Asn't there someone else?" Karsten Sohrst asked his daughter, Anke Deibler, when she and her husband, Eric, were asked to add an interim call. They were already serving as co-pastors of a four-point, rural ELCA parish. But there wasn't anyone else — at least not locally.
While more ELCA congregations needed pastors, Sohrst, a Lutheran pastor in Germany, saw few vacancies in German congregations. He told his daughter: "Maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something."
Sohrst worked with the Upper Susquehanna Synod to develop a way German pastors could serve U.S. calls. Three now work in the synod: Lars Langhorst, Detles Huckfeldt and Gunther Bernhardt.
Andreas Wagner, a German-born pastor in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, read their story in Upper Susquehanna Synod's insert to The Lutheran. He developed the idea of synods in the northeast offering Schnupperbesuche, or "sniffing visits" so German pastors could explore ELCA ministries.
Carol Schickel, ELCA director for candidacy, and ELCA pastors Wagner, Cheryl Meinschein and Manfred Bahmann went to Germany last January to give a seminar introducing German pastors and students to the ELCA and its candidacy process. "Now about 25 pastors and theological students from Germany are in the [ELCA] candidacy process," Schickel said.
"It's not a solution to our problem of finding pastors for some rural calls," she cautioned. Many such congregations can't afford to pay a full-time pastor.
"This [program] brings gifted pastors to serve here, and it gives them an opportunity to see how ministry is done in the U.S.," said Donald Main, bishop of the Upper Susquehanna Synod. "This will strengthen Lutheran churches here as well as in Germany."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers