JULY 2012, Pastor’s Letter
Psalm 121:8: The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore (Psalm 121:8).
We have now been (home) in Bratislava for five months, a ridiculously short time on the scale of things. Yet already there have been many goings out and comings in. Jeremy, Ursula and I have already returned to the States – in April — for more training in Chicago, and to meet next year’s Young Adults in Global Mission. I have been over the border to Hungary three times, most recently in May with my family, when together we visited the four sites from western to northeastern Hungary where next year’s YAGM’s will live and serve and learn this coming year. On a smaller scale, we have traveled to the Vysoke Tatry (High Tatras) twice in this last month, exploring mountain crags and discovering surprisingly high-up (and fully-equipped!) huts or “chatas”. So much going out and coming in. And that is only our little family.
On the second Sunday of June at worship, we bid farewell and Godspeed to those members of the Bratislava International Church community who are “going out” of Bratislava this summer, some for good. Teaching contracts, or embassy appointments, or years of study are complete. Those “going out” are now on their way to ventures of which they cannot see the ending; or perhaps they are returning home, though “home” may appear surprisingly unfamiliar, because a year (or three or five) in another country changes us. We cannot step into the same river twice; the waters are ever flowing.
So much going out and coming in. And though I have been here for such a short time, it has been difficult for me to say goodbye to these who are “going out.” I am sorry for my own sake: I have only just begun to get to know this person, that person, and her story is so fascinating, his laugh is so infectious. I am sorry for the sake of the Bratislava International Church: This assembly has lost dear people this last month, and year after year — people who have shared their gifts, voices, prayers, sorrows and joys, so enriching the assembly. Those going out leave a hole behind. An empty space in the pew that looks wrong.
Of course, there will be comings in too. In August and September, and all throughout the year, new faces will appear at worship. Some new folk will keep coming back and find a (temporary) home in this international church. Like many who have gone before them, they too will share their faith, their stories, their burdens with this assembly. And the Bratislava International Church will be the richer for them.
The Bratislava International Church is far more used to all this going out and coming in than I am. Though you’d think, given my history, I’d be a little more prepared. After all, I am an ELCA pastor, and from the beginning of this journey I have known that no one place would ever become our “home.” One pastoral call may last 5, another 10 years. But no call lasts forever.
Not to mention — Jeremy and I are wanderers in our own right. Living any place for 4 years seems remarkably stable to us. We are not farmers, wedded to a piece of land for life. We are not the good friends we have made – in Philadelphia, in Minneapolis, in Plains, MT – who know their city or small town backwards and forwards because it has always been home. I admire these people for their commitment, their perseverance, their rootedness. Their ability to keep open eyes to new possibilities in the face of the seemingly familiar. Of course, I know that staying in one place carries challenges – how does one not turn inward? How does one keep remembering that the rest of the world is great and wide, beautiful and not-so-frightening? That the rest of the world is full of good people, with birthdays and dirty laundry and troubles and longings, just like at home?
There are, equally, pitfalls for those of us who live more mobile lives. We transient ones can easily become overwhelmed by so many goings out and comings in, friends lost or left behind, new people to engage all the time. We run the risk of hardening our hearts, failing to reach out to the strangers who are “coming in” because we anticipate, too quickly, the inevitable and painful “goings out.”
So, as I sit here on a hot summer day, at home (for the now) in Bratislava, I want to make a pledge – or perhaps, it is simply a prayer. During our years here, I want to learn from the Bratislava International Church community how to embrace the many, many goings out and comings in. I want to keep my heart open. And when it threatens to harden, I hope to douse it with water, anoint it with oil, or ask others to help me do so.
In a little over a month’s time, we will welcome four Young Adults in Global Mission to Central Europe: It is our call to get to know them, to care for and shepherd them as well as we are able, during their year of service. Then – a year goes by so quickly — they too will go out, and God willing, new ones will come in. I pray that I can learn to swim with grace through these yearly cycles of bidding farewell and Godspeed, and then, welcoming in the new with a soft heart. Keeping in mind that it is the LORD who will keep us through all these goings out and comings in, from this time on and forevermore.