Representatives of the congregations and agencies of the Moravian Church in Europe are meeting this week in their bi-annual synod. Normally they meet in one of the congregations, like Herrnhut or Zeist, but this time they are in the Evangelische Akademie in Bad Boll. The Moravians used to own the Bad Boll spa, and they still have headquarters for their mission work there. Synods are different in Europe than America. The Northern and Southern Provincial Synods are huge affairs with representation based on the size of congregations. I think there are typically 200 people at a synod. And synods only meet for three days every four years. The European synods (not including England) meet every two years and delegates are chosen for six years so that they build relationships. They meet for a week and engage in Bible study and fellowship as well as attending to the church’s business. It sounds like a more Moravian way of doing things.
I was only there for a day. A new friend had offered to show me around the region and visit places of historical interest. He drove me to Bad Boll, and I arrived about 3 p.m. The facility is very nice, and my room had the most comfortable bed I’ve slept on in my travels. I of course arrived in time for dinner or abendbrot (evening bread) and was glad to see some old friends like Peter Vogt and Jörgen Böytler. Böytler introduced me to two younger people (i.e. younger than me) who are interested in serving the Moravian Church as pastors. We discussed the possibility of them taking my theology course at MTS in the fall.
At the evening plenary session I was invited to address synod. Peter was kind enough to prepare a German translation of my remarks in advance – and provided helpful edits to my text since it was a bit long. I tried to draw on our church’s history to provide hope as we struggle with financial matters. This was my first time have simultaneous translation with headphones. German and Dutch are the official languages of the synod, but they also provide translation into English. Sister Goodwin was responsible for giving the German version of my talk. The assembly seemed enthusiastic about what I had to say, and they asked substantive questions. I think my style of speaking is a bit more passionate than is customary in Germany!
At the evening social time I had a long chat with Peter and his work and met a young man who is learning Dutch so he can be a pastor in the Netherlands. I also spent an hour talking to a Latvian pastor named Gundars Ceipe about the history of the Moravians in his country and how Christian David helped to end serfdom in the 1700s. He gave me a book he has even though I can’t read Latvian, but there is an English summary. We made preliminary plans to go to Riga one day and speak. If I do, I’ll also visit St Petersburg, which I’ve always wanted to see. I also spent time with Jørgen Bøytler, a young German woman who gave the standing ovation, and two Albania women who are the matriarchs of the new Albania Moravian Church. They are the vanguard of a religious revival in one of the most atheist countries in the world. They have no pastors, so Bøytler has been visiting for fourteen years to baptism hundreds of people, most of them former Muslims (at least nominally). I did have to face the embarrassing fact that Sister Dena of Albania had tried to friend me on Facebook and I rejected it!
The next day I had breakfast with the Danes and Albanias, and then Sister Goodwin guided me to the spa where a Bible study was held in a room close to the Moravian worship hall. We discussed Paul’s encouragement to generosity. It was interesting to have a Bible study with people speaking English, Dutch, and German and participants from Denmark, England, Albania, Suriname, the Netherlands, South Africa, the U.S., and of course, Germany. And there were only 20 of us there! We shared our thoughts about sowing seeds, and I managed to croak out a few comments myself on the idea that God provides the seeds so we do not know what the fruit will be. Our task is to sow, trusting that God will bring the fruit that he wants.
After the Bible study, Sister Goodwin showed the original sulfur spring that was the basis of the health spa. It was originally for the nobility, but was later opened to all kinds of people who suffer. Under Blumhardt Bad Boll became a major Christian center with health facilities, classes, and sermons. Kind of a Chatauqua with thermal baths and mineral water! The Moravians ran the spa for several decades but could not avoid the upkeep and renovations needed and so they sold it.
I would have liked to stay longer at the synod, but my travel companion wanted to spend more time with me, and I had a long trip back to Heidelberg. So I left at mid-morning and continued my German adventure. By the time I arrived back at my apartment my cold was in full bloom, but my mind and heart were full, and my dreams were of healing waters. I am grateful to Peter and the other synod planners for the invitation to take part in this important gathering.