A letter from Karen Moritz in the Czech Republic
October is often a time of thanksgiving in our Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB) churches. Each congregation sets the date for this observance but many of them do this in October. The congregation in Sloupnice, a small town in an agriculture part of the country, chose Sunday, October 9, to give thanks. Rev. Petr Peňáz is the pastor there and has served this congregation for several years. Having been born in this part of the country, he loves serving a church in this rural setting. He and his family warmly welcomed me and provided generous hospitality during my weekend stay. I got to practice my Czech, but I was also fortunate because Petr and his wife Jana speak English quite well. Petr spent time at Dubuque Theological Seminary and graduated from that institution. His wife, Jana, teaches English and German in their local school. They are also used to having guests from the United States because they have a strong partnership with First Presbyterian Church in Morehead City, North Carolina. Several people from both churches have traveled between the U.S. and the Czech Republic. Everyone was very gracious, particularly regarding my efforts to speak Czech. I was able to bring a short greeting from the ECCB and the PC(USA) in Czech, but I had to write it out ahead of time.
Thanksgiving Sunday also marked the end of worship in their church building for this year. Unlike our churches in the U.S., the churches here are not heated. So, many of the congregations also have Prayer Rooms, often located in the church house, which also includes the apartment for the pastor. Like the sanctuary of the church, the Prayer Room is also quite simple. It has a simple table at the front, which often has a small lectern on it. The table is both Communion table and pulpit and generally is covered by a simple cloth and sometimes adorned with a simple arrangement of flowers. Wooden chairs are set up for the congregation. This room is smaller and will be easier to heat in the cold winter months.
The congregation in Sloupnice had a lot to celebrate on Thanksgiving Sunday. In addition to giving thanks for the harvest they confirmed two young people. Jakub Sokol, 16 years old, and Tereza Karlíková, 14 years old, became the newest members of this congregation. Like our youth in the U.S. they prepared with the pastor and affirmed their faith before the congregation. They and the congregation replied to questions about their faith and their commitment to God and the church. The confirmands received gift Bibles from the congregation and gave the pastor a thank-you gift and flowers for all of his help and support. At the close of the confirmation service Pastor Peňáz read a Scripture passage chosen for each confirmand and had them kneel for a blessing. It was a joyous and moving part of the service for everyone, certainly a reason to give thanks and celebrate.
The congregation in Sloupnice was hit hard during the time of communism. Although it is a sleepy village made up of farms and seems inconsequential, this community felt the effects of communism. During communism collective farms were created, often from existing family farms. If a farmer wanted to continue farming his or her own land they were regarded as an enemy of the state because they were not thinking of the collective good. Those branded as enemies of the state were often imprisoned and, at the very least, had their farms taken from them. As one who has spent a good portion of my life in the farm country of the Midwest, as a daughter of a man who grew up on a family farm in Nebraska, and having friends and parishioners who are farmers, this information touched me deeply. I have spent a lot of my life around farmers and cannot imagine them as “enemies” to anyone. Sadly, even after 21 years since the fall of communism this legacy is still part of the often hidden fabric of life in this community. Although a lot of property was returned to farmers and their families, it was often in bad shape, having been neglected sometimes for decades. People and families still carry these memories in their minds and hearts. The church in these communities is a central witness to healing and reconciliation. The path is still sometimes difficult, but when the congregation is served by a sensitive and caring pastor and led by an insightful session the path is made a little smoother.
Although this congregation faces some unique challenges, it also has to deal with many of the same issues that face our churches in the U.S. How is the congregation able to be a welcoming and open community to everyone? How does the church provide programs that are meaningful to people of all ages? How does the church involve people in the life of the faith community? How does the church provide a meaningful witness to the surrounding community? How do we embody the gospel of Jesus Christ? The congregation in Sloupnice faces these and other issues through the leadership of a strong and caring pastor and through the leadership of its committed session. My stay in Sloupnice was brief but it was very touching. I look forward to visiting them again, perhaps when the weather is a little nicer and less rainy.
I invite you to pray for:
- The congregation of Sloupnice and for their partner church, First Presbyterian Church in Morehead City, North Carolina
- The ECCB and its continued witness and service in the Czech Republic
- The partnership between the ECCB and the PC(USA)
- For all those who continue to struggle with the legacy of communism and who struggle to move forward in a spirit of love and reconciliation
With hearty greetings,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 200
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 279