“In a heart beat!” was the response a youth from First Parish gave when asked the question, “Would you do another mission for H.O.M.E. in Maine?”  It was clear it had been a rewarding experience.  It is an enthusiastic reply that indicates our planning of the International Exchange between the youth of the Lutheran Church, U.E.K. of Hemer, Germany and the youth of the First Parish Church, Congregational, U.C.C of Manchester has been a successful collaboration.

We wish to thank the Christian Education Committee that agreed to support the exchange and set the process in motion.  Their support and coordination of Jared Hamilton was paramount to the exchange’s success. We appreciate Jared’s pre-visit to H.O.M.E. and his conscientious work. A special thank you to Nancy Peterson and Sara DeOreo as co-chairs and to Priscilla Duda, our C.E. Director, in the planning and coordinating of the exchange.

We appreciate the generosity of our host families who took the German youth into their homes and made them part of their family life.  Cliff & Nancy Hughes (Thibias Bluhm), Dean & Pam Scarafoni (Nora Dierkes), Heather & Peter Reid (Chris Herget), Betsey & Scott Milne (Ruben Schwarze), Beth & Mishelle Wood (Sonja Hovelmann), Lora & Mark Finnerty (Rebekka Schwarze), Jeanne & Michael Stanton (Ann-Maraike Benthren), Anne & Terry Cowman (Michael Lippross), Kim & Ron Gendron (Mara Theisges), and Stacie Learager & David Schuh (Svenja Hovelmann) were most gracious. We thank them for collaborating with each other to provide experiences when German youth were not on program tours.

Jane Pearson oversaw every detail of a wonderful Italian meal with garlic bread and salad and served the German youth their first church dinner. George Nickless set up and tore down tables and chairs for the meal as chapel custodian.  The meal followed two Manchester tours given by Rachel Shwartz, of the Magic Years Cooperative Nursery, and Paul Murphy, Vice Principal of Manchester Essex Regional High School.  We appreciate their opening their facilities and sharing their knowledge and expertise.

The first week the German youth toured New England was greatly facilitated by Lila Hughes who attended every event. Her good nature and joyous personality was an asset when unforeseen challenges confronted us.  Nancy Klebart, our Administrative Assistant, was instrumental in coordinating communications and publicity during the events. We  appreciate Scott Cowman and Ben Scarafoni, who toured Germany as part of the 2009 Exchange, for joining in events with the German youth of this exchange.

The Missions Committee’s theme of “let’s support hands-on projects to involve people in missions”, provided financial support to purchase food so the German group could provide a meal for the Grace Center at the Trinity Congregational Church of Gloucester.  30 pounds of potatoes, 7 ½ dozen eggs and green peppers [American Potato Salad], 100 – hot dogs/hamburgers/slices of cheese, 200 rolls, 3 watermelons, a dozen apples, pints of blueberries and strawberries, pineapples, and cantaloupes were purchased. Whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and vanilla ice cream became the end to a perfect “New England Picnic”.  68 people were served dinner and, any who wanted, were provided “seconds” to take home. At the end of the night, there was no food left over.  Food preparation began at 1:00 p.m., the meal was served at 5, and the clean up ended by 6:30; the German youth ate with the guests.  At 6:30 the youth group were exhilarated (and exhausted!).  A special thank you goes to Alice Eastland for spearheading the missions support.

The worship service was a wonderful collaboration of music, youth, staff, and worshipers.  Donald Dunn prepared a prelude of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and a postlude of another version of Beethoven’s 9th.  Ann Greenleaf worked with Cynthia Franklin and Rebecca Calandra to organize the youth of First Parish who sang two musical pieces with German origins, with Chip Price offering his guitar in support. Brian Price, who backed up our hymn singing on his saxophone, selected “The Pilgrim” as the Offertory Music.  The German youth sang a piece inspired by an Old Testament passage where an angel preceded Joshua as he entered a new land.  Youth from both churches gave the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer in both English and German; we appreciate Christina Calandra and Lila Hughes for stepping in as liturgists.  Worshipers rose at the end of the worship to form a tunnel, through which the youth, leaving for the next week’s missions project, were commissioned.  The commissioning prayer was offered bilingually. The Diaconate was represented by Eleanor Harris & Mary Lumsden; Rachel Gallagher, our Sexton, prepared the sanctuary.

A special send-off, pool party and barbeque was offered by Cliff & Nancy Hughes at their home. (the Hughes’ opened their home every week for a year, when F.P.C. youth prepared for the 2009 Exchange). The send-off party took place on a beautiful evening; Jared Hamilton provided a review of the upcoming mission project at H.O.M.E.  Special thanks to Martha Elder who provided the desserts decorated with German flags!

The youth of First Parish, Courtney Feuerbach, Kelly Finnerty, Laney Franklin, Mara Franklin, Chris Milne, Julia Potter, David Reid, Melissa Schuh, Bella Schmidt, Connor  Senay, Emily Stanton, Sara Stanton, Santana Tosi, Derek Walker and Sophie Wilson provided dedication and enthusiasm to the second week of the Youth Exchange in Orland Maine at H.O.M.E.  Special thank you to our chaperones Richard Smith and David DeMoura, whose guidance and expertise allowed our youth to reclaim land for planting, build a deer fence to protect gardens, and clean up and give a face-lift to the wood shop.  Jeanne Stanton (our official RN chaperone!) oversaw the childcare and creation of special gifts to be sold at the H.O.M.E. store. The Project Director of H.O.M.E. said, “your youth got it … what we are doing at the mission… we appreciate their ‘taking care of the caretakers’ by improving the grounds, providing for our child care, milling wood, fixing gutters, building fences, and making our staff and guests feel they were family.” The Missions Committee provided equipment (hammers, etc.) and food for the H.O.M.E. aspect of the exchange. Thanks to Manchester Hardware who gave us guidance in purchasing , a speedy delivery and a reduced rate.

The second week of the exchange offered cross-cultural opportunities for youth to change underserved communities to demonstrate how their generosity joyously accomplishes missions.

The theme of the first week of the German exchange was how a “hidden church” empowers people to serve God by advancing justice and peace. The German Protestant Church was “hidden” during the Nazi regime when the “underground church”, personified by Dietrich Bonheoffer’s ministry, was active.  The American Protestant church’s role in the “underground railroad” was examined.  Visits to the “Underground Railroad House” of Manchester, the African American Meeting House of Beacon Hill Boston, Holmes’ Alley,  and a ride on a schooner (the ship that carried slaves to Manchester) provided the background. The Witch Hysterias of Germany and America were compared and contrasted to see “how hysteria is a reaction to communities that frighten us”. The German youth served 2 “unseen” populations, one in Gloucester, MA and one in Orland, ME, both underserved by our government, that are special missions of the Christian church.

All youth exchanges are really Christian Pilgrimages, a chance to venture into an unknown experience to capture a sacred reality to transform and inform your life.  The combined experiences and gifts of Klaus & Birgitt Johanning made this pilgrimage a success. The German American International Exchange is the collaboration of Denominations, Associations of Churches, and local Congregations.  It is a wonderful experience that, when successful, people celebrate (and would repeat), “in a heart beat!”

Thank you to everyone who made this unique experience a reality.