United Methodists in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Germany have completed their 2020 Advent Devotional in English and German, which can be downloaded and copied. Advent begins on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020.
The entries for each day contain scripture and the devotional thoughts in both English and German. Several Western PA clergy and laity, as well as Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and Pittsburgh DS Dawn Hand, are among those who contributed meditations.
The partnership between the United Methodist Church’s Western PA Conference and the Eastern Germany Conference was formed by Bishops George Bashore, now retired, and the late Ruediger Minor before the fall of the Berlin Wall and has resulted in numerous exchange visits by musical groups, work teams, youth and local church members. Joint Volunteers in Mission teams have traveled to Russia and Latin America to do projects. The most recent was in November 2017 when a joint team worked on a reforestation project in Nicaragua. In addition to the Conference to Conference Partnership, Mt. Lebanon UMC has a sister relationship with the Evangelical United Methodist Church in Zwickau.
In the early years of the partnership members relied on a few letters between church leaders because letters had to be sent through security.
“There was no e-mail, scarcely any chance to talk by phone,” Rev. Joseph Stains, who led the group for many years, once explained when recounting the history of the partnership. “Only prayers were instant in reaching their destinations. We did not know what God wanted to do with our fledgling partnership--intended at first to give moral support and mission outreach to Christians living behind that wall." When the Berlin Wall was opened, he added, it suddenly seemed as if all the rules would change and they
waited for God to teach them what the new ways were.
Today email and social media provide regular means of communication and joint mission trips offer opportunities to strengthen relationships.
In 2015, during what then was called one the greatest humanitarian crises of our times, emails between Mary Garber, a Partnership leader from Mt. Lebanon UMC, and Rev. Lutz Bruckner, pastor in Zwickau, enabled WPAUMC congregations to contribute to ministry with the thousands of refugees flooding into East German communities.
The WPAUMC Partnership encouraged individuals and congregations to receive a special Advent offering or find other ways to provide financial support to East German partners ministering to thousands of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in their towns.
More than $17,000 was donated to the efforts.
In February of 2016, Grace Killian, a Mt. Lebanon member who had finished two years of service as a UMC Global Mission Fellow in Israel/Palestine and worked for a time with Syrian refugees in Jordan, went to Eastern Germany to help in the ministry to refugees for a few months. Grace had been involved with the Partnership at Mt. Lebanon since she was a child. Grace was approved as a provisional elder in Western PA in 2020 and currently is serving as an intern with the UMC Connectional Table while completing graduate studies for her masters degree in international relations.
In October 2017, a group of 50 East German children and youth choir members and their leaders toured in Western Pennsylvania. The Schmetterlinge visited churches and offered concerts in Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Indiana and Erie areas, as well as the Conference Center. Read more about their visit.