Missionary Tends to International Congregations in Germany
by Kathleen LaCamera*
A growing number of international United Methodist congregations now exist within Germany, where their members range from Americans to Africans, diplomats to asylum seekers, students to business people.
All, according to Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of the Germany area, are welcome within the United Methodist Church in Germany.
Wenner believes that differences in language and culture need not create barriers within the church but, rather, can offer rich opportunities for connection and exchange. To help support these non-German-speaking congregations, German United Methodists and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries have worked together to appoint the Rev. Carol Ann Seckel, a board missionary, as coordinator for English language and migrant ministries.
Seckel, an American, has extensive experience working in cross-cultural settings. She has served as conference superintendent in the denomination's Alaska Missionary Conference, where she also worked with Alaska Children's Services. From 2000-2004, both she and her husband, Kevin, served as missionaries in Latvia. He is now doing similar work with English language congregations in the south of Germany, starting new churches.
Seckel said she already is impressed by the commitment of German United Methodists to support those coming from outside the country. She recounted one recent experience where she came across two older German women taking part in an English language service aimed at foreign students. "They said even though they didn't understand English, they wanted to be there to support this ministry," she added.
While officially installed in the Frankfurt-based position in January, Seckel has been on the job for the past eight months.
Seckel said these congregations face the challenge of "how to live faithfully with limited resources, struggling to be the church we are called to be."
English is the primary language for most of these congregations. However, both preaching and pastoral ministry also are conducted in French, Russian, Vietnamese and African dialects. The largest group of these international church members come from Ghana, West Africa.
One particular challenge within the Ghanaian Methodist community is getting parents-who are anxious about European influence and its effects-to encourage their young people to meet and get to know young European Christians.
Seckel's responsibilities include outreach to American military chaplains. She says many chaplains don't realize that United Methodist congregations are close by. She thinks she is in a unique position to offer support as a chaplain to "the chaplains."
According to Wenner, it is important to offer pastoral care for clergy colleagues doing a difficult job during wartime. She welcomes the exchange of insights and perspectives that these links can bring. "We are sisters and brothers in one church," she explained. "We must get to know each other, start conversations about ethics, exchange insight and perspectives."
"I have joked that I feel like I'm on this significant learning curve that continues to go straight up," Seckel told United Methodist News Service. Seckel began learning German only last spring. A map of Germany is an essential tool for her work, and one is pinned to the wall of her office.
In Wenner's opinion, the work with international congregations in Germany can be a model for others, showing how to build one inclusive church rather allowing separate parallel Methodist churches to develop.
"We have sisters and brothers who come to live here in Europe who have made all those transitions in their lives and in their families' lives. They are part of the church here in Europe," Wenner told UMNS. "In future, we need to build up the (pastoral) leadership of people within these people coming from abroad."
*LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in England.
Date posted: Feb 05, 2008