“Friendship is not enough – partnership in the gospel is necessary”

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It was cold in Schwerin Cathedral on the October day when Bishop Suzanne Darcy Dillahunt and Presiding Bishop Kristina Kühnbaum-Schmidt sat down to sign a new five-year partnership between the Southern Ohio Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany – a partnership that extends back to the deepest days of the Cold War. Worshipers wore their coats and hats, and even gloves in the pews as the Southern Ohio Synod Director of Worship, Joshua Brodbeck, closed the service with a glorious fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach.

But it was not cold in the hearts and spirits of the people who were present for the signing. Bishop Dillahunt and a small delegation from Southern Ohio had spent the week with people from across the North Church hearing stories, forming friendships, discussing ministry ideas, and hearing about our common challenges. “Being present in spirit, resourceful and creative, acting in cooperation with others and living in trust of God…is what this is all about”, said Bishop Kühnbaum-Schmidt. “This strong relationship has grown with life.” Bishop Dillahunt agrees. “What is at stake is the good news of Jesus”, she says. “Whether in Germany, Ohio, or anywhere else, we are called to make disciples. Friendship is not enough – partnership is the gospel is what is necessary.”

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All agreed that the church faces new challenges, and that this calls for new thinking. “We may fund our churches differently [in Germany and the US], but we face the same social climate” said Pastor Jörn Möller, who helped organize the visit. Being the church is challenging because “we live in a society that focuses on economics, money, and entertainment.” That is why Möller introduced the Southern Ohio Team to North Church ministries, such as “Andere Zeiten” (“Other Times”), which creates Advent calendars with a message of hope for people who do not attend church or know the story of Jesus. This non-profit ministry sells more than 700,000 copies of the calendars each year in the Hamburg area, and even provides prayer over the telephone to people who call to order. The team also visited a new ecumenical worship center in the center of Hamburg, and an extensive ministry home caring for disadvantaged youth, those with disabilities, and seniors.

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But this visit wasn’t only about hearing new ideas.  It was also about strengthening partnership bonds between congregations and members in Southern Ohio and the North Church. The people of the Friedens Parish in Schwerin were able to spend time with team members from Holy Trinity in Columbus, and Bishop Dillahunt and Pastor Abrams were able to visit with St. Paul, Newark’s sister congregation, St. Bartholomew in Wittenburg, who recently renovated their 13th century building. There were smiles and laughter around the tables in both parishes as Southern Ohio and North Church members shared meals and stories. Möller agreed that member-to-member connection is key to this relationship. “I’m happy that our covenant is a strong foundation” for these relationships, he said.

From individual friendships, to sister congregations, to sister synods, these connections are key to our ministries in today’s world.  “We need present of mind and resourcefulness to help each other”, said Bishop Kühnbaum-Schmidt, “in view of Russia’s war, in view of hunger in the world, in view of climate change. . .we need each other to support us in faith and trust in God.” Bishop Dillahunt could not agree more. “Partnership in the gospel is about relationship. It’s about sharing ideas. It’s about listening. Too much is at stake to go it alone” she says.  “That is what this covenant is all about.”