Making ashes for Ash Wed, one of the great rituals of the church. We burned palms from last year after Sundays service and then sifted them down some more and added oil for smooth forehead application. And some pictures from laying around with a cast for weeks, and snow in various parts of Europe with family.

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Burning the palms.

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Sifting the ashes.

 

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A new place to put the leg up. One more surgery down, long screw removed.

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Miriam got to ski with her father for the first time ever.

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Ursula going up, Tom coming down. Grandpa, Mama, and Granddaughter all on the slopes together. Ursula finished this day with a remarkable 14 KM downhill run!?

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Esme and Bibi on the Gondola with GrossGlockner Park behind them.

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Aunt Gretty came and rescued us for 2 weeks in the middle of January.

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Ursula x-country skiing in Italy.

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Esme in Austria.

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Of course we should all be skiing.

 

A GOOD BREAK FROM WORK and THEN A NOT SO GOOD BREAK: We enjoyed playing in Bratislava during the 12 days of Christmas, even getting some snow for sledding before the rains returned. Then we took a Holiday in the Italian Dolomites, which are simply amazing. The sunshine and lack of snow made it feel like April, so we hiked straight up a mountain in the woods. The next day Miriam and Jeremy got the wonderful gift of a day skiing the Sellaronda. Unfortunately the following day, while playing on a Parko Bambino with Ursula and Esme, Jeremy fractured his Fibula is two places. Luckily there was a very nice small Italian hospital nearby, which happened to have much experience with Broken Bones due to the proximity of so many ski resorts. Ursula went x-country skiing for the first time, while Jeremy tried to reduce the swelling. Luckily we had good friends with us who helped out immeasurably. After a few days of resting we took a slow drive back to Bratislava with Jeremy’s leg propped up on the emergency break. We are home now and starting to settle into the new reality of Jeremy not being able to put weight on his foot for 50 days. Luckily we have a family member coming to help and Miriam’s Intern Pastor Paul is returning to service after his visa issues got worked out over the Holidays. Oh the winding tracks of life or as the Italians say “C’est la Vie” (actually that’s French, but the Italians seem to say it as well).

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Merry Christmas from Bratislava

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Esme’s American Godparents join us for Christmas

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Esme makes her first Bullas

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Ursula’s School Christmas Program

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Snow anyone?!

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Lighting the Advent wreath at Bratislava International Church

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Magi and Star Carrier.

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Ursula taking her role very seriously.

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Doubles as an Angel.

Advent Pastor’s Letter 2014

These past weeks, when I’ve taken Ursula to materská škola (kindergarten) on the 93 bus, our path through the usually empty field between bus stop and school has grown a Hungarian circus tent. (I admit some small amount of pride that I can recognize the Hungarian signs here in the Slovak capital. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say I know how to pronounce the vowel written ő.)

At 8:00 in the morning, there are rarely signs of life in the tented field, but I imagine clowns and acrobats, ponies and elephants, hidden, waiting for the night’s performance. I envisage the set up and take down of a traveling circus. I think of our own life.

Our family is no traveling circus, or at least, we do not intend to be. However there’s a lot of set up and take down in our lives. Since I last wrote a pastor’s letter on the last day of September, we have traveled as a family 3 separate times to Hungary for work (one 2 day trip, one 9 day trip, one 3 day trip) and managed a holiday to Slovenia with Ursula’s godmother, Chrissy, for 4 additional days.

Jeremy is our packer extraordinaire. But Ursula should get some credit too: At 5, she knows how to pack for a 3 day trip, a 7 day trip. How to count out socks and underwear. She remembers details — a swimming suit (you never know;) papučky (house slippers;) Highlights magazines, and colored pencils for the car.

All I have to do is pack my clerical garb – if needed, — our 4 toothbrushes, and Christian Century back issues.

As soon as we’ve arrived in whatever our destination – a rented apartment, an empty pastor’s flat for visiting guests, a hotel room – we set up. It’s doesn’t matter if we’ll only stay a night or two. Everything gets unpacked from Lola (the red church Skoda auto) and put away. Insta-home.

