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In 2000 Bishop William Oden of the North Texas Conference led a group of clergy to the Czech Republic as part of the In Mission Together initiative of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Our former senior pastor Gary Mueller was a member of this group. The In Mission Together program seeks to partner congregations in covenant relationships. Partnerships are for a minimum of three years (renewable) and consist of financial support of $3600 a year and the exchange of gifts, letters, and mutual visits. Most of these partnerships are between American and eastern European congregations. The North Texas Conference has entered into a conference partnership with the Czech-Slovak Conference.
Inspired by his experience, Rev. Mueller encouraged our church to enter into a partnership with a Czech congregation. After a unanimous vote FUMC was assigned the United Methodist congregation in the town of Trebon. This picturesque town located about two hours south of Prague, lies in the Czech state of Bohemia. It boasts a16th century castle and is famous for its modern spa facilities. Despite a population of around 9000 it is served by only two churches, United Methodist and Roman Catholic. The two congregations enjoy friendly relations, occasional joint services, and pulpit swaps once a year.
Rev. Richard Novak pastors the Trebon Methodist church. Situated in a park like setting the church building was dedicated in 1924. About 35 persons worship here and despite its small size the church effectively ministers to the surrounding population. They have had an especially impressive impact on area youth. Financial support from FUMC has made a visible impact on the Trebon church. With partnership funds they have painted and refurbished their facility, replaced a dead computer, supplemented Rev. Novak’s salary, and kept his car running. He uses his car to provide pastoral care to area residents and evangelize in neighboring towns. When they replaced the old rickety wooden folding chairs with new comfortable padded ones their weekly attendance rose. They hope to be able to offer English lessons to the town’s children in the near future. A bulletin board with pictures and information about their partner church in Denton is prominently displayed in their main worship space.
Individual and groups have now visited our partner church in Trebon, Czech Republic three times. The first of what we hope are a number of group visits occurred Sept. 20- Oct. 6, 2003. This trip was organized by Jane Graner and cost $1900 plus extra for meals and personal expenses. Future trip will probably be in the same price range. The following is a reprint of an article that appeared in the North Texas United Methodist Reporter on Oct. 31, 2003.
On September 29 twelve persons from First United Methodist Church of Denton embarked on an eight day study/mission trip to the Czech Republic. Rev. Dr. Jim Porter, our senior pastor, and I served as co-leaders. Our main goal was to meet and offer support to our partner church in the Czech town of Trebon. For several years our church has participated in the In Mission Together program of the GBGM where American congregations are partnered with congregations mainly in Eastern Europe.
After meeting with Czech program coordinator Jana Krizova and Trebon pastor Richard Novak during a personal visit in June 2002, I became determined to bring a group from Denton to meet these remarkable folks. In this former Communist country where 40% of the population is atheist and church attendance is low, Christians can feel isolated and overwhelmed at the task of bringing the Gospel to their neighbors. The Methodists in Trebon did not want us to come and work. They did not want us to build anything or paint something. They simply wanted us to visit. They did not want our labor; they wanted our presence.
Our first stop was the capital city of Prague. There we visited with the General Superintendent of the Czech/Slovak annual conference Josef Cervenak and former superintendent Vilem Schneeberger. They shared with us the struggles of being a small denomination in an atheistic country. Afterwards we traveled to the Prague suburb of Horni Pocernice to visit the Christian Help Center. This agency provides transitional housing and counseling to homeless families. About 60% of their clients are Roma (Gypsy) and the Center provides much needed assistance to a very persecuted minority. The Center gladly receives Volunteers In Mission teams.
From Prague we traveled on to Trebon. There we met again with Jana and Richard and received warm welcomes. We toured Trebon as well as several towns where they had conducted recent evangelistic campaigns. Saturday night we hosted the Trebon congregation to a dinner at our hotel. At first everyone felt shy and awkward but before long we were talking and laughing with our new friends. Despite the language barrier we found ways to communicate. At one point Richard and I were trying to talk in German in which neither of us is proficient. We finally just started to laugh and Richard smiled and said, "Babylon!" Well if Saturday sometimes felt like the tower of Babel then Sunday felt like Pentecost as we each heard the Gospel in our own language. In a truly moving worship service we sang, read scripture, shared testimony, and received communion. Jim was invited to preach. In what many felt was the highlight of the service everyone recited the Lord's Prayer in his or her own language. There were few dry eyes among either Czechs or Americans. After exchanging gifts we reluctantly said good bye but resolved to come again. The Trebon congregation has asked for individuals from our congregation to come for several months and teach English. Several of us are already considering their offer.