How would you describe the mission of our partner in EKHN Germany?
The Protestant Churches of the State of Hessen/Nassau have a covenanted partnership bond with the UCC/New York. The partnership seeks to cooperate on projects that focus on peace and reconciliation efforts, on international understanding and cooperation, and on broadening the Gospel message of love and inclusion.
How do you fit into their mission?
As a German speaker, I am the first American to be able to participate in the pastoral internship exchange program. Many Germans have spent a year’s residence working in New York congregations, the result being a deeper understanding and appreciation for the scope of Christian belief and practice in the United States.
What led you to engage in this calling?
Forty years ago, for four years I lived in Germany - actually in the exact same area I am now working. Experiences during this time introduced me to the Confessing Church - the resistance church during the Nazi era; to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his conscious sacrifice; and to a Christian practice both loving and intelligent, that helped to heal some of the fundamentalist church injuries of my childhood and youth. I’ve always dreamed of coming back here to work. When I heard about the partnership, I saw the door open.
Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?
My church, the Bergkirche Wiesbaden, physically intersects the border between the richest and the poorest of the city. Matthew 25:40 is in my mind daily as my work takes me into apartments that are filthy hovels, and also into breathtaking villas. I seek out the eyes of each person and find God’s child there.
What are some of the challenges facing the people of the Bergkirche, our partner, or yourself?
The challenges here are very similar to the challenges the churches face in the United States: ageing buildings, declining membership and declining interest in the ministry. The State can no longer sponsor all the costs of church life, and the churches are having to learn what fundraising is, and how to educate their congregants to the new financial realities.
What is a lesson you have learned from our partner that you feel should be shared with churches in the U.S.?
The thing that keeps people attached to their home churches in Germany is the historical belonging to that church. Even people who rarely attend church are still loyal to the Bergkirche and can tell me the entire familial history of baptisms, confirmations and marriages in the church - often generations long. The U.S. churches would do well to draw their members into a sense of personal, familial and communal ‘ownership’ in the the church.
Which books have influenced your understanding of your country, work, or theology?
Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Discipleship; Letters and Papers from Prison.
Martin Niemoeller: God is my Fuehrer.