A letter from Karen Moritz in the Czech Republic
Visit to Letohrad
During the weekend of March 3 and 4 I visited our ECCB (Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren) congregation in Letohrad. I was eager to visit this congregation and learn more about them since they have had a long-term partnership with First Church in Annapolis, Md. I had met many of the Annapolis church members shortly after my arrival in the Czech Republic when they were visiting their partner congregation. I had also met a few people from Letohrad when I was invited to join all of them as they travelled to Karlovy Vary on the west end of the Czech Republic. At least during this current visit I was able to speak more Czech than I could during our first encounter a year and a half ago.
The name Letohrad may seem unusual and it has taken me some time to get used to the spelling. Once I realized that the name is made up of two Czech words, leto which means summer and hrad which means castle, I have been able to remember its spelling. I don’t think there is a castle nearby, but I feel like royalty when I visit “the Summer Castle.”
Fortunately the weather had warmed up a bit and I enjoyed my excursion away from Prague. Jiřina Kačenová is the pastor there and she and her family warmly welcomed me. Like many of our ECCB churches, the congregation has a building that includes the sanctuary for worship, meeting rooms, a fellowship area where we had lunch on Sunday following worship, an apartment for the pastor and their family, and guest apartments. After my arrival on Saturday late in the afternoon—it’s about a three-hour trip from Prague by train—Jiřina and I took a walk around the town. She took me to a park with a scenic view of the town. Of course we also saw the town square with its Plague Column, which was erected following the plague to give thanks for those who had survived (many Czech towns have a similar column). Following our excursion Jiřina, her family and I shared dinner. Jiřina and her husband, Radek, have three children who are young adults. Following dinner I met with the youth group, which included two of Jiřína’s children and a few other young people who are preparing for confirmation. At the close of the evening Jiřina, Radek and I shared some casual time. Since Jiřina and Radek do not speak much English I got a lot of practice with my Czech. Jiřina was particularly patient with me and spoke clearly and slowly, which I greatly appreciated.
On Sunday we gathered for worship. The congregation patiently listened to my second sermon in Czech. In some ways Jiřina has introduced some elements into worship that are more common in the U.S. One practice is to have communion monthly, usually the first Sunday of the month. She invited me to help with the distribution of the elements. The sanctuary and church house are relatively new. One wall of the sanctuary is windows and looks out onto a small patio, so the worship area is bright. As is the custom in our ECCB congregations, those gathered for worship made a large circle around the sanctuary for communion. As they wait to receive communion they sing. It was a very moving experience for me to move around the circle and distribute the bread.
Following worship we gathered for an informal time of conversation. We had conversation in Czech and English. Many of the members talked excitedly about their partnership with the church in Annapolis. Many of them had visited the U.S. and spent time in Annapolis. They were also excited about those who had travelled to Letohrad to be with them. I was particularly touched by Marcella’s story. She talked about how grateful she was to the members of the church in Annapolis who had walked with her through the recent death of her husband. She shared that many people in Annapolis had written to her and shared their own stories, which often included their loss of a spouse. Even though they were separated by many miles she felt cared for and loved. Many others also spoke of the strong relationships that had developed over the years. After this informal conversation more people joined us for a shared lunch.
Following lunch Jiřina and Radek took me on a small tour of the area. We began our trip by going to Kunvald. Kunvald is a house that has a small museum commemorating the Unity of Czech Brethren. The Unity of Czech Brethren, also known by its Latin name Unitas Fratrum, grew out of the Hussite reforms in the mid-15th century. Unlike the earlier Hussite warriors, this group emphasized following the Lamb of God. They developed a community of men and women who sought to live as the early Christian communities did. They were instrumental in producing the first Czech-language Bible, the Kralice Bible, which was prepared in the town by that name. They lived by the motto “In principal things unity, in doubtful things liberty, in all things love.” Perhaps they are best known for their last bishop Jan Amos Komenský, Comenius. He gained fame around the world as a theologian, philosopher, educator, and Christian pacifist.
Following our visit to Kunvald we rode around the area. We even made a brief excursion into Poland. Since we were in the Krkonoše mountains there was still snow on the ground. Many tourists come to the area to spend time in the mountains and many Czechs come to this area to spend time in their weekend/holiday homes called chatas (if they are small cabins) or chalupas (if they are bigger homes). Then we returned to the church house for a brief visit before I took the train back to Prague.
Another U.S. church custom Jiřina has imported into her congregation is the production of a pictorial directory of the congregation. As I have reflected on my trip to Letohrad I have been grateful for this adaptation. It was a great weekend and I enjoyed getting to know the congregation. I am grateful for their hospitality and generosity of spirit. They eagerly await their next encounter with their partner congregation, which will undoubtedly be soon.
I invite you to continue in prayer for:
- The congregations of Letohrad and First Church in Annapolis
- The many partnerships between ECCB and PC(USA) congregations and people
S přáním Božího požehnání,
With wishes for God’s blessings,
For more information about the ECCB and its history see the book The First Unified Church in the Heart of Europe: The Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren by Jiří Otter, printed in Prague in 1992 by the Synodal Council of the ECCB.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 279