Pastor’s Letter

The Last Day of September 2014, in four movements and a postlude

At home:
To start with something delightful: Ursula has begun in these past weeks, since she started her third and final year of “skolka” (the year before a child enters first grade,) to play at home in Slovak. Esme is now a little sister in every way, able and most times eager to follow Ursula’s direction and take part in the imaginative worlds that Ursula creates (only occasionally breaking down because Ursula is “directing” her a little too much.) It is a joy to overhear my daughters becoming siblings (not to mention I can sit after a long day, glass of wine in hand, and talk to Jeremy as he makes dinner, for whole minutes uninterrupted). But it is fascinating to overhear this play take place in a language that – for the most part – neither Jeremy nor I understand. Ursula however, understands. Every day, she negotiates a Slovak language world with grace and energy. And now she seems bent on teaching her little sister.

Is this how parenting unrolls, down through the years? More and more, your children becoming part of worlds that are magically, frighteningly, outside of your own experience? Will I always register Ursula’s (not to mention Esme’s) journeys into worlds unknown with such delight?

In the Bratislava International Church:
It is now my third fall at the Bratislava International Church, and once again, a new assembly gathers on Sunday for worship. New families. Children that speak Russian and German and English. Brothers who come from three different parts of the globe. Single men and women: a lawyer, a student, a consultant, a former Young Adult in Global Mission in Hungary. Also, beloved, well-known faces.

Last week, we celebrated 20 years of worship life together in Maly Kostol. We sang, and the children led us in prayer for the world; and we shared in the Holy Communion. Then we gathered for an international potluck lunch, with dishes from around the world. We saw pictures, and heard the penned reflections of former pastors, members, and interns.

It was moving for me to hear the stories of those who have come before us. I know that 20 years is almost no time at all for many congregations. Yet, Bratislava International Church — which sees many people come and go so quickly yet still, they find a center here, Christ broken and shed for all, and a community away from wherever home may be – should serve as a reminder to other assemblies. You never know how only a few months, a few years, can matter. The members of your assemblies may shift as well, leaving (it feels like) too soon to make any difference. Yet from this 20 year-old congregation I am learning God can work quite well, with little advanced notice and not much time.

With the Young Adults in Global Mission:
We completed our third orientation in early September, and Jeremy finally came up with a way to distinguish our roles, as together we lead 7 young adults in Hungary. He is in charge of the “essentials” and I am in charge of the “existentials.” We’ll see if the moniker sticks.

Remarkably, we learned that 7 young adults is more than 4 or 5 (the size of last 2 groups)! This year’s group members tend towards quietness, introspection, serious questions, and independence. As with previous YAGM, I wonder if the hardest thing for these young people will be letting themselves depend on their hosts, and one another.

I am thankful in the short time hat I have known this group, for the stories – beautiful, sorrowful, real – they have shared form their pasts. I pray for them this year as they wander through loneliness and surprising moments of grace, and try to speak Hungarian on top of it all. But these young adults have not had light lives so far. They have been challenged; they have had to dig deep for strength before. May God continue to grant them mercy as they move into years of service, figuring out what work they can do with energy and love.

Remembering Montana:
To round off the month, I spent last Friday night reconnecting with my Montana pastoral colleagues. My bishop, Jessica Crist, (though I serve through Global Mission, I am still a rostered pastor of the ELCA’s Montana Synod) invited me to take part in a Bishop’s Covocation: “What God has joined together.” The day was to offer space for conversation on Lutheran responses to same-gender relationships, with legal updates pertaining to the states of MT and WY, alongside Biblical and theological reflections, and deep listening to one another.

While I was unable to take part in the whole day, I joined on Skype (at 9:30 pm my time) for the last part of the discussion. I shared my perspective on these issues as mission personnel serving in Slovakia and Hungary, and got to hear some of my colleagues’ perspectives, personal stories, and theological and practical questions. I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to be in a small way a part of this day, and even more grateful that Bishop Crist is proactively engaging the pastors of our synod in honest conversation before the laws about same-gender relationships actually change.

But most meaningful to me was the moment when others were speaking, and the Assistant to the Bishop, Jason Asselstine, panned the Skype camera around the room. For the first time in almost three years, I got to see the faces of ELCA pastoral colleagues whom I began to get to know during my years in Plains.

I missed them, and remembered that one of the most difficult parts of my call in Central Europe is not having a community of ELCA pastors to gather with throughout the year — for convocations, assemblies, and continuing education events. Such time with my colleagues is nurturing and powerful, and always challenges me to be a better pastor.

