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Ministry in Europe continues despite pandemic challenges

Almost a year after arriving in Germany to serve WELS military members and civilians living in Europe, John and Helen Hartwig still haven’t experienced what that ministry “normally” looks like. Pandemic restrictions have made monthly in-person worship with WELS members in London impossible and forced biannual retreats to be canceled. Travel is difficult and congregational singing has been banned.

Yet ministry continues and the Word of God is spread. “It’s been a really neat way to serve,” says John Hartwig, WELS European civilian chaplain. “They’ve been very welcoming to us and make us feel like we’ve been on their team forever.”

After serving 25 years at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Hartwig accepted this call to serve in Europe early in 2020, finally arriving in Spiesheim in late June 2020. He ministers to WELS military members on large bases in Germany as well as serves civilians in Germany, England, and scattered throughout Europe.

Ministry in Europe photos
Clockwise: The congregation at Ramstein Air Base on Palm Sunday. About 35 people meet for worship twice a month on the base. Mark and Tana Waldschmidt, daughter Brooklyn, and baby Ezekiel. Hartwig baptized Brooklyn and Ezekiel at Ramstein Air Base. John and Helen Hartwig in Basel, Switzerland.

While Hartwig has not been able to make monthly trips to London to hold worship for the 45 members there, he still has been able to continue
bimonthly services at Ramstein, a large military base in Germany, and at Wicker, Germany. Once a month, he spends a long weekend traveling to three locations: Munich, Germany, to serve three civilians living there; Rose Barracks, an army base in Vilseck, Germany; and Zurich, Switzerland, where worship is held in someone’s home.

Technology has also helped Hartwig’s ministry, making it possible for him to meet monthly via Zoom with WELS members in London. He also encourages WELS members in Europe to maintain a connection to their congregations back in the United States, something that is now easier because many congregations are streaming weekly worship services.

Yet the opportunities to meet together in person are important to all the groups. The Lord’s Supper is offered at each service, and Hartwig has been able to conduct baptisms and perform weddings, important milestones for every church family. And even though services are simplified due to restrictions, members appreciate the confessional Christian worship.

Ministry sidebar“Fellowship is a big thing here,” says Hartwig. “Everyone is glad to meet with each other, and they talk for a long time once the service is over.”

He continues, “The church family becomes family for a lot of these people.”

Hartwig says he hopes to be able to travel to London in July to finally meet the members he has been serving remotely. And the Hartwigs are starting to make plans for the next retreat, which, God willing, will take place Reformation weekend.

Learn more about the WELS civilian chaplaincy at

Volume 108, Number 5
Issue: May 2021

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