During the past month, Carrie was on vacation and was able to join me on a long planned trip to Europe as part of my sabbatical. What follows are some of the highlights and a few pictures.
We flew first from Miami to Istanbul, Turkey where we changed planes to fly to Rome. We arrived in Rome and were picked up by my younger brother, Robert, (our host for the next 10 days, along with his wife Yuko and daughter Sophia). We had a wonderful time visiting the sites of Ancient Rome and were especially struck by the early Christian sites, such as the Mammertine Prison where the Apostles Paul and Peter were held prior to their executions. Each day we put on our backpacks and got on the bus, streetcar or subway and visited the ancient city seeing the Colosseum, the Appian Way and many other places which helped us understand how the early Christians lived and died and how the church grew from an illegal sect under Roman law to the official religion of the Roman Empire. The New Testament came alive in a new way as we saw the world that the apostles encountered 2000 years ago. On the Sunday we spent in Rome we worshipped at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. Located in the heart of the city, this church, founded by Scottish immigrants to Rome in the 19th century, today is truly an international church with the majority of members–men, women and children born in Africa and now living in Rome. It was wonderful to see this multi-ethnic church worshipping in a beautiful Reformed Sanctuary and reaching out to refugees in the city of Rome.
We left Rome by train for Zurich, Switzerland. Our goal was to visit fellow ECO pastor and church planter, the Rev. Scotty Williams in St. Gallen, Switzerland and ECO missionary in Munich, Michael Robb. Scotty pastors an English Speaking church which launched on Easter Sunday 2016. After lunch with Scotty, his wife Maria and Michael we made our way back to Zurich. Enroute we stopped to see the village where my 10th great grandparents, Hans Bar and his wife Kathrina lived. The half-timbered house, dated back to the 16th century, is still in use.
The next day we spent touring around the lovely city of Basel, including the University of Basel where Karl Barth taught theology for many years. Then a train to Hamburg Germany, followed by a day in the countryside visiting the villages of Holzendorf and Bobzin where my mom’s grandparents, Helmuth Bramer and Maria Muller were born.
The remaining time in Europe we spent in Stockholm, Sweden. We stayed in the home of a family who had stayed in our home in Florida last February. This home exchange was all arranged last fall on the internet and it went very well. We enjoyed two weeks of really getting to know Stockholm. Stockholm has perhaps the best preserved Medieval city centers in Europe with narrow cobblestone streets filled with shops and cafés and tourists. Sweden embraced the Lutheran Reformation in the mid-16th century and some of the churches from that era are still in use today.
There is no way to do justice in this brief post to all the things we learned, so I will just point out one observation. In each of the churches we visited or worshiped in during this 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the one thing that jumped out at me were the prominent pulpits in the center of the church. Whether it was in St. Gallen, Switzerland, Schwerin, Germany or Stockholm Sweden, in each case the Reformation’s emphasis on Sola Scriptura, (Scripture Alone) as the basis for authority led to the re-design of the interior of the church sanctuary. In the center of the sanctuary, an elevated pulpit was installed. Today, the cathedrals are mostly filled with tourists, and congregations have dwindled. There are bright spots here and there, of course, but what is clearly needed is more missionary work to reach people with a 21st century gospel message in the new post-Christian European reality. The symbol of the pulpit at the center of the worshipping congregation must again become more than beautiful architecture and the word of faith, hope and love and the reality of Jesus must take center stage. We are so grateful for this opportunity to be renewed in our ministry, to be inspired and encouraged as we prepare to return home to our church family and the challenges of ministry in South Florida.
Warmly in Christ,