While in Germany during World War II, a soldier made off with a beautiful set of communion linens that graced the altar of a church in southern Germany.
The church, like many in Germany, was reduced to rubble in the war and the linens assumed lost forever. The linens not only survived; they are returning home.
“It’s a wonderful story,” Jim Tonn said before his Friday flight to Germany. “Either the circumstances were just right or else God took a hand.”
Tonn attends St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Macon, which was given the linens recently when one of its members died. The soldier, whom the church did not identify, served in Germany in 1945.
One linen is a large piece of embroidered gold-colored finery that covers the altar. Other linens were smaller, embroidered with crosses and used to wipe the chalice during communion. All were well-preserved.
Tonn said he and others decided the linens should be returned to their origins, even though they only knew the church was supposedly in the town of Bruchsal.
Its home was narrowed to two demolished churches through the help of the American Embassy, a retired German army general, the mayor of Bruchsal and a task force of 58 churches.
The linens belonged to the Paulus Kirche, or St. Paul’s Church.
Today, Tonn will deliver the linens to the rebuilt Paulus Kirche, along with a written apology.
“Please accept the return of these items from your altar,” it states. “A young man of this church, far from his home, in the horror of war, saw in them a reminder of God’s love and grace.
“In the confusion of the time, he believed that they no longer belonged to a functioning church and took them with him when he returned to this country.”