In closing:
Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing to complain about in Bratislava these days, and much to give thanks for. We hiked to an old castle ruins last week on rest day. Ursula went to the Planetarium with her class yesterday, and Esme says the word “hot sauce” with excitement every morning when she eats her eggs. We think of the promised visitors and travel this winter with smiles. But we also miss many of you across the ocean. You remain deep in our prayers.

Little taste of Winter as Jeremy gets to the Vysoke Tatry for his Birthday solo trip. And four animals, well at least two were real.


Hiking into the Teryho chata as the storm settled in.


In the Morning as the Snow raged all around.


Kamzik playing in the snow on the hike out.


Still storming


Alright so I have kids and I see an Elephant.


And a wolf.


But this fox beat me to the Pivo.


And then posed in the rain like a champion.

20th Anniversary of Bratislava International Church Today, and camping in a friends garden last night.


Turn them all around and face the congregation and it spells anniversary. I am always impressed with teachers who organize small children.


Asperging the Congregation.


Choir Rehearsal before service begins


View from the Balcony.


Esme likes her trucks. And she picked her first apple off the tree behind her.


Fathers camping trip, tents behind the house.


Ursula cuts and cleans brussel sprouts with her knife


YAGM Orientation and Language training begins at The Hungarian Lutheran Church’s Retreat Center in Revfulop on Lake Balaton. Language class in the morning, exploration and orientation in the afternoon. With soup in between of course, this is Central Europe after all.


First full day in Hungary, getting the birds eye view.


Lookout tower built above Revfulop to celebrate the 1000 year anniversary of the Creation of the Nation of Hungary. Yeah 1000 year.


Ripe Fig?


Picking grapes while the YAGM’s talk after dinner.


Found the Basalt columns near the 400 stairs.


Great another day of Vineyards and Rocks.


Quick visit to the 12 century monastery town of Tihany with our fabulous Hungarian Language teacher Terri.


Did I mention there is always soup. Everyday. Or it just isn’t a meal.


Esme practicing up on her scripture reading at Evening Worship.


Back at home.


2014-2015 Young Adults in Global Mission Central Europe Have Landed on the Shore (actually they took a plane and this is the Danube, but they did cross an ocean)


Bratislava summer time fun time. And a trip to Pod Sip for some Cabin/tent time.


Fellowship after Church on Sunday Mornings at Next Apache.


Apparently there is a Lego Ice Climbers kit, or at least Ursula and I made one.


Young Adults in Global Mission Central Europe Final Retreat 2014. Five Days in the Vysoke Tatry of Slovakia


A bit more rain than we were expecting, but we quickly got these colored ponchos and became: Esme and the Seven Dwarfs (Preachy, Pedantic, Smiley, Curly, Sassy, Mighty, and Bossy not pictured)


Goodbye to a great group of Young Adults.


Popradske Pleso


Off trail hike to Dracie Pleso


Look how beautiful Slovakia is Ole. Why don’t you stay another year and teacher literature in Bratislava. Why yes he will.


Ursula continues to be a strong hiker, and Esme sleeps well while being slung around sometimes nearly upside down while climbing with Jeremy


Last night hot tub, wait why did we wait until the last night?

IMG_3175 IMG_3182 IMG_3259 IMG_3276 IMG_3243

July 2014 Pastor’s Letter

Pastor’s Letter, July 2014

Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. (Matthew 13:52)

I am back to being a pastor again. Not that I didn’t try during our 9 week journey of Home Assignment, but for the most part I simply felt dislocated. Don’t get me wrong: we had an amazing time, and we remain so grateful to the church, to friends and family, and to our supporting congregations who made our travels possible.

Images from our trip still play in my head: the inside of a converted bus on a Minnesota farm, night-time thunderstorms outside, the kids passed out after running hard with their cousins; our campsite at City of Rocks in Idaho, Ursula scrambling up the rock, Esme, laughing one moment and then shrieking as we picked cactus spines from her little hand; the Columbia River Gorge State Park on the Washington side with its field of green grass, stately trees and clear cold water, perfect for a swim; the familiar drive into Plains, MT, past Paradise, toward the little church where a congregation began teaching me to be a pastor; St. John the Divine, the cathedral on Amsterdam and 111th, hung with Xu Bing’s Phoenix, massive, stunning; Weller Inn, our Lake-cottage-extended-family-gathering-place since 1921, its kitchen resounding in sung grace — For health and strength and daily food, we praise your name, O Lord — before 58 relatives load up their dinner plates; and congregation after congregation welcoming us with smiles, questions, prayers.

