A letter from Karen Moritz in the Czech Republic
The end of March marked my first trip out of the Czech Republic since my arrival last September. I had an opportunity to attend a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, sponsored by the PC(USA). Since the conference didn’t begin until Monday I decided to take the weekend to see more of the country. I began my trip on Friday, March 18, by flying to Zurich. Although the weather was cloudy and rainy, much like Prague when I left, I still found Zurich to be a lovely city. Like Prague, Zurich sits on a river that winds its way through the downtown area. Although my stay there was brief I was able to see Grossmünster Church, where the Reformer Ulrich Zwingli preached. I also saw Fraumünster, which is famous for its Chagall windows. Around noon on the 19th I left Zurich by train to my next destination, St. Moritz. A trip to Switzerland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to my namesake. In late March there was still a lot of snow and the ski village of St. Moritz looked like something out of a postcard. I even got to practice my Czech — one of the hotel clerks was from the Czech Republic. It’s a small world sometimes. Sunday, March 20, I took the famous Glacier Express train from St. Moritz through the Alps to Zermatt. It was an enchanted ride as we made our way through the snowy, and sunny, Alps. I got to the ski resort of Zermatt about 5 in the afternoon and then took local trains to Geneva.
Our conference, entitled “Unity and Reformed Heritage,” began on Monday the 21st with lunch. There were 16 of us from all over the United States. The Rev. Carlos Malavé, associate for ecumenical relations from the Office of the General Assembly, led our group as we learned about our Reformed heritage and our ecumenical work. We spent a lot of the week at the Ecumenical Center, which is the location of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and many other ecumenical agencies. We were able to begin each day with Morning Prayer led by staff from the Ecumenical Center. In addition to meeting leaders from various organizations we also visited various sites around the city.
We got a tour of Geneva our first day, which included a visit to St. Pierre, where John Calvin preached. The day ended at the famous Reformation Wall, which was built to commemorate the important role of the Reformers in shaping the city of Geneva. On Tuesday we toured the Museum of the Reformation, which is packed with all kinds of items recounting the history of the Reformation. On Wednesday we met with staff from the Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation program, whose guiding thought is “To attain fullness of life for all through justice and service.”
Thursday morning the group had a unique opportunity: we visited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office. We saw a powerful film about the creation of this part of the United Nations, with descriptions of its work. The staff working with the situation in Libya met with us and gave a brief presentation about the work being done in North Africa. It was staggering to learn how many people are considered refugees all around the world. Sadly, the need for this agency seems only to grow and never to lessen.
Upon our return to the Ecumenical Center that afternoon we met with staff from the World Council of Churches. We were reminded that the “WCC is a fellowship of churches that nurtures unity, not an office in Geneva.” We had the privilege of meeting with many of the staff from the various agencies, who graciously gave their time to talk with us. We had a rare privilege in that the general secretary of the WCC, the Rev. Dr. Olav Fyske Tveit, was in Geneva and willing to talk with us about his work. That afternoon we also met with staff from ACT Alliance, which is an umbrella agency that works directly with disaster and development issues and works with various church organizations and NGOs, including PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance). Later we met with Rima Barsoum, who works with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation. We learned about various projects developed to increase interreligious dialogue and understanding. We concluded that afternoon with the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi, the general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.
Friday morning after Morning Prayer at the Ecumenical Center we had a presentation from the Faith and Order department of the WCC, which was given by the Rev. Dr. John Gibaut and Dr. Tamara Grdzelidze. This department is one of the oldest parts of the original WCC. It deals specifically with issues of unity; the goal is to promote diversity, not division. One of the issues that continues to be a challenge is that of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. The various members of the WCC continue to work together toward unity while embracing the diversity of its various members. Following this presentation we went to the United Nations for a tour, followed by lunch at the headquarters of the International Red Cross. After lunch we returned to the Ecumenical Center, where we had a presentation from Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth. At the close of the day we met with staff from the World Student Christian Federation, including Christine Housel, the general secretary, from the United States, and others. They talked about the dissolution of the group in the United States a number of years ago and the current efforts to rebuild it there again. Our formal time at the Ecumenical Center ended with their presentation.
On Saturday we took a trip to Gruyeres, a small village outside Geneva known for its cheese-making (of course we got samples). Then we went through the chateaux there, followed by a traditional Swiss lunch of fondue and wine. Sunday was a free day. I chose to worship at the Auditory, which is the church in which Calvin taught and preached. Currently it is a Church of Scotland congregation and the Rev. Ian Manson is the pastor. In addition to pastoring this church he wrote a very readable book, which I highly recommend, about Calvin and the Reformation — Calvin in Context: The Story of a Man and His Times. After a free afternoon we all returned to the John Knox Center, where we had been staying, for our closing dinner.
It was a great trip full of learning, fun and recreation. Although I have been a Presbyterian for almost 30 years and an ordained minister for 24, I came away with a new appreciation of my Reformed heritage. It will also help me in my work here with the Ecumenical Department of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (ECCB). I am grateful to everyone who planned, led and made the trip possible. Yes, Switzerland is as beautiful as one imagines.
I invite you to be in prayer for:
- Those who serve the church in its ecumenical work, including those with the WCC, the WCRC, and all other groups that foster unity amidst diversity
- Those who work in the Ecumenical Departments of the ECCB and the PC(USA)
- For all people of faith particularly in these troubled times
With heartfelt greetings,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 200