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Members of All Nations Church at the Winter Arts & Crafts fair
The partnership between Old First Reformed UCC in Philadelphia and Markusgemeinde in Bielefeld, Germany goes back to November 1995 when Uta Kraft was part of a German delegation visiting UCC churches in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to gather ideas for church renewal in Germany. Uta ended up staying with me, and long story short, Uta and I quickly became best of friends. Uta invited me to visit her and her husband the following summer. During that visit Uta’s pastor invited Old First to become a partner with their congregation. In 1996, our partnership became official.
In the 14+ years of our affiliation, numerous intergenerational groups as well as individuals have visited back and forth. Markus sent a group to celebrate Old First’s 275th anniversary and another group to participate in the installation of our previous pastor. In 2008, Old First sent a group to celebrate Lutherkirche’s 100th anniversary. (Due to a merger, the parish/congregation name is Markusgemeinde—the name of the church building is Lutherkirche.) Our youth groups have exchanged visits twice each way. To me, one of the most moving moments of our partnership came in the wake of 9/11. The support of the people in Markusgemeinde was absolutely overwhelming. Their recorder choir was scheduled to visit Old First a month after the disaster. Half of them still made the trip during that unsettled time.
In 2003, with a desire to make our partnership more meaningful, the congregations decided to support each other’s alternative Christmas gift project. . Markusgemeinde funds the alternative Christmas project with half of the proceeds from their annual Advent Market. At Old First the funds come from individuals who choose to give someone a donation to the project in lieu of an actual gift. The two churches alternate the selection of projects to support. That first year, Old First members’ gifts helped a Kurdish family living in Bielefeld that Markus was supporting. After Hurricane Katrina, Markusgemeinde chose Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi. Last year was Old First’s turn to choose the project and we happily chose CAIM.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.