Sept. 13, Johannes Weissinger of Germany arrived in the United States as a visiting pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Tiffin. Sunday is Weissinger's last day at Trinity. His wife, Gisela-Ingrid, arrived in late November to accompany her husband for the return trip.
A minister with the Evangelical Church of Westphalia, Johannes Weissinger is part of an exchange program for ministers, sponsored by a partnership with the United Church of Christ. The ministers spend three months at American churches in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
"It is not a direct exchange. I am here, but a minister of Tiffin is not going to my town," Weissinger said.
Trinity's pastor, the Rev. Louis Dorsch, said the UCC and the Church of Westphalia have historical ties. Some German citizens who migrated to the United States brought their Evangelical faith with them. It was one of four denominations that combined to form the UCC in 1957.
During Weissinger's stay, he resided with two Trinity UCC families. At Trinity, he participated in worship, gave a talk at the First Presbyterian Church in Tiffin, spoke in some classes at Heidelberg University and became acquainted with some of the faculty there.
"He preached on two occasions, he met with some smaller groups in the church, attended some committee meetings and our board meetings here at the church and did some calling on people in the nursing homes and hospitals. He was involved in the life of the church. people got to know him, and he got to know them," Dorsch said.
In addition to helping at the church, the visiting pastor also was quite active in the community. Dorsch said Weissinger attended programs with Project Peace at St. Francis, took part in the Crop Walk and attended meetings of the Ministerial Association. A member of the church gave Weissinger the use of a car to do some traveling.
"He visited other churches. He preached in two other churches, (United Church of Christ) one in Marblehead and one in Sandusky," Dorsch said.
Weissinger said he tried to absorb as much American culture as possible. During the presidential elections, he observed voters coming and going at a polling site and camped out at the board of elections to await the results with local politicians and citizens. He called the election "a thing to see."
"I wanted to see so much as I can," Weissinger said. "What I see and what I experienced is a lot of friendly people. I saw very beautiful nature and the change of the Sandusky River. I participated in interesting events and moving worship ... One highlight was a trip around Tiffin to visit the farms and agriculture and the parks."
He took a special interest in soil and water conservation methods, such as no-till and reduced tillage, drainage systems and the planting of natural windbreaks. He was surprised to see some farmland that had remained unplowed for 30 years. He believes every citizen should be concerned about the environment, not just farmers.
"Climate change is a challenge, not only for Americans ... In Germany, it is more discussed than in the United States, especially in the Church of Westphalia."
The church urges its members to take more responsibility in saving energy and resources. In Germany, citizens are required by law to separate their trash and save energy in private homes and in industry, regardless of whether it is "convenient."
"Some people, in their behavior, treat the earth like there is another Earth in the basement." Weissinger said.
The structure of the Church of Westphalia differs from churches in America. Weissinger said ministers are given larger congregations to oversee. His home congregation has about 2,500 members, but he said many of them members are inactive.
"A minister in Germany has much more work to do because the congregation is so big. But I think it's not a coincidence that these churches are connected. The Westphalia Church and the UCC have many points in agreement," Weissinger said.
Both churches have adopted a concern for justice and peace worldwide, not only in their home countries. The Weissingers are active in an an organization to promote Christian-Jewish dialogue. Gisela-Ingrid is the chairwoman of the group in the area around Bad Laasphe, Germany.
"We are only at the beginning of the challenge for our churches to go farther maybe, instead of step by step, I think the steps must be larger" Weissinger said.
He added he plans to remain in contact with some of his new friends in Tiffin. Weissinger plans to give a few parting remarks at the start of Sunday's 10:30 a.m. service. The congregation will be able to visit with him during the regular coffee hour after worship.
"I have met a lot of very friendly and trusting people and you can be sure that we are, in Germany, friendly, too. You can find trusting people in Germany," Weissinger said.