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Author’s note: this is the third in a series of reflections written as letters to my mom, but you can insert your name here, too. I hope to highlight some of the events and insights I have had since moving to Germany in 2014.

Dear Mom,

Well, after months of prayer and conversations with our local Reformed Church, we launched an English language congregation on Pentecost Sunday!

In the initial months after moving to Hannover we were having difficulty finding a worshipping community that we felt comfortable in as a family. We take a large portion of that responsibility on our shoulders because we moved to a new country so quickly — we didn’t take time to learn our new host language before moving.

But what we found out, in moving into the international and expatriate community, meeting families at the international school, is that there were so many people in the same situation — families who move every 2-3 years, and most often into situations or places where they will not learn the native language to the level of expert. We have met families who are being transferred to China, to Arabic countries, to Thailand, even families moving to Germany for one year!

What experts have known for centuries we are experiencing first hand: people desire to worship in their heart language. So, with the desire to worship with other English language speakers and with the needs of the international community of Hannover, we launched RELISH — the Reformed English Language International Service Hannover!

I believe our name sums up part of our process. We accidentally fell into our name based on an early email sent to our team giving a subject line what the meeting was about. We all decided with some joy and laughter that it was a perfect name for a church plant. And that is how our community has taken shape — with joy and laughter and accidentally stumbling on things as they come along.

We are still very young in our community and still trying to figure out what God intends for us. We meet once a month. We don’t have any traditional “churchy” type programs. No Sunday school or choir. We just launched a young adult Bible study this spring. I keep waiting for things to fall apart or fizzle out, but people keep showing up! At Christmas this year we had 90 people come for worship.

There are challenges to worship in the expatriate community. People and families are constantly moving so our community takes on a different shape and feel as participants come and go. But my prayer is that kids will always feel welcome and will come to know Jesus who will never leave them or forsake them no matter where they are in the world. My prayer is that parents and adults will feel a sense of home when they come to worship, will feel a sense of safety, a place to breathe when life far from home can be stressful.

And oh what a gift it has been for me! We are a beautiful tapestry, a foretaste of heaven. We have people from Syria, India, Great Britain, Germany, South Korea, African nations, and people from the Americas worshipping together on a regular basis. We also come from a variety of backgrounds which strengthens our understanding of one another. I had a very helpful conversation with some of our Catholic members before we had communion for the first time. I actually think it made us better friends in the end. We have Orthodox and all types of Protestants. One thing that unites us is Jesus (and the English language!).

So please pray for me, for us as we discern what God has in store for our community. May RELISH be a blessing in the kingdom of God.

More soon!
I love you,

Gretchen Schoon Tanis

Gretchen Schoon Tanis moved to Hannover, Germany with her husband Phil Tanis (Executive Secretary of Communication for the World Communion of Reformed Churches) and kids Jon and M.E. in the summer of 2014. She is a minister in the Reformed Church in America, with a Ph.D. from Kings College in London, England. Currently she is practicing the arts of a Hausfrau, pastoring an English language congregation, periodically teaching youth ministry, and splitting her attention between her favorite football (soccer) clubs Arsenal (of London) and Hannover 96 (who have been demoted to the second division this season so things are not looking very promising!) 

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