Realizing that with the large population of the metro Atlanta area that there would be a sizable German speaking community, the newly arrived pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Decatur decided to offer a German/English worship opportunity at Christmastime in l982.
The history of German worship services in Atlanta goes back for over two centuries when the present St. John’s Lutheran Church was known as St. Johannes and all worship was held in German. English was added after World War I and became the primary language after World War II. In the mid-nineteen hundreds Grace Lutheran (LCMS) in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta offered German language services every Christmas Eve, until the retirement of the German speaking pastor.
The 1982 service at Messiah was attended by nearly 100 persons and was considered a success. Plans were being made for a repeat at Christmas 1983. With much greater promotion and word of mouth sharing, the attendance at the 1983 service was 287, and that in a sanctuary that seats 150.
While there were requests for regularly scheduled German services, the limited ability and resources of the pastor and the small congregation deemed that not possible. But God always finds a way. St. Johns (yes, the same St. Johns that used to be the “German” Lutheran congregation in Atlanta) had previously moved to its new location on Ponce de Leon and was only 3 miles from Messiah. In the early ’90s they called a German Graduate Student at Emory as their Associate Pastor. He and the pastor at Messiah soon shared their dreams and came up with a plan to have monthly German services at Messiah, which evolved to two services a month, which added a monthly service at St. Luke’s in Atlanta and which allowed for one Sunday a month where ever they were welcomed.
This continued for several years but its days were numbered since the Associate Pastor from St John’s had completed his PhD requirements at Emory and would probably be moving on. Fortunately, the Assistant to the Bishop of the Southeastern Synod (ELCA) had joined our Board. He suggested that we contact the Protestant Church in Germany, specifically the Bavarian area since they and our Synod were in a “sister” relationship. This again was a God-inspired moment. The Bavarian Church said they would send a pastor for one year, pay their pension, their transportation, etc. and we would have to provide a car, housing and a small stipend. This wonderful arrangement continued for three years.
Part of the arrangement with the Bavarian Church was that the pastors would learn how churches in the USA are both the same and different than the ones in Germany. There was always a time of transition and nearing the end of the year there was a time of anticipation. In hopes of getting a greater sense of permanency, we decided to request that these pastors come for a longer period of time. Once again this request was granted.
When the first pastor who was to be with us for 5 years came for his first day at Messiah, he asked, “Where will my secretary’s office be?” He had big plans for this ministry. Unfortunately, Messiah had limited facilities and could not accommodate his secretary. We searched for other space and learned the Redeemer Lutheran had an area in an adjoining building which at one time housed the Synod Office. Redeemer graciously volunteered the space and a wonderful relationship was begun between the two worshipping communities.
Finances were always tight. The Bavarian Church continued its support, the German Interest Conference of the LCA contributed a sizable gift and most importantly the Lutheran Church in America considered this as an emerging, self-sustaining congregation which if all matters were successful would be an independent congregation in 3 years. Their support was substantial and was limited to 3 years.
The congregation was thriving. Many of the participants knew that they would only be in the US for a couple of years before their jobs would call them back to Germany. Part of the process of organizing a new congregation in the LCA is to have people sign the Charter with a specified number required. Some of the participants just did not want to put their names on paper due to past negative experiences. The congregation continued to thrive with worship, weddings, funerals, confirmations, children’s programs, etc. Due to the hesitation of signing the Charter, the congregation was not officially organized. Rather, it became of a “worshipping community” of the Southeastern Synod.
After the second “5 year” pastor, the Bavarian Church informed us that there were no pastors interested in coming to the USA and therefore the relationship between us was terminated. After struggling for several months with English only speaking supply pastors, the Synod contacted Pastor von Hacke who had recently retired from Messiah. Under his leadership the congregation stabilized and grew in attendance. He served two different times for about 4 years during the next 5+ years.
The following is a list of pastors who have served, in chronological order:
Haco W. von Hacke
Hans Jurgen Basteck
Hans Juergen Hoeppke
Haco W. von Hacke
Haco W. von Hacke
Dorothea Lotze-Kola (present)
While the congregation has always been open to all participants, it is blessed with several different nationalities, ethnic groups and a special emphasis of reaching out to Roman Catholics as well as Protestants. Most recently a number of Roman Catholic youth were instructed about First Communion and a priest from Germany came to administer the Sacrament to them.