Saturday, 11 August 2007

Let's celebrate - in Bratislava

I must admit that when I was asked to go the European Methodist Festival in Bratislava my first job was to look up Bratislava to find out where it is. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, lies on the beautiful blue Danube in the heart of Europe, only 50 km from Vienna. The small Methodist Church in Slovakia were very excited to be hosting this festival which ran from the 1st to the 5th August. They did a fantastic job of it too.

I travelled there by train, being careful of my carbon footprint but spending more money and time in the process. (The journey took 28 hours and I travelled by underground to London then by train from Waterloo to Paris Nord, walked to Paris Ouest for the train to Strasbourg. The train from Strasbourg to Vienna was overnight and we had booked couchettes. On discovering that there were 6 to a tiny cabin with three on each side above each other and just spece to stand between, I realised that this was not for me and I wandered off to find a seat! In Vienna we arrived at the Westbanhof station so caught a tram to the sudbahnhof station for the train to Bratislava. All very exciting.) I made the journey back by plane which did not make me feel so holy but did make me realise why so many people travel that way. It's an interesting dilemma.

I really liked Bratislava. It has a small interesting old centre with a castle and churches and plenty of open air cafes to sit around at. The centre is well served by bus, trolley bus and tram from the University where the festival was. The facilities at the University were best described as varied with some beautiful rooms and some 60's style utilitarian buildings! Greatly helped by the tents put up by the Evangelism tent mission section of the German Methodist Church. But the team who put the festival together did an absolutely fabulous job. It was great.

Each day there was Liturgical morning prayer at 7.30 am led by Keith Albans - chaplain of MHA (I'm sure it was very good but where I was staying did not allow for breakfast and 7.30 starts - that's my story and I'm sticking to it), then Wake up and praise with music from an international band and interviews from visitors from all over Europe. There were Bible studies in various forms including sessions for children and young people whose groups also carried on during the day. After the Bible studies Wesley groups of about 15 people formed to discuss the Bible study or the theme for the day or anything else which occurred to them! In the afternoons there were workshops available or time to explore and in the evening were celebrations all together. Afterwards was a late night cafe with music and sharing. (It was also possible to take the bus into Bratislava centre and take in the late night atmosphere there. Apparently it is quite popular for stag weekends which may explain the t shirts for sale on one stall with the slogan "Where the **** is Bratislava?" They don't seem to have got out of hand though as a small group of us went into town on the Saturday night and found it very pleasant.) Some really interesting conversations took place over late night coffees or over meals - or in the queue for meals. There were times of challenge of comfort and of inspiration.

The main languages used on the platform were English, German and Slovak and translation was available in other languages including Spanish, Polish and Italian via headphones. We finished on the Sunday with a commissioning service with covenant renewal and Communion. When I got the programme on the Wednesday I was interested to see that this would include music, testimonies and a sermon. I was even more interested on Thursday evening to find that one of the testimonies on Sunday was to be from me! Three people each gave a three minute testimony, one in Slovak, one in German and one in English. These were not translated so I have no idea how they compared in content.

Each day had a theme Let's celebrate -......being loved, .....being young,......being foreign,.......being different and........being travellers. The celebrations and the Bible studies all picked up the themes. I enjoyed the Bible studies which I went to which were led by Inderjit Bhogal. Plenty to think about and it was challenging to discuss the passages with people from different parts of Europe - especially when we were discussing such things as"what do we admire and not admire about children?" and "what names do people call foreigners?" and "what are the tables that need to be turned over in your congregation?".

I went to two workshops - the first on Christian Mission in Europe led by David Deeks. David encouraged us to look at what the gospel has to say about responding to misbehaviour, wrongdoing and wickedness and how this is dealt with in European secular society and challenged us to consider the relationships we saw between the two and the effects of change such as historic privileges disappearing whilst increased legislation is being set to guide behaviour and set norms for punishment. It was good to consider together in buzz groups the reality of God who nourishes people and communities using, but not enslaved by rule and regulation.

The other was led by Johnston McMaster with Helen Harrell and was entitled Confessing Christ in a World of many faiths. This was based on work done by the Theological Commission of the European Methodist Council and their interim paper can be found at
I found myself in a buzz group with a man from Britain and a woman from Italy where we were encouraged to share stories of meeting people of other faiths. It was fascinating and encouraging. We then looked at Bible passages considering God of One and the Many and then used some Charles Wesley hymns to reflect on God's grace for all and in all. In discussion we looked at Jesus as a Social Prophet, Jesus as Peacebuilder, Jesus and Global Responsibility and Jesus and Divine Presence - that the God encountered in Jesus for our salvation is truly God. Sadly we ran out of time to discuss the death and resurrection of Jesus in detail in this. We were encouraged to develop a profile of Jesus for a dialogue encounter with people from the Jewish or Muslim faiths (Abrahamic faiths). This is definitely still a work in progress for me. It certainly gave me food for thought.

Another challenge for me on the Thursday morning was being interviewed as part of Wake up and Praise and being asked to explain in a couple of sentences what a Vice President is. Most of the European Methodist churches come out of the United Methodist tradition with bishops but no equivalent of a Vice President in lay leadership. (Answers on a postcard please in case I am asked again!) I resorted to saying that we have a President, the equivalent of a Presiding Bishop (sharp intakes of breath from some here but I did only have a couple of sentences!) who is elected each year by the Conference. The Conference also elects each year a Vice President, usually a lay person (I didn't try to have the discussion about deacons) to work alongside the President in the leadership of the Church. I also mentioned that I am doing a "proper job" at the same time which seemed to cause some amusement. Especially as "Assistant Serjeant at Arms" proved to be as indeciferable in other languages as in English - I knew they shouldn't have asked me what my proper job was!

It was a great festival, enabled and facilitated by people from all over Europe and the British Methodist Church can certainly feel proud of those who contributed to it who included Colin and Sandra Ride, Elaine Robinson, Keith Albans, Steve Pearce, Eva Walker, Inderjit Bhogal, Mike King, Doug Swanney, Penny Fuller, Rob Redpath, Lindsey Peniston, John Nutt, Frank Aichele, Elizabeth Harris, Val Ogden, Gary Hall, Steve Hucklesby, Anthea Cox, Jonathan Kerry, Keith Bamford, Graham Horsley, Dave Martin, Luke and Sara Curran, Naboth Muchopa, Mark Williamson, Peter Clark, Helen Harrell, Jill Baker, Kathleen Pearson. I'm sure I've missed a few but what a talented lot they were leading workshops on everything from All age lantern making, to HIV/AIDS - the challenge to the church, leading Bible studies and worship, facilitating overall organisation and supporting the work with children and young people. Fabulous. Lots to celebrate. Praise God.

1 comment:

Sally said...

sounds wonderful- I hope you will blog a little more on your thoughts as you develop a profile of Jesus for a dialogue encounter with people from the Jewish or Muslim faiths. I think this is an important area to consider, almost stepping out of our own culture to look back at it in another way.