“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21
Just as there are members of First Congregational who don’t know they’re in the UCC, there are old Germans in our pews who think they’re still Lutherans. But not many. The last great wave of German immigration took place right after World War II. Thousands of these refugees found homes in our Evangelical and Reformed (E&R) churches. They called us back to our past. They blessed us, changed us, made us better.
The first church I served was once composed entirely of German immigrants. The last one died two weeks ago, at 96. His name was Gottfried Foerster. He was an artist, a wood-carver.
He was kind. He left carrots out on his back porch to feed the rabbits that raided his garden every night.
He was stern. When I asked him what he’d learned while fighting on the Russian front, he looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “What did I learn? Keep your weapon dry.”
He was faithful. When a doctor told him that a broken pin in his hip replacement had worn away more than an inch of his femur, Gottfried replied, “Well, I guess that bone went to heaven.”
Gottfried was a union carpenter for almost 40 years. He and his wife Emmie helped their neighbors. They farmed their postage stamp backyard and shared the bounty. They even grew a grapevine off the back wall of their two-flat to make their own wine. They made Chicago a better city and America a better country.
I wonder if there are even 100 old Germans left in our UCC? We were once an immigrant denomination. Let’s mourn this death.
I pray that new immigrants and new refugees might pour through our doors, changing us, again, for the better.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.