SEPTEMBER 2012, Pastor’s Letter
We in the ELCA, at least in Global Mission, talk a lot about accompaniment. It is the way we describe what we are up to, in trying to be a part of God’s mission around the world – walking together with churches and communities in faith.
Whenever I think of the word “accompaniment,” two images pop into my head:
First, I see the fingers of my father — a pianist and organist — flying gracefully over a keyboard as he accompanies a singer or instrumentalist. My father is an experienced accompanist. He knows that while his playing provides critical harmonies, he must hold back, not overpowering his companion, but assisting her in the making of beautiful music that takes two.
Second, from the Latin roots of “accompany” (com + panis = with + bread), I see a table with people gathered around, breaking bread with one another. Sometimes it is our kitchen table, sometimes it is Jesus’ table in one of the various churches where I have worshipped – but regardless, the image is the same: Companions, sharing food, one with the other.
I wonder, as I contemplate these images, if we missionaries do a disservice to the rest of the church by describing what we do, personally, as “accompaniment” to the exclusion of others: After all, isn’t the entire church’s work, whether at home or abroad, or running around from here to there and back again, to accompany others – whomever those others might be — in God’s grace-filled mission of reconciliation in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit?
But perhaps the real question – for all of us, wherever we may be placed presently on God’s green earth – is who am I to accompany now? Companions can be temporary, and still essential. We break bread with them only a few times, we join with them for just one verse of a hymn; but those minutes change everything. Other times, our companions are life-long, and we end up working long and hard to stay in tune with them. We keep coming back to the same table, again and again, joining hands in thanksgiving before the meal is shared.
During the last month or two, I have been asking myself: — Whom am I here in Central Europe to accompany? I know the answer is multi-faceted: The Slovak Lutheran Church, for one; but also the Hungarian Lutheran Church, and also the many and various Roma communities where the Central European YAGM’s are placed, and also the expatriates and locals who regularly or occasionally join the Bratislava International Church assembly. That’s the beginning of the list. But these past weeks I have been getting to know five other individuals whom I will spend a lot of time accompanying this year.
The first is this year’s Horizon Intern, Rachel Eskesen. Rachel is a student at PLTS, studying to be an ELCA pastor. She carries an impressive resume: She’s worked (as a YAGM!) with refugees in Egypt, and with “anti-social” (or at-risk) youth in England. She’s already completed one Master’s degree in Shakespearean literature, and she seems to be settling quickly into the intense existence that is the Bratislava’s intern’s lot: teaching high school students religion (no small task!) one day, and learning how to be a pastor of an international congregation the next (no small task as well!). My initial weeks of walking with and breaking bread (and sipping coffee) with Rachel have been deeply meaningful. I feel humbled – that as a 35-year old pastor who still has so much to learn, I have been given the opportunity and responsibility of accompanying one who is in a similar place I was 6 years ago.
I am also learning to accompany four others – the Young Adults in Global Mission, who (after a longer-than-you-can-imagine orientation period) are now settled in sites around Hungary for a year of service learning. It was a joy for Jeremy, Ursula and me to finally welcome Dave, Kristen, Ashley, and Matt at the Vienna airport after so much anticipation (and I admit, worry how things would go this first time). We brought them to our flat and fed them bread and cheese and pate and fruit and chocolate, and over the following days, began to get to know them.
I applaud the YAGM’s for how gracefully they managed those first weeks of travel (from their homes to Chicago to Bratislava to Budapest to Szarvas to Lake Balaton and back to Szarvas) and language study: Hungarian is no piece-of-cake language to learn. They managed to make it through such intense time with one another without even showing scratches or scars at orientation’s conclusion! The last day of orientation, we shared worship and a meal, and now they are settled in Nyirtelek, Nyiregyhaza, Szarvas, and Szombathely.
Jeremy and I will continue to accompany these four faithful young adults. We will walk with them through various media — texting, emailing, maybe some Skyping, and of course face-to-face meetings and retreats throughout the year. I hope that we will find ways to be present to Dave, Kristen, Ashley, and Matt when we are needed, and otherwise, get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit blow where she will in their lives.
Whom do you have the responsibility and blessing of accompanying these days? I hope and pray that all of us continue to treasure what it is to walk with a companion for however long — breaking bread together, making music that we couldn’t possibly create on our own.