Jesus gathers us across oceans around a common table
October 7, 2021
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) supports Christian witness in the Czech Republic through a long and active partnership with the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (ECCB), which strengthened after the fall of communism in 1989. Old friendships were renewed, and new friendships were built.
Today, ECCB has more than 70,000 members and 250 congregations in the country and is the largest Protestant denomination in a very secular society. The church’s Diakonia operates 150 Diaconal Centers that offer extensive and much-needed social services for the underserved.
The PC(USA) works alongside ECCB partners to support outreach to the Roma population, which are believed to be more than 250,000 in the Czech Republic. Church members share the lessons of faith they learned from persevering through four decades of communism.
“For the ECCB this partnership is a concrete dimension of being part of the global fellowship of Christians,” said Gerhard Frey-Reininghaus on behalf of the Synodal Council. “We are with the PC(USA) together, a part of the Body of Christ in this world through God’s spirit of love and peace. In this fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ, we can experience in a special way God’s love in sharing our lives, our concerns, our hopes and troubles. We share our faith through in praying for each other, in worshiping together and listening together to God´s Word and Christ´s call to be his followers in this world.”
The PC(USA) and the ECCB have strong links through a partnership network of congregations, which has developed over the past 30 years. A partnership working group coordinates the network’s activities.
Partnership conferences have occurred four times since 2008 in both the U.S. and the Czech Republic. The next conference is planned for July 2023 in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Since June 2020 both partnership groups have been meeting regularly online, sharing questions about worship and education, Christian life, and witness and the mission of the church.
The next gathering between the ECCB and PC(USA) is July 9–13, 2023. The theme is “Being together on the way.”
“For the PC(USA), the partnership with the ECCB means learning from and with one another, sharing, worshiping, enjoying and caring for one another,” said Betty McGinnis, one of the founding members of the mission network. “Listening and dialoguing are the essence of the partnership.”
In 1989, McGinnis and Bob Lodwick, PC(USA) liaison, discussed possible groups going to the former Czechoslovakia to build relationships. A group followed from the Presbytery of Baltimore which built relationships working in the Diakonie of ECCB. Another group followed from the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic, strengthening the relationship under the leadership of McGinnis and ECCB coordinator Jan Slama.
The links between the American Presbyterians and Czech Protestant churches go back to the 1800s, with pastors of Czech origin serving in Czech congregations in the U.S. Some returned home bringing new inspiration, while others kept the Czech heritage in the U.S. alive.
Through the years, ECCB representatives have attended General Assembly, Presbyterian Women gatherings and Presbyterian Youth Triennium. After Triennium, some were also invited to experience life in the U.S. as guests of presbyteries.
Ondrej Stehlik was selected from the Czech Republic for the “Mission to the USA” project, a yearlong staff residency at the Office of the General Assembly in the Louisville office. The Synod of the Mid-Atlantic and the Presbytery of Baltimore, Sewickley Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, Maryland, and numerous others have sent groups to learn from and study with the ECCB.
Since the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, strong ties have grown between theological institutions in the two countries. Professors and students of the Protestant Theological Faculty (PTF) at Charles University have studied at the theological seminaries in the U.S., including the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. A close relationship has developed with Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS) in Decatur, Georgia.
CTS has a long-established relationship with the theological faculty of Charles University in Prague. Each institution regularly exchanges international students. Columbia sends students to the Czech Republic as part of a required MDiv course, and faculty from the two institutions have often worked together on projects.
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Gathering around a common table
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Andrej Ajanovic, Staff Attorney, Legal Services, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Denise Anderson, Acting Director, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Dear God, help us to dream big and not limit ourselves when reaching out to others. Remind us that nothing is impossible in you. Guide our hearts and minds to be more open to those in need of mercy, compassion and love. Amen.