Then a day or two or three passes, and it’s take down time. We pack up the stove-top espresso maker, take our clothes out of foreign drawers, check under the beds, ready a bag of snacks for the car. And we’re off. To the next destination, or back towards the Bratislava castle, which is our signal that we’re almost home. Then up the stairs to our flat on Palisády 48. Everything must be put away, and a load of laundry started, before life can continue.

We do this rather often. For the most part we love it. We are, at least Jeremy and I are (we’ll let the girls speak for themselves as they get older) committed travelers. Uprooting from a pattern (that has barely had time to become a pattern) coupled with the open road energizes us. Our love of adventure is of course one of the reasons we answered the call to serve as ELCA missionaries in Middle Europe, where I must be two things at once, Bratislava International Church pastor and coordinator for the YAGM program in Hungary. There in no center to this call. We will yo-yo back and forth between Slovakia and Hungary until we leave. Our whole family will set up and take down again and again, because we can, because we choose to travel as a team.

When Chrissy joined our family for three weeks this fall after her season’s work as a kayak wilderness ranger in Alaska, we found ourselves a team name. Or rather Esme did by singing, “Boo la la, boo la la, boo la la la,” whenever we got in the car. So we became Team Boolala, joining Esme in the team song.

Set up, take down. It is a good and rich life, one that teaches us adaptability and an open definition of home. But the set-up-take-down life (like any life) has its limits, its downsides. It does not give us time or energy to grow deep. We are not learning to sit still, in one place. I wonder – can we learn peace, stillness, again? For how long?

Set-up-take-down musings aside, I will make our only trip this month, an overnight in Budapest to visit the YAGM volunteer there. Otherwise we are and will be marking Advent, anticipating the coming of one set of Esme’s godparents, Jay and Josie, and Christmas.

We are here in Advent, drinking warm honey wine at the Christmas Market, and putting another ornament on my godmother Elaine’s felt Jesse Tree, each day.

As our dinner prayer, we sing: “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus. With your Spirit, come to us,” and we light the candles on our Advent wreath. Esme echoes the words, “COME LORD JESUS” as she lies in bed, resisting sleep. I laugh and shush her, more and more convinced that parents are suckered into having yet another child because of the sound of their 2 year old’s voice. (Let me be clear: We have not been suckered yet.)

Through phone calls and emails, we try to encourage the YAGM in Hungary, who recognize occasional moments of grace, but still struggle uphill to speak a difficult language.

We gather on the 2nd Sunday of Advent to celebrate not only the Eucharist, but also an adult baptism of a young German woman, who began singing in the choir last spring. Now, here we are. After church, I meet with two 12-year old girls for the first Faith Formation/Confirmation class I have taught in awhile. I am blown away by their questions; I am excited to get to know them better.

We attend the Christmas program at Ursula’s kindergarten, and watch Ursula and her friend Daniela swirl each other around in a Slovak folk dance. Jeremy fashions aluminum foil angels’ wings for the upcoming Children’s Program at church.

On Advent Tuesday evenings, members of the BIC assembly come together for Night Prayer (Compline) in the sanctuary. We sit in a circle, near the piano. We light the candles. We sing, “All Praise to Thee My God This Night.” Ursula tries to find the right page numbers in the ELW though she cannot yet read. She sings the leader’s as well as the assembly’s parts, not knowing there is a distinction.

My 38th birthday is such a Tuesday: A simple day spent with Esme and a gift of flowers from a friend at lunch, ending with Compline and Bible Study. I think, I certainly am meant to be a pastor, because I do not want any other ending to the day.

Here is a taste of our Advent, midst our set-up-take-down life. My prayers go out to you this season: May unexpected and mysterious, gentle words of grace find their way to each of you. To your ears, to your lips.

A Blessed Advent from our family to you, to your families, to your assemblies. Thank you always for your support of us, and your prayers.

Budapest and Thanksgiving YAGM retreat.

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Outside the opera house. Budapest is a large city, but the day we arrived we were driving down a side street around here and at the light saw some people we knew walking across the street. YAGM everywhere it seems.

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Thanksgiving meal in a nice apartment we rented. No matter that the ovens quit working half way thru the turkey, they got the pies done (and we improvised the rest fairly well).

