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.

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