A letter from Karen Moritz in the Czech Republic
A Celebration of Partnership
I finally made my first real trip to Germany in June, not just to an airport in Munich or Frankfurt but a real trip to Dresden. Several of us from the Central Church Office of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (ECCB) and other Czechs made a trip to Dresden, Germany, to attend the 33rd German Protestant Kirchentag. This year part of the Kirchentag was also an activity that is known as “the Christian meeting days,” which are held every three years by the Central European Protestant churches. This year it was a meeting center for Christians from Central and Eastern Europe. Two other churches from the Czech Republic, in addition to the ECCB, were represented: the Czechoslovak Hussite Church and the Silesian Evangelical Church of Augsburg Confession. The Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic took a leadership role by coordinating travel and events for the various Czech participants. It also presented its project of community partnerships at the Market of Opportunities. They had a stall called "The Legacy of the Bohemian Reformation." This project provided information about Protestant history with tourism information and the “Kurseelsorge” in the West Bohemia Bath triangle.
The small city of Dresden has about 300,000 people—until Kirchentag with another 100,000 people descended on the city for several days of events. The event began on Wednesday, June 1, and concluded with a huge outdoor worship service on Sunday, June 5. Events were held throughout the city, which included worship, workshops, and panel discussions. There was a huge exhibition area that included booths about every conceivable topic related to faith and religion. Several people from the Czech Republic came to join those from Germany and other countries from around the world. The ECCB hosted several events and had several informational booths. One booth dealt with the issue of church twinning or partnerships. People were invited to indicate the countries with which their congregations have partnerships. A large wall map was covered by lines marking partnerships across Europe and around the world.
Another interesting component of the Dresden Kirchentag was that this was a meeting place for Central and Eastern European churches, and topics from those churches were covered. There was a panel on the relationship between church and state, in which the moderator of the ECCB, Joel Ruml, participated. Two other topics on church partnerships were also part of the events. Rev. Ester Čašková from the ECCB community in Prague-Vinohrady preached at the international worship service "Versöhnung wagen—Herzen bewegen" at the Dresden Old Marketplace which is in the center of the city. A number of artists from the ECCB also participated: the musician Tomáš Najbrt performed more than once, the YMCA choir Jakoubek from Jindřichův Hradec presented a sacred music concert, and the brass choir Consonare played at the Kirchentag. Other performances included the Moravian Roma dance group Jilestar from Vsetín, the mime duo Vaclav Dostal (Olomouc), and Jana Ungerová (Brno) with a performance of "Time in the afternoon it rained.”
On Friday evening, June 3, many groups gathered in various places to worship. There was a German-Czech community worship service in the Dresden Johannes church with a special Czech evening. The long-standing community partnership between the Salvator congregation in the Old Town of Prague and the Dresden Johannes congregation has old roots: there were people who were persecuted for their Protestant faith in Bohemia in the 17th century who asked for asylum in Dresden. Members of both partner congregations planned and led worship together. We worshipped in the bombed ruins of the original sanctuary. The service was done in German and Czech and was a moving testimony to the healing and reconciliation that has been at the heart of this partnership. Following worship Czech food and refreshments, including good Czech beer of course, were shared with the participants.
As a first-time attendee I found it all a bit overwhelming. We had a map of the city, which I used until it fell apart, which guided us to the many events throughout the city. I was awed by the enthusiasm and participation of Christians who had come from all over Germany, Europe, and further afield. It was an incredible testimony to the vibrant faith of many Europeans. So often we are led to believe that Europe is a religious wasteland, that the churches are empty. The Czech Republic is often referred to as the “most atheistic nation in Europe.” Anyone who was able to attend Kirchentag saw another picture. Clergy and laity from churches all over the Czech Republic participated and the Germans were incredibly hospitable. Undine, a young woman studying to be a doctor, was the host for four of us from the Czech Republic. Jana is the pastor of our congregation in Olomouc, which has a partnership with Covenant Presbyterian Church in Athens, Ga. We were joined by Ivana and Nadya, who are laywomen from the congregation in Pečky. Not only did I try to learn a little German, I got to practice my Czech.
I also took a small side trip to the village of Moritzburg. No, I am not making this up—there really is a town outside Dresden that bears my last name. Its claim to fame is a mansion called Schloss Moritzburg, which was built in the 1600s. At one time the owner had one of the largest porcelain collections in Europe. It was a great chance to see some of the countryside and get away from the hustle and bustle of Dresden.
The Kirchentag ended Sunday, June 5, with a huge outdoor worship service. It was so big that we spanned both sides of the river. Jana and I went together and we were so far away that we couldn’t even see the service. It was so well coordinated that everyone was able to participate in the Lord’s Supper. It was an amazing and moving close to the event. Tired, but excited by the experience, we all headed back to our respective homes in the Czech Republic. The 34th Protestant Kirchentag will be in Hamburg, Germany, May 1–5, 2013. You can start making your plans to attend—just be sure to brush up on your German!
I invite you to continue to pray for:
- The ECCB and our partnerships with churches throughout Europe and the United States.
- The continued witness of the entire Church throughout Europe and the world.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 200