Postcard from Prague

Thames North Synod has a ministry link with the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (ECCB). As part of this link two ministers from the United Reformed Church are invited annually to share in the Ministers Conference hosted by the ECCB. I had the privilege of attending along with Revd Shahbaz Javed from Thames North.

The conference began in the afternoon of the 22nd January with a Holy Communion service hosted at the Church of St. Martin in the Wall, Prague. This church building is significant for it was here that in 1414 the priest Jan of Hradec served for the first time the sacrament to the lay members of the congregation ‘sub utraque specie’ i.e. bread and wine from the chalice. The chalice was the exclusive privilege of priests, yet it became the symbol of the newly emerging Reformation movement and the Hussite renewal of the Church. It was very moving to receive the sacrament among about 200 others as we stood together in this ancient place of worship.

Over the next few days, a range of lectures, seminars and workshops took place as we explored the theme of ordination. Key questions were discussed such as:

  • What does ordination and ministry vocation mean to us?
  • How does our understanding correspond to ministry in staff teams, chaplaincies and within the ‘priesthood of all believers’?
  • How has ordination changed over time?
  • How do other Church traditions view ordination?
  • How does ordination relate to post-modern and increasingly ‘secular’ cultures?

Some of these discussions and reflections had direct links to my new work in helping congregations in the Eastern Synod explore ‘Mission Partnerships’ and to try and empower new and sustainable ministry structures.

Both Shahbaz and myself felt warmly welcomed by our Czech hosts and we appreciated the welcome reception for us and other international participants which took place on the evening of the 23rd. I was particularly encouraged based on my previous ministry experience in Israel to find myself seated next to the former Czech ambassador to Israel.

The teaching inputs were at times somewhat intense, especially as translation from Czech to German to English was time-consuming. However, there were opportunities for some free time and I enjoyed walking along the banks of the Vltava River and through the old city of Prague and visiting many key sites, including the Cathedral of St. Vitus and Bethlehem Chapel.

Bethlehem Chapel was the ministry base of Jan Huss (1371-1415) and a strong case can be made for seeing this chapel as the ‘birth place’ of the Reformation.

I also had the opportunity to send greetings to the conference and outlined below is a summary of what I shared:

“I send greetings to you from the Eastern Synod of the United Reformed Church. It is so good to be together in this wonderful and historic city of Prague.

A few days before flying to Prague I was in Oxford- Oxford is the city most closely connected with the Bible teacher John Wycliffe (1328-1384). Today I went to Bethlehem Chapel and reflected on the ministry of Jan Hus. I think we all know how Hus influenced and encouraged the ministry of Martin Luther (1483-1546), but perhaps we are not so aware of how Jan Hus was challenged and encouraged by the teaching of Wycliffe. 

It seems to me that a “chain of blessing” flowed from Wycliffe to Hus and then onto Luther. Here we can trace a heritage of Biblical wisdom being passed across nations and generations.

In someway being together at this conference is a celebration of such historical and theological connections and blessings. Hopefully as we learn and share together our confidence in the Gospel  will be strengthened and renewed. For as Paul states in Romans 1:16;  “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes; especially to the Jew and equally to the Gentile.”

Let us celebrate our confidence in the Gospel as we continue to learn from and encourage each other.”

I would like to thank the ECCB for their invitation and for the support of the Synod to enable me to spend a week at this event.

Rev Alex Jacob

Synod Transitional Minister