Tiny church vital center for community

Editor’s note: This is the final story in an occasional series of stories, “German Methodism: A strong Christian voice,” about the 51,000-member United Methodist Church in Germany.

A weekly gathering for “kaffe und kuchen” hosted by a tiny 12-member United Methodist church has transformed one village and its relationship with the church while raising money for a life-changing education program in Ghana.

Lorsbacher Gemeinde (Lorsbach United Methodist Church) of the Frankfurt Church of the Caller Circuit began the Café Gegenüeber last year, with a trial opening during the summer months.

“We wanted to do it for the people here,” said Helga Saalbach, a member of the church. “A long, long time it was our dream to have a café. The main purpose was to raise money, next to give the love of Jesus.”

Katharina Kress (standing) visits with parishioners and community members at Café Gegenüber. The café has transformed the village and its relationship with the Methodist Church, said the Rev. Heike Miller, pastor of the church.

Saalbach said the church members wanted villagers to see Christians doing a good thing, that the United Methodists are normal people. It wasn’t that many years ago that people thought United Methodists were a sect and even entering the building wasn’t an option for many.

The café has transformed the village and its relationship with the Methodist Church, said the Rev. Heike Miller, pastor of the church.

For instance, on a sunny September afternoon, the pastor of the local Protestant state church of Germany is among those serving coffee and cake. The guests include a refugee family from Syria and a farmer who has taken a break from gathering his apple crop. One woman shows up with a bag of apples for the Syrian family, who live in the village.

Miller said the village has no food store, no bakery and no place for the community to gather, so the café has filled a big gap.

The Rev. Heike Miller takes a Skype call with a ministry partner from Ghana outside the United Methodist Church in Lorsbach, Germany. The church runs a community café that raises money for an education program in Northern Ghana to help women there earn a living.

German Methodism: A strong Christian voice

"The 51,000 member United Methodist Church in Germany may be a minority church, but it’s a vital church" — Bishop Harald Rückert.

United Methodist News Service traveled to Germany to report on the church's presence, challenges and successes in the European nation. Read more stories from our special coverage.

We wanted to get people out of their isolation and people started showing up,” Miller said. “Just about the whole town, men, women and children, shows up at some point every week. We get to know each other and trust is growing to share the real topics of life. This is pastoral care in action on a low entry level.”

So far, though, only a few folks have started coming to church but “we will keep inviting them in — and in the meantime bring the church to them,” Miller said.

The café raises about 160 Euros a week and the church raised more than 12,000 Euros in 2016 and 6,000 Euros were sent to Tamale, Ghana, in 2017 for a project to provide vocational education for women in Ghana. The project has been taken on by the conference mission board and has an advance number.

The project pays for education for women who in turn train other women with skills like sewing, hairdressing and cooking, Miller said. The goal is to help women earn a living there rather than migrating.

The vocational training center in the poor region of Northern Ghana actually came about from a 2015 mission trip of the Church of the Caller Circuit. During that trip, Bishop Nathan Samwini from the Methodist Church Ghana and the German visitors prayed over the needs for the place.

The Rev. Heike Miller (right) visits with Brigette Dietz (left) and her friend Sahize, a recent immigrant from Syria, at Café Gegenüber.

“Together, they moved fast in partnership on both ends, selecting local ladies to start training to become the future teachers, buying the land, starting the floor plans in consultation with advising expertise in Lorsbach,” Miller said. “So the café became one end of a long, exciting, ‘let’s change the world wherever we are’ story.”

Katharina Kress, a mother of two small children, attended the coffee but said her family belongs to the state church in the village, where her children go to Sunday school.

The state church, Miller said, has 1,200 to 1,500 members but only 10 to 20 people attend on a regular Sunday. The custom in the state church is to worship on the high holidays like Christmas, Confirmation Sunday and Good Friday. The United Methodist Church has 10 to 20 people in attendance each week and is slowly expanding that with a new Taizé service on Sunday nights that rotates between the United Methodist church and the Catholic church, she said.

Maria Kress (left) visits with Dieter and Ellen Kugelmann outside the United Methodist Church in Lorsbach, Germany, during Café Gegenüber. The Rev. Heike Miller, pastor of the 12-member church, said the village has no food store, no bakery and no place for the community to gather, so the café has filled a big gap.

The café has been a wonderful project for the church to bring people together for mission, connect them with each other and address the root causes of forced migration and poverty, Miller said. “And that’s what discipleship is about: No matter how ‘small’ we are, we are five loaves of bread and two fishes.

“They have a whole new sense of mission.”

Brown is editor of United Methodist News Service. Contact her at at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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