A letter from Karen Moritz serving in the Czech Republic
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People lament that Europe has become godless and unbelieving. If one relies on statistics alone one would share in this lament. However, attendance at the 35th Kirchentag—the biennial gathering of the German Evangelical Church—could easily change your mind. Over 200,000 people from all over Germany, Europe, and all corners of the earth converged on Stuttgart for five days, June 3–7. Passion and enthusiasm filled the hot summer air. The theme this year came from Psalm 90:12: “Damit wir klug werden” (“That we may become wise”). In the life that God has given us, how do we become wise? How can we use that wisdom to serve others? The days were filled with Bible studies, worship, singing, presentations, workshops, excursions, concerts, and devotions. The event took place all around the city—in churches, arenas, municipal buildings, parks and public squares.
Kirchentag was a bit overwhelming at times. The program book was easily an inch thick and it was hard to decide where to go and what to do. Most of the events were in German, which gave me numerous opportunities to practice my German. Resources were also provided for guests who spoke languages other than German. One of the places that I found most interesting was the Market of Opportunities. The Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB), with whom I work, had a booth here, as did the Ecumenical Council of Churches of the Czech Republic. This gave us an excellent opportunity to share news from our church, the Diakonie, and the Protestant Theological Faculty. The main focus of our booths was the upcoming 600th anniversary of the martyrdom of Master Jan Hus, one of the first Reformers. Not only did I have the chance to encounter people at our booths, but I also could visit the world just by walking through a couple of tents. I visited with people from all over Germany, France, Egypt, Greece, Ukraine, Latvia, Russia, England, and the U.S. I spoke with people representing local congregations, ecumenical and interfaith projects, and civil service organizations. It was truly amazing to see such a profound witness to the work and ministry of Jesus Christ all over the world.
Kirchentag addressed all three critical global issues that are priorities for Presbyterian World Mission. The entire event brought to life the issue of evangelism. Not only was the event a witness to the town of Stuttgart, our gracious host, but all those attending from all over the world also bore witness that Christ’s church is alive and active throughout the world. It was incredibly uplifting for me and, I suspect, for everyone who attended. Reconciliation was also a central theme throughout. The joy of coming together as people of faith overshadowed the differences that often separate us. It was also touching to witness the ways in which people are striving to address the root causes of poverty and suffering in the world. Attendees responded to poverty and suffering by taking collections at the four major worship services. Collections were designated to support education in Lebanon and Jordan and to work with refugees in Syria, Spain and Germany.
Worship was an important component of the gathering. We began and ended with large outdoor worship services. One of the worship highlights was our German-Czech Evening on Friday. We began the evening with worship in a beautiful historic church in the Mülhausen neighborhood. Following worship, we gathered on the patio of the church house for a Czech meal including Prague ham, beer and Czech wine. Although Czech-German relations have at times been strained by troubling world events, the churches in both countries work hard to foster reconciliation and partnership. As we walked to the church, one woman shared that her ancestors had lived in what was then Czechoslovakia for many years. Following the Second World War the Czech government expelled some communities that had maintained their German roots and language. While many people still harbor resentments about this, she was not one of them. She felt connected to the Czechs and was eager to participate in the shared evening together.
Another area of reconciliation I explored was interfaith dialogue. Although the Czech Republic has small Muslim and Jewish communities, Germany, with large immigrant and Muslim communities, is dealing with interfaith issues on a larger scale. Several booths had material about various projects in this area.
One presentation was titled: “Oh Be Joyful All You Peoples, With God’s People.” It began with a presentation by Prof. Dr. Gerhard Marcel Martin, who is a theologian and biblical dramatist from Marburg. Recognizing that interfaith dialogue can be stressful, he urged the participants to engage in it with a sense of joy. Prof. Dr. Mark D. Nanos from Lawrence, Kansas, a specialist in Jewish Studies and New Testament, emphasized in his presentation that the Apostle Paul never stopped being a Jew. Nanos reminded us that to understand Paul we need to consider both his context and ours.
It was a great experience for me. My coworker and I were blessed to have a gracious host family who gave us wonderful accommodation, breakfast every morning, and wonderful conversations (they put up with my bad German). Although it was broiling hot in the tent, it was great to staff the table for the ECCB and have the chance to share with others the wonderful things the church is doing here.
Your generous financial support for my ministry and your prayers make it possible for me to share in the life of the Church in this way and I am so very grateful. Together we are able to participate in this incredible witness to God’s active presence and love in the world. I invite you to continue to contribute as you are able.
I invite your continued prayers and support for:
- The Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren and its ministry in the Czech Republic and its ongoing efforts towards reconciliation, particularly with its neighbor Germany.
- The leaders and participants in the Protestant Kirchentag. May all those who attended this year continue to be filled with love and joy. May the leaders preparing for the 2017 Kirchentag, to be held in Berlin and Lutherstadt Wittenberg, be guided in those preparations.
- All the recipients of aid; for those working toward peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, for those educating children and youth around the world, and for all refugees, particularly those from Syria, and for all those who strive to assist them.
As the motto for this Kirchentag reminds us: May we all truly become wise.
Mit freundlichen grußen,
With Warm Greetings,
Rev. Dr. Karen R Moritz
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 330
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