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Esme’s Birthday Pumpkin Pies.  Two Years old on Thanksgiving day. 

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Some gathering points for the YAGM to share stories and reflect on their time in Hungary to this point in their year.

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Pan fried Turkey legs, and stewed Turkey Breasts in Gravy and Stuffing if you were wondering.

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The courtyard of the apartment building where we spent Thanksgiving. Ursula is barely visible on the stairs from the 2nd floor.

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One of the many places we suddenly call home. Ursula and Esme are very adaptable to space, and so are Miriam and Jeremy, though a kitchen and a dinning room table help a lot.

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View down Andrassy towards Hero’s Square from our bedroom balcony.

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The Birthday girl back at home.

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Ursula drawing at a Museum.

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Miriam carrying Esme up a bluff in Austria as we move on into Advent.

Going on a wild pig hunt in Slovakia

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The hunting club gathers in the morning, with the pushers and dogs on one side and the stationary shooters on the other. The Head of the Hunt made some announcements after the Ceremonial Hunting horn was sounded.

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Saw my first Slovak Medved (Bear).

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An interesting mix of old military equipment, dogs, traditional rules for how the hunt is organized and cell phones.

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Hiking in to the hunting area.

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The wizard and the Pig.

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At the end of the day, the animals are laid out in a ceremonial square with lit fires, the Hunting Horn is sounded and the Head of the Hunt says some words thanking the animals and talking about the specifics of the days hunt.

And of course we finish with a nice goulash.

And of course we finish with a nice goulash.

8 Day Trip to Eastern Hungary to make YAGM site visits and Participate in Worship in two of our YAGM host communities.

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Miriam leading worship alongside of Pastor Molnar and Pastor Laborczi in Nyiregyhaza on Sunday morning. Later in the day we all went to the Village of Gorogszallas where we met up with an ELCA film crew who recorded some of the afternoon worship service as well as Miriam preaching with Translation.

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We were treated to a fine Saint Martins Goose Feast after Sunday Morning worship. Along with two of the Central European YAGM, Jericho and Maija, and their site supervisors Pastor Molnar and Pastors Laborczi and Kovacs.

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Visiting a new town for us, Bekescsaba, to see YAGM Dan. Here we are on Luther Street.

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A lovely afternoon walk in the trees of Szarvas with Ursula’s Godmother Chrissy, who accompanied us on this entire leg through Hungary.

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Szarvas has a wonderful Arboretum and “Mini-Hungary” model.

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Ursula greets even the Trees in Hungary. Esme even gave a stab at saying Thank you in Hungarian- Koszonom.

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Saturday morning cartoons in a random apartment in Bekescsaba which came with a HUGE TV and Hungarian Cartoons.

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Saturday Morning Market in Bekescsaba. Yes, that is carved slab of decorated BACON.

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Victorian sitting room photo opp. before Church on Sunday, in the Apartment that we stay in Nyiregyhaza thanks to Pastor Laborczi. Nice Lamp.

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Preparing a meal for the YAGM and the ELCA film crew for our last night in Hungary for this trip anyway.

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Miriam being interviewed by the ELCA film crew that is now on to South Africa for more filming.

Ursula not interested in this particular seuvenier.

Ursula not interested in this particular szuvenir.

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A really nice zoo in Nyiregyhaza

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World War I Military Cemetery in Nyiregyhaza.

Ursula’s Godmother is in Slovakia, and we all go to Slovenia to check out a site for the Winter YAGM Retreat.

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A nice long Hike with Triglav behind us.

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Gondola ride takes some of the uphill out of the equation, although we more than made up for it by hiking all the way down.

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Lunch spot.

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Dancing in the meadows.

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There are dragons in these parts

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Not a bad spot.

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Playing on rocks.

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A water sprite in the area, complete with two person bucket to fill from the river.

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Triglav, A majestic mountain indeed.

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.

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Hiking into the Teryho chata as the storm settled in.

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In the Morning as the Snow raged all around.

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Kamzik playing in the snow on the hike out.

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Still storming

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Alright so I have kids and I see an Elephant.

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And a wolf.

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But this fox beat me to the Pivo.

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And then posed in the rain like a champion.