I never expected she would come to the train station herself … but there she was. I mean it was one of the biggest days of her life, the day when she was to be formally installed as Pastor of the Ev. Lutheran Church in Brokstedt, Germany.
She wrote that “someone” would meet the train, so we would know how to find the church, but she rode her bike to the station to greet us herself. The four of us walked back to town together, Ulrike, Vickie, the bike and me.
In the hour before the service, a group of young scouts were busily preparing the churchyard for the reception afterwards. They worked with purpose and determination. They seemed so proud to take part in such a special day for the village.
The church was beautiful. Ulrike had asked me to read portions of Psalm 103 in Hebrew while her husband, Pastor Alexander Wolfhahrt read the same passages after me in German. It was a touching moment.. the choir sang beautifully, and their voices clearly resonated with a feeling of how very special the day was.
Then the Propst, Dr Kurt Riecke charged Pastor Wolfhahrt and the Congregation to cherish the bond they had created. Then he invited me up to share a thought with Ulrike and join him in asking God to bless her.
As I walked to the front of the church, my mind flashed back to the first time I met Pastorin Ulrike Wolfhahrt in 2015. She was one of the Pastors At the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Church in Neumünster, and she asked me to preach a sermon explaining why Jews do not believe in Jesus as Christians do. She wanted the congregation to hear a frank explanation to the community of this important theological difference between our two religions.
Her welcome and warm encouragement of me to deal with this difficult subject gave me strength. We formed a bond that day that was very special. We shared a mission to deal with a sensitive subject in a way that was open, honest and mutually respectful.
A year later, on our next visit to Germany she brought her beautiful four-year-old son Samuel to visit me in Bad Segeberg. The three of us took a nice walk on a chilly autumn afternoon and then had cocoa in a lovely coffee shop.
Afterward that visit, Pastor Wolfhahrt wrote me that Samuel had said, “I like Stephen because he knows my heart.”
And so as I walked to the front of the church last Sunday I thought of the biblical passage when Samuel revealed that he chose David to be King over his brothers because God knows his heart. (I Samuel 16:7)
And before I placed my hands and on her head to ask God to bless her, I said, “Just as the Biblical Samuel said of David, God has chosen you and Alexander to be parents of your Samuel and leaders of this church because God knows your heart.”
When the Propst formally presented Pastorin Wolfhahrt to the congregation, they rose in a touching standing ovation for her. It was a beautiful tribute that sent shivers down my spine.
Then Pastorin Wolfhahrt began her sermon about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32). My German is not nearly good enough to understand all that she said, but I know that she spoke with conviction and passion and held the congregation in the palm of her hand.
After the service Pastor Wolfhahrt received the warm congratulations of the many people who crowded the church, and a lovely outdoor picnic reception ensued.
Vickie and I returned to Bad Segeberg filled with joy that we could share such a wonderful event. We felt we had been blessed to witness such an extraordinary moment of spiritual unity between a Pastor and her community.
Days later the feeling endures.