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Four visit PNC’s 25-year global partner in Berlin

Jim Spraker finds value
in a global exchange
with a partner church
facing common struggles
in a multi-cultural world.

Leading a delegation of four visiting the Pacific Northwest Conference’s global partner, the Evangelical Church Synod of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia (EKBO), two weeks in early September, Jim Spraker found that while Germany is a leading country in the Europeal Union, Berlin still has a disparity between rich and poor.

Jim Spraker

Jim and Barbara Spraker share a meal with Roland and Anna Herpich. Roland, who is director of the Berlin Mission Society, was part of an exchange in 1993. Photo courtesy of Jim Spraker

He sees value in the partnership with an equal, and sharing concerns about life in an increasingly secular society and the role of the church shifting from professional clergy directed to one with more lay leadership.

Joining him were his wife, Barbara, also of Plymouth UCC in Seattle, Ron Robinson of the United Church in University Place and Makena Schmidling of First Christian in Bellingham.

The goal of the visit was to explore the future of the relationship with the church.  The PNC adopted a partnership with the former West Berlin Synod in 1987, making this the 25th year of the partnership.

That partnership was transferred to those in the Berlin-Brandenburg Synod who had previously connected with the East Berlin Synod’s partner, the Central Pacific Conference.  Some exchanges were held in common, and the number decreased in the last few years.

Jim found that the Deanery of Charlottenburg, a division of the synod, is interested in continuing the partnership.  They will soon merge with the deanery of Wilmersdorf, creating a deanery of 20 parishes with 70,000 members.

Jim said the churches in Berlin-Brandenburg share common concerns with the Pacific Northwest Conference.

“They search for what it means to be a church in a secular society in which 75 percent of the people of Berlin are non-religious, non-Christian or lacking any religious background or education,” he said.

Part of that is from the legacy of the church under communism when few people were in churches.

They are emphasizing faith formation for and empowerment of lay leadership as volunteers. 

Their goal is to help people be able to explain their faith and as they need more lay leadership as funding for paid staff and clergy decreases.

“They also seek to interact with different religious groups and minority churches,” he said. “There are 130 minority churches in Berlin.”

The delegation experienced the religious diversity when they participated in “The Long Night of Religions” while they were there.  Sixty religious groups put on the event from 6 p.m. to midnight in various parts of Berlin.

The PNC delegation also explored Berlin, visiting several social ministries such as home care, soup kitchens and extensive involvement in education.  As part of meeting with various groups, they learned that the EKBO and the Berlin Mission Society fund and help operate an 800-pupil school in Palestine.

Near the Brandenburg Gate, they visited a memorial exhibit for Jews killed in Europe, sharing stories of their lives and families.

“It was so painful, I had to leave after 45 minutes,” he said.

“We talked about what we could learn from each other, struggling to be the church in the secular world,” he said.

Other common interests are cooperation among churches, maintaining rural churches and fund raising.

They learned that the churches are moving from the parish approach, drawing people from neighborhoods, to drawing people based on their interests and what communicates to them.  One church, for example, may emphasize music while another may have a strong youth program.  They are also incorporating rural churches into the Berlin-Brandenburg structure.

Jim, who has been both a parish minister and a hospital chaplain, believes that there is value in learning with  partners in a multi-cultural society.

“This gives a different perspective than our mission relationships in developing countries,” he said.

“We face common issues but share different perspectives,” he said.

Jim has been on other exchanges and also hosted groups visiting from Germany.  He feels that continual dialogue between the PNW Conference and EKBO would be beneficial to both churches.

Work Project in Poland

Jim Spraker and the delegation join in a work project in Zelow, Poland, cleaning bricks to rebuild a kindergarten.

The delegation also visited in Poland, visiting Lodz, where Liz and Doug Searles from the PNC were missionaries recently.  The Evangelical Reformed Church in Poland consists of 10 churches established by Protestants in the Czech Republic fleeing persecution under the Hapsburgs in 1802

The delegation spent two days in Lodz, two days in Warsaw and did a service project, helping clean bricks to reuse for building a new kindergarten building in Zelow.

“Both cities had huge Jewish ghettoes,” said Jim, telling of visiting a Jewish cemetery in Lodz where there were 130,000 markers.  “We can’t comprehend the number of Jews killed.  More Jews died in Poland than in Germany.  It’s overwhelming.”

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Copyright © December 2012 - Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


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