Category Archives: Visits in the United States

October 2015 Pastor’s Letter

Three nights ago, our family finally succeeded in setting up our tent and sleeping, all four of us lined up like sardines, the night of the blood moon eclipse. We kept peeking our heads out of the tent as the earth eclipsed the moon, and it glowed red in the night sky.

It has been over a year since we all slept in our Big Agnes tent, and we notice the girls have gotten bigger. But Jeremy is determined to start sleeping outside one night per month, following the pattern of a dear Montana man from our congregation in Plains and his son. No longer living in a Central European capital certainly makes this an easier proposition for us.

Our family remains in transition, living part of the time with Jeremy’s brother, our sister-in-law, niece and nephew, on a property in Stillwater, MN. They rent a large brick house and its almost ten acres of land stretch out towards lakes north and south. The girls and their cousins ran through the grass all summer, climbing trees, riding bikes, playing “olden times.” Esme is heard to call out periodically, “I’m Baby Carrie!” and the older girls debate about who gets to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. Jeremy set up a biathalon training course with a BB gun, timing the four cousins (aged 2,3, 6 and 8) and helping them shoot large towels on the line (easier to hit than small targets.) The event kept the adults laughing, and helped the kids run hard and sleep well.

In late August, Ursula started first grade at her cousin Addie’s elementary school, where she is learning how to read and write in English. She loves – unsurprisingly – both her teacher and fellow students.

On the weekends – and for much of the summer – Jeremy’s parents opened their Shoreview home to us. Dale, a relentless morning person, entertained the girls over and after countless breakfasts. Linda completed any number of sewing projects for them (including a quilt, a bonnet, and Halloween costumes). The girls embraced the Saturday morning ritual of grocery shopping with Grandma and Bempa.

On Sundays, we have been attending Christ Church Lutheran in south Minneapolis, where Pastors Kristine Carlson and Erik Haaland welcomed us with open arms. I am very grateful to have a congregation during this in-between time. It tells me something (or perhaps God is trying to tell me something) that as a pastor who pretty much always likes to be in charge (!) I am content for now to sit in the pews with my girls and spouse, drinking in the Word and passing out Cheerios. Apparently, I need rest from leadership, renewal.

The last few months have held their fair share of international travel for me. While I worked remotely for part of the summer, I made two trips back to Slovakia and Hungary, leaving Jeremy and the girls with the family in Minnesota. In July I was gone for two weeks, leading the final retreat for last year’s YAGM group in the High Tatras, packing up our flat in Bratislava, and finishing final paperwork with Intern Paul Kacynski. Later in August-September, I left for another three weeks, to help Rachel Eskesen, my successor, begin orientation for a new group of YAGM’s in Hungary, and preach and preside for the last time at the Bratislava International Church. My time in Central Europe was made more interesting by a broken down church car (the one we affectionately named “Lola” three years ago) and a YAGM undergoing surgery for appendicitis in a small Hungarian hospital, just one week into her year abroad.

More seriously, the surging refugee crisis makes traveling in Hungary no light thing. I walked one morning through Keleti train station in Budapest, the very week that the trains to western Europe were shut down. Images of thousands of men, women and children camped and waiting, anxious and uncertain, are still seared on my brain. And I was there for about ten minutes. Privileged with an American passport, I was able to easily buy a bus ticket to Slovakia and days later board a plane to the USA. How many millions pray for the journey that I have now made so many times?

I said many goodbyes during my time in Central Europe — to Hungarian pastoral colleagues, members of the Bratislava International Church, and friends at Next Apache café. I sang Compline in harmony with the new YAGM’s. I shared some wonderful dinners with the ELCA volunteer teachers at the Lyceum, and with Esme’s Slovak-American godparents. Then I packed up the last of our things, and retuned to the family I missed so much while I was away.

Back in the USA, Jeremy has had the gift of medical care at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. He underwent surgery for his foot in late July, which by that point had contracted to a state of true deformity. I have started to pray more regularly for the lame, whose stories fill our scriptures, especially those around the world today who will never have access to the excellent medical care that Jeremy has had, those who will never walk again.

Jeremy’s recovery has thankfully gone well, though being in a cast for another 5 weeks tried every ounce of Jeremy’s patience. We are grateful to God and the surgeon. Jeremy’s foot now looks like a normal foot, and for the first time in over 9 months, he is beginning to put weight on it.

We are not naïve. He still has a long way to go toward full mobility, maybe a year or more. But we are starting to believe that healing will happen, and Jeremy will walk, and hike, and ski, and ice-climb again.

I am in the call process, hoping to return to parish pastoral work in the western Rockies. We have enough rich memories from our time abroad to swallow and digest for years, whenever we move back to a land with less people, less written history, and more open space for sleeping outside. I thank God that even in these wide-open spaces the church can be found. The same church, one, holy, catholic, that has nurtured me on three continents, in so many different villages, towns, and cities, for almost 39 years.


Summer into Fall

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Pastor’s Letter, June 2015: Sudden Goodbyes

I have been waiting for a brilliant introduction to flow from my fingers for this pastor’s letter. Words from an Icelandic folktale echo in my head: When you wake up in the morning, you never can tell what might happen to you during the day. Yes — like when you wake up in the morning in the Italian Dolomites, and your spouse goes to the playground with the girls, and comes back with a broken leg, and the broken leg leads to serious foot and nerve complications, and the medical complications lead you back to Minnesota.