That’s just a smattering; no wonder those 9 weeks were a time of dislocation. The longest we stayed in any one spot was 6 nights, often it was 2 or 3. For at least three weeks, we slept in our tent, whether in a yard or a campground, a pretense at stability for Ursula and Esme who deserve accolades for how well they did with so much change.

I did the work of a pastor over those 9 weeks: I studied the lectionary texts each week, and preached to a new congregation (or two) every Sunday. I told stories of our global mission life and work over fellowship hall potlucks and mid-week coffee. I listened to people share their grief, their hope.

Yet something about being back in Bratislava allows me to feel I am a pastor again.

Maybe it is simply that I can now reconnect, face-to-face, with the communities for whom I have responsibility: The Bratislava International Church, down to its bare bones this time of year, but still full of people, who are treasure, new and old. And the Young Adults in Global Mission, new and old. This week, I am writing to the 7 (new) who will come in August, even as we are preparing for next week’s Sending Retreat for the 4 (old) at the end of their service commitment.

Maybe it is that our life has been so wide lately. Too wide to know what or who I am. In 3 months, we covered more breadth of miles than many human beings cover in their lives. Dipping into this congregation and then another, into one friend’s life and then another’s, quickly. Getting only a taste.

Others live lives less wide, more deep. Their feet are firmly planted on one piece of ground; they have known a town, its valleys and vertical relief, its people and joys and sorrows, through so many cycles of seasons they no longer count by years.

Deep or wide: How do you live? Of course, this is a false dichotomy; our lives are more complex than deep or wide. Still, it seems that there is a difference between 1) the people we know, young and old – who have committed to a place, a job, a house, that tethers them, drawing them always deeper into one set of coordinates on the earth, one mysterious particularity in God’s kingdom; and 2) ourselves, and other vagabonds — if we live anywhere over 5 years, it would be a minor miracle. We travelers live wide, with loved ones here and there, passions here and there, always ready to buy a ticket or jump in the car, see something new or old in the broad spread of geography, “home” in the past or maybe “home” in the future.

I think of pastors too. The deep ones, who lived most of their pastoral lives in one place. At New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gilberstville, PA, the Rev. John J. Kline began his pastorate in 1886 and continued till 1945. Goodness gracious. I cannot begin to comprehend how deeply he knew that assembly, through baptisms, marriages, funerals, and Sunday morning after Sunday morning.

There are the wide pastors too. Pastors who served the church in multiple roles and places – as parish and interim pastors, chaplains, teachers, spiritual directors. On a drive with my father to Dr. Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church in Muskegon, MI, I heard more stories from the life of my grandfather, the Rev. Reuben Schmidt, a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. For multiple years, he served the District Office in St. Louis, in charge of “special” and minority community ministries. He traveled to different congregations every Sunday, guest preaching and providing leadership, support, and vision to the local pastors.

We, who know that our lives will be more wide than deep, do well to soak our feet, our bodies, deeply in the particular waters of a place when we have a few months or years. Dig deeply for the treasure hidden in this particular field. The treasure of the baptized is always and finally Christ, but his body and Spirit are manifest in unique ways in the wide expanse of this earth. We taste and drink deeply only where we are, here. We taste and drink differently when we stay awhile.

Back in Bratislava after 9 weeks and 17 States (actually it was 19, some how Colorado and Utah got forgotten in Ursula’s Map)of Home Assignment visitation. During our final week in the U.S. we spent the 4th of July with family in Indiana, visited Dr. Martin Luther Evangelical Church in Muskegon, MI, and a quick dip into Chicago for a meeting at ELCA Churchwide with our Global Mission Colleagues.

Actually, we made it to 19 states, I forgot Colorado and Utah, which is a shame as the are among my favorites.

We made it to 17 States!! Actually it was 19, Colorado and Utah got lost on Ursula’s Map, which is a shame as we all love Colorado and Utah so very, very much.


Week Eight Home Assignment: New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran Church (Oldest German Lutheran Church in USA, and temporary Hospital During the Revolutionary War), St John the Divine Cathedral, Visit to Grandmama and Gordon in Arlington, VA and one of our tours around the Capital, and a visit from one set of Esme’s Godparents.


Miriam had to Visit this church alone, we only had one horse.


Miriam and I took a day and a night walking the streets of Manhattan and eating amazing food to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.


Strolling towards the Lincoln Memorial


With Grandmama and Gordon near the Reflecting Pool with Washington Monument and Capital Rotunda in the distance


J and Josie visit us before we leave Manhattan. Esme learns to say cheese for the camera.