–By Deaconess Elizabeth Ahlman
On January 15, 2017, Rev. Joseph Asher was installed as the pastor for Kaiserslautern Evangelical Lutheran Church (KELC), the English language congregation in Kaiserslautern, Germany. The installation was officiated by Rev. Scott Morrison on behalf of Regional Director, Rev. James Krikava. After serving in Central Asia for a time, Asher and his wife, Deaconess Dr. Jennie Asher, have relocated to this town in Western Germany, surrounded by American military bases and civilian personnel. They will both be serving in important ways in their new home.
KELC was founded in order to serve American military personnel, as well as non-military governmental employees and civilian workers. Rev. Scott Morrison began the early service on the site of the German congregation he was serving. Morrison is a native of Texas, but has served as a pastor in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod’s German sister church, The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) for many years. Rev. Morrison recently took a new Call to Stuttgart. At the same time, the Ashers were transitioning out of their former location, and Rev. Asher was therefore able to step right into serving the English speaking community there. Both the LCMS and the SELK agreed that this was a wonderful way to fill the need.
The area is home to many different US bases of both the Army and the Air Force. The American presence has been there since Ramstein Air Force Base was made the headquarters of the United States Air Force (USAF) in Europe in 1952. Other bases in the surrounding area include: USAG Baumholder Army base in Baumholder, Germany; Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany; and Sembach Kaserne Army Post. The area of Kaiserslautern has 11 schools which are a part of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA). Ramstein has four such schools.
The large American presence means that there is a great need for English language worship and spiritual care. There are often no LCMS chaplains at these bases, and currently only one is serving in Europe. This fact was key in deciding where the Ashers should serve. While members of the LCMS could also worship at SELK congregations, that service would be in German, and as Rev. Asher notes, this is difficult for the service men and women because “While many Americans will try to embrace the host culture and language, the tours of duty of most military and civilian personnel is one to three years.” This makes it difficult to learn the language fluently enough to worship in German.
The unfamiliar culture can be a challenge, too. Congregational member JT Todd describes the Ashers as “an answer to prayer.” He goes on, “Their arrival has been the sweetest of God’s gifts to our congregation. In a country where so much can seem unfamiliar and remote, Pastor Asher’s sermons ring with the sound of comfort and home. Jennie’s joy and warm smile never fails to keep people coming back, knowing that someone cares for you and is looking forward to the next time we all gather together.”
Karleen Hester, a military spouse and mother of four, echoes the need and solace that KELC is for military families:
Having the Ashers here is truly a huge blessing to the military community. Being able to attend the Divine Service and receive the Word and Sacraments in your native language is something many people take for granted. We attended a non-English-speaking Lutheran church at our previous duty station, and while we loved that congregation, it has a much bigger impact to be able to hear and understand everything every week, especially for our children as they learn and grow in their faith. Our family is so grateful to be somewhere again that has an English-speaking congregation and Pastor that share the same confession of faith.
Previously, the congregation averaged about 35 attendees each Sunday. At the Sunday following Rev. Asher’s installation, there was a record 53 in attendance. Congregational members had to fetch chairs from other rooms to add more seating for the service. Since the installation, the average attendance has been 54 people. Asher adds, “Our Sunday School attendance is very good, with many young families. But the nature of this location is that our people rotate in and out due to military orders and assignments. And with TDYs (temporary duty assignments) one never knows who will be in church on any given Sunday.”
The congregation does have a church council, and they deliberate concerning activities that will take place at the church. However, both of the Ashers are teachers by trade, and they hope to be able to offer Bible studies to the men and women of the community. Upon his installation, Rev. Asher began teaching an adult class on Divine Service 1 in The Lutheran Service Book (LSB), which averages about 20 people. Attendees were interested in understanding the Scriptural basis for worship, as well as the “why” of what takes place in the Divine Service. Deaconess Jennie would like to be able to start a women’s Bible study on topics of interest.
Other Bible study topics are in the works, but a special 500th Anniversary of the Reformation request was made by the congregants themselves: they would like to do a study on Luther’s Small Catechism next. The activities and ideas are appreciated by the members. Karleen noted that, “The addition of the Ashers is very exciting because they are dedicated to the military and English-speaking community here, and they are already implementing wonderful new ideas and programs. God certainly had a plan and I’m excited to see where it all leads for [KELC].”
Aside from teaching, Pastor Asher and Deaconess Jennie will offer themselves also as listening ears, and for Pastor Asher, as a resource for Private Confession and Absolution. He notes that service personnel can often struggle with loneliness, alcohol dependency, and family and marriage issues, as well as other challenges. He would like to help with those needs as they arise, as well.
Additionally, Asher will spend about half his time serving on the military bases, dependent upon the needs of the bases and the requests he receives from chaplains and commanding officers. Asher’s background in prison ministry with the Indiana Department of Corrections will also be an asset in serving the military prison at Sembach. Please pray that the Lord will open doors to the bases so that Pastor Asher may serve the airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines who live there.
Besides working with the congregation’s Sunday School and women’s Bible classes, hosting opportunities for fellowship and meetings, as well as teaching a children’s music class, Deaconess Jennie has many other responsibilities. She will coordinate all Globally Engaged in Outreach missionaries who are coming to Germany to work with migrants and refugees. This will include weighing in on the selection process, working with the SELK congregations involved in this area to utilize the skills the GEOs bring to the table, helping the GEOs in their transition, and then supporting them and the congregations where they are working as they serve. She also facilitates the online Missionary Formation Class for each region of the LCMS’ mission work.
Please pray for the Ashers and those they serve on the bases in Germany as they undertake the new tasks before them.
- Learn more about and consider supporting the Ashers.
- Pray for continued open doors to the bases so that Pastor Asher can better serve even more members of the military.
- Pray for Deaconess Dr. Jennie’s work with new GEOs, especially that the Lord would raise up workers for the envisioned mercy and witness work with refugees.
- Do you have a loved one on a base in Western Germany who is in need of spiritual care? Tell them about Pastor Asher and KELC!