Pulpit Swap in Celina, Ohio

Two Catholic parishes and the Lutheran Church in Mercer County, Ohio, mark the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation by reaching out to each other.

Nearly 500 years ago there was a seismic shift in Christianity as Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, brought forth his objections to some of the practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church. That launched the Reformation and, ultimately, the birth of Protestantism. Today, there are an estimated 800 million Protestants worldwide, and 1.2 billion Catholics.

That division began in 1517, and 499 years later, the pastors of two churches just a few blocks away from each other in Celina, Ohio, attempted to help their congregations understand how the churches are alike, and how they are different.

The Rev. Dr. Jeffery Gramza (on far right), senior pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Celina, and Fr. Ken Schnipke, C.PP.S., pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Celina and St. Teresa Church in Rockford, preached in each other’s churches on October 29 and 30, in an event they called the Pastor Pulpit Swap.

“We’re taking part in the kickoff of the 500th anniversary of the reformation,” Rev. Gramza said. “There will be a lot happening globally between Lutherans and Catholics over the next 12 months.” Pope Francis traveled to Sweden, a predominantly Lutheran Country, on October 31, to meet with Lutheran church leaders there.

The two Ohio pastors are hoping to increase understanding among their congregations, which sometimes over the years has been badly needed. “Years ago, there were Catholics who were taught to hate Protestants. There were certainly Protestants who were raised to hate Catholics,” Rev. Gramza said. “We’ve come far enough that we hope that’s not the case anymore. But many people in our pews still remember those days. To them, our efforts may come as kind of a shock: can we do that?”

Members of the congregations will exchange ideas during three discussion sessions in November that will be held at the churches. All are invited to participate

During the pulpit swap, both pastors said they felt welcomed by each other’s flock.

“People were very gracious and hospitable to me,” said Fr. Ken Schnipke, C.PP.S., the pastor of IC and St. Teresa, who preached at three services at St. John on Sunday morning. “One lady told me, ‘My mom waited a long time for this, and never got to see it.’”

Meanwhile, his counterpart, the Rev. Dr. Jeffery Gramza, pastor of St. John, preached at a total of six Masses at St. Teresa and IC on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. “I felt very, very welcome at both parishes,” he said. “It seemed that people were anxious to hear what this Lutheran pastor had to say.”

The two local pastors are trying to foster a family feeling among their congregations. At St. John, Fr. Schnipke delivered pictures and messages from students at Immaculate Conception School, including one that read, “We are all God’s family.”

“My hunch is that when God looks at all of us, Lutherans and Catholics, parishioners of St. John’s or IC and St. Teresa, that God does not see the externals as much as the internal workings of the heart,” Fr. Schnipke said in his homily.

At IC and St. Teresa, Rev. Gramza preached about the gift that Jesus Christ offers to all Christians. “Jesus came into the world to offer us the most precious gift: life, love, resurrection, salvation. The question is, will we receive the precious gift that Jesus offers?”

The pastors, who have been planning their pulpit-swap Sunday for months, acknowledged that though it went very well, it was tinged with sadness as they could not partake of communion at each other’s churches because of doctrinal differences that persist between Lutherans and Catholics. They had talked about it ahead of time and agreed that it would be best if, while they participated in the liturgies in other ways, they not take communion.

“One thing that struck me was that though I was present for six Masses, I did not receive the Eucharist,” Rev. Gramza said. “That was hard. It was painful. And it made me think of all the people who struggle with this.”

(View videos of St. John’s October 30 services below. Videos are from St. John's Facebook Page. If they do not display below, visit: St. John's Facebook page. Additional resources on the issue of Catholic-Lutheran relations are available on IC’s website,

10:45 Traditional Worship Service at St. John


9:15 Contemporary Worship St. John