A language not often heard in Licking County, German was being spoken by a group that traveled here from Germany as a way to make new partnerships. Spending a week in Ohio, the Germans traveled to the partnership churches in the Southern Ohio Synod from their churches in the state of Mecklenburg.

Pastor Martin Waack and his church, St. Bartholomew in Wittenberg, Germany, is partnering with Rauch and St. Paul's. The group came to learn how American Evangelical Lutheran churches deal with stewardship and recruitment of volunteers. Waack has been a pastor for nine years and has a congregation of 1,500 people.

"I think it is important to have a personal exchange, and we are keen on learning about congregational life (in America)," Waack said.

Pastor Thomas Cremer has two churches in Vellahn and Pritzier, Germany, with his partner church in Cincinnati. Dino Steinbrink was the pastor from the Lutheran church in Boizenburg and is partnered with the Hosanna Lutheran Church in Pataskala.

"I learned how American congregations encourage people to get involved in life of the community," Cremer said in perfect English. "We wish (congregational volunteerism) would grow. Right now (it is) not where we want it to be."

Said Steinbrink: "We see it is possible to give volunteers more responsibility. It is interesting to me how to motivate the congregation to bring their own ideas to life. In Germany, we are missing ages between 25 and 50 (in the congregation)."

For Rauch, hearing and conversing with the group in German was nothing unusual. He recently visited Waack's church and even gave a sermon in German, which the group members said he speaks wonderfully. Waack laughed and said the only thing wrong was that Rauch's sermon was too short. But bringing the group to Ohio was a natural step because there is such a strong German background in American Lutheran churches, but four or five generations removed.

"It is good for us to reconnect with the origin of our denomination," Rauch said. "Many in our congregation were anxious to meet the Germans."

Several ideas were generated to continue the relationship between the partners, such as having the teenagers in partner churches e-mail each other to discuss things they have in common, as well as sending the handbell choir from St. Paul's while brass choirs visit from Germany.

Other members that visited included Uta Ermeler, who is a self-employed professional guardian. Besides learning about the churches, Ermeler was interested in improving relationships between America and Germany.

"In the last eight years, the German newspapers were not very good to America," Ermeler said. "I think there were prejudices that were not true. I changed my newspaper because of all the bad news."


L.B. Whyde can be reached
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