There is no brilliant introduction. Instead, I simply write with the announcement that we have made the decision to end our Global Mission call in Central Europe. Our official end of service date will be September 30th. I will work for the most part remotely until then, making two trips by myself back to Slovakia and Hungary in July and later in August-September. The girls will stay here in Minnesota with extended family and with Jeremy, who with Mayo Clinic’s help, will be doing what he is advised in order to one day walk normally again.





Our reasons for leaving our life and call in Slovakia and Hungary early are, in the end, simple. Jeremy’s medical situation is serious: After meeting with a very competent orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic’s Sports Medicine Branch, Jeremy was told that his case was (unfortunately) “interesting.” He was given a referral to an even-more-of-a-specialist orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. That appointment will take place on June 30. Whatever prognosis that appointment may offer, it seems already abundantly clear that Jeremy will be in recovery for multiple months into the future. To that end, we need the ongoing proximity of family to help us, and access to good English-language medical care.


Of course, this simple decision has complex repercussions for me. I was not ready to say goodbye to the Bratislava International Church. I was looking forward to accompanying another group of Young Adults in Global Mission in their year of service in Hungary. I was excited for Ursula to begin first grade at the Lutheran Slovak-language elementary school across the street. Part of me is saddened — that the life I thought was not yet finished is finished, or will be very soon.


I am old enough to know that I am – we all are – replaceable. The Bratislava International Church will go on, empowered by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, fed weekly with word and sacrament. The YAGM’s in Hungary will have a new mentor, who will have gifts and skills I do not. Ursula will start school in the USA, happily, even as the Slovak folksongs she learned in preschool remain imprinted somewhere on her bones. In other words, in the mercy of God, we will adjust, and the world will adjust to our sudden goodbyes. And there will be new beginnings for all involved.


I remain thankful for many things: We are here in the USA with supportive family from east to west coasts; we have grandparents, an aunt, and an uncle here in Minnesota who are helping us care for our daughters midst Jeremy’s pain and our waiting; we have been wholeheartedly supported by the ELCA Global Mission office, and by so many other church people, praying for us, reaching out to us.


All of this helps us hope for healing, which is not always an easy thing to do. It’s strange how disability and pain become — so quickly — familiar bedfellows. It’s been less than 6 months since Jeremy’s initial injury, but we are more used to his crutches than we’d like to admit. It can even seem presumptuous, dangerous even, to hope for healing that may or may not come. I think of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5 in a new light: After 12 years of bloody pain, and enduring much in the hands of physicians, how do you keep hoping, praying for healing?


Yet she does. And we do. As importantly, maybe more, you do. You, who are our family and friends and sponsoring congregations, hope and pray for healing, for Jeremy and for our whole family. For this, I am deeply grateful. Hope is a heavy thing; we need to carry it together. Carry it as church, carry it in Jesus’ name, carry it in God’s amazing grace.


In closing, this pastor’s letter is only a piece of my goodbye – my goodbye to a call and to individuals I have grown to respect and love in Slovakia and Hungary. Practically speaking, we are not done yet. There is still work for us to do for this year’s YAGM’s and this year’s Horizon intern and BIC worship on July 5 and 12. Later in August and September, I will get to help orient the interim YAGM coordinator for Hungary and interim BIC pastor, both of whom Global Mission is committed to calling for service in Central Europe.


You will hear from me again about this progress, and when we know more, I will update you on Jeremy’s foot and the-general-state-of-our-family.

Miriam flew off to Chicago last week to meet with all the YAGM Coordinators based in countries all around the world, and to DIP (Discernment, Interview, Placement) of next years YAGM volunteers. Meanwhile back in Bratislava, Matthew, our good friend and Ursula’s Godfather, flew in to help Jeremy.




How many feet do you really need to climb a tree?



Matthew’s European concert.


Miriam returns and we break out the terrace dinning.



It’s like the county fair.


A little early jockey training.


Why not go to Vienna for Breakfast in the Statpark after dropping someone at the airport.


Esme quickly had Matthew providing hours of entertainment.


Crutching around.


Esme even gave up some crackers to the ducks.


Vienna underground


Morning coffee and strudel after a PT appointment.


How to carry the wine?


Lots more driving these days as Jeremy’s walking distance is limited.


Hitting rocks into the Dunaj


Hot water is good for the foot.

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Easter Vigil


Pastor Austin Propst and Tanya visited from Madagascar for Holy Week.


Palm Sunday, Ursula’s 6th Birthday Party with a Pinata and a cake at fellowship, 1st lost tooth, Rachel came to visit and kept us going, and a new stage in the recovery from a broken leg.


Palm Sunday Procession around the Maly Kostol.


Gathering in the Courtyard.


The final blow on the Pinata.


Thanks to Shannon, Ursula had the cake of her dreams.


Listening to the confirmation class read the Passion according to Mark.


1st tooth came out, one already in there behind.


Thanks Rachel for your great visit and all the help. Chauffeur extraordinaire to Austrian Hospitals and Wine Caves. Not too mention all the cooking, playing, and washing dishes.


Electro Therapy on my bone healed, but CRPS diagnosed foot.


One last cast, and a good way to celebrate.


Canned Apricots near the end of winter.

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.


Burning the palms.


Sifting the ashes.



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


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


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!?


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


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


Ursula x-country skiing in Italy.


Esme in Austria.


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).


Merry Christmas from Bratislava


Esme’s American Godparents join us for Christmas


Esme makes her first Bullas


Ursula’s School Christmas Program


Snow anyone?!


Lighting the Advent wreath at Bratislava International Church


Magi and Star Carrier.


Ursula taking her role very seriously.


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.