of the Rhineland Church and the Wisconsin Conference, respectively. The UEK, like the UCC, is deeply committed to mission work alongside Christian communions in the developing world; its state churches have multiple, rich, and active partnerships throughout the southern hemisphere. This is an exciting new horizon for the Wisconsin Conference UCC to explore with both EKBO and EKiR.

Suggested Structure

The ecumenical partnerships of the Wisconsin Conference, UCC are the responsibility of its Board of Directors. The initial partnership (with the Evangelical (United) Church in the Church Province of Goerlitz) was established by the approval of the Board of Directors of the Conference in 1982; that with EKiR by action of the Wisconsin Conference annual meeting in 2011. As such they rest in the portfolio of responsibilities entrusted to the Board. For this reason, the current UEK-UCC Working Group, which now serves at the pleasure of the Conference Minister, could appropriately be reconstituted as a committee of the Board of Directors, in the follow form:

  • The UEK-UCC Partnership Working Group would have responsibility for maintaining and furthering the partnerships with the UEK that the Conference currently enjoys with the EKiR and the EKBO.
  • The committee would have a membership of nine persons, clergy and lay, with experience and knowledge of the UEK and our partnerships with its member churches.
  • A chairperson would be elected by the committee from its membership.
  • The group would generally hold a face-to-face meeting twice a year.
  • In order to insure the efficient flow of information and maintain proper lines of accountability, at least one member, but not more than three members, of the Board of Directors would be appointed by the Board to sit on the UEK-UCC Working Group.
  • The Conference Minister or a Conference staff member appointed by her/him would sit with the committee to share knowledge of the workings and resources of the Wisconsin Conference and its office.