Tag Archives: Latvia

Understanding without understanding


I wrote a few days ago about the experience of a service where we all offered prayers in our respective languages – a kind of speaking in tongues.

One of the other rich experiences of being at the Extended Cabinets meeting of the Methodist churches in Europe has been to watch and hear people respect each other’s languages.

I often felt inadequate at my lack of facility with language and increasingly angry that I was refused the opportunity to learn my native language, Welsh, when I was in school (partly to do with living in Monmouthshire which, until 1974, was administratively a mongrel county – neither in Wales nor England).

But it has been a joy to realise how much of a language’s meaning you can deduce from inflexion and tone, even if you can’t understand the words: Russian for example. I found that I could follow parts of the German more easily.

The photograph above is of the German pastors singing to us at the final evening worship. It was almost impromptu: done with about 30 minutes notice at the request of Gita, a Latvian minister, and their harmonies were terrific.

But one of the richest uses of language came during the worship as the week together unfolded. Every Bible reading was heard in at least two languages – usually German and English – and occasionally in Russian as well.

We often sang hymns that could be sung in multi-language versions and in the German Methodist book were printed in German and English. On the morning the EurAsian delegation led our worship we sang:

Holy, holy, holy

My heart, my heart adores you

My heart is glad to say the words

You are holy, Lord

and we sang it in Spanish, Russian (with a phonetic translation on the screen), German and English.

There was resistance from some people to using the translation headsets for the main seminars, but for those who were willing to be a part of that way of joining together it was another sign of the unity of this event.

And so now I’m home in Britain with invitations to Norway and Russia (Moscow, St Petersburg and Siberia) and with groups from Latvia and Germany thinking of making visits to see Fresh Expressions projects fror themselves.

It brings home afresh what a responsibility it is to carry the message of God’s grace in action – and what a privilege it is to be a part of the way he moves beyond the barriers we think exist.


Stories of hope across Europe

Day two of the Extended Cabinets meeting in Braunfels, north of Frankfurt, included a time of sharing stories.

The reason I’m here is that three of us from the Methodist Church in Britain have been asked to come and share about Fresh Expressions. I’m with Stephen Lindridge, the Methodist missioner from the Fresh Expressions initiative and one of the initiators of Mind The Gap in Gateshead, and Peter Hancock, Northampton District Chair and a founder of The Bridge in Hinckley, Leicestershire.

I’ll be talking about Tubestation in Cornwall, not surprisingly.

But yesterday we sat in small groups and heard stories from Siberia to southern Germany of how God is inspiring people to plant new churches and risk new things.

  • The Belarus pastor whose work isn’t officially recognised by the government because she’s not allowed a sacred space but where the children go to school and tell stories about how they love their mothers because they pray for them.
  • The church in Finland slowly being brought back to life after one old man sustained it and believed in his vision from God that people would come. Now they are, one by one.
  • A German church where a pastor heard the call to go and rescue a dying congregation and moved home. Now the fellowship has grown from a handful to a systainable church, mainly recalling former members but beginning to impact its community.
  • A teenager who used the Latvian version of Facebook to bring together 30 unchurched young people to begin a youth group. Now some of them are inquiring about baptism.

There were many more stories but that’s a flavour of what was shared yesterday. We also heard two lectures on why adults came to faith, much of it interesting but probably too rooted in the German cultural setting to need repeating here.

Today we tell our stories, thrilled to know that we will simply be adding to the good news others have already shared.

Praying in tongues

I’m at the meeting of the European Cabinets of the Methodist Church in Braunfels, Germany, where the leaders of Methodist communities from all over Europe have travelled to talk particularly about evangelism and Fresh Expressions.

My role is as one of three people from the Methodist Church in the UK who have at one time led Fresh Expressions – new ways of being Church – and may have something to say to the leaders here.

Perhaps there’ll be more to say about the presentations we make and what I say on Tubestation – the church on the north Cornwall coast which resonates so well with surf culture.

But what struck me tonight was the amazing worship – or at least the amazing experience of being in the opening worship.

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, one of the four bishops in Europe and our host, is holding together a community of maybe 70 people in this extended Cabinets meeting: from Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and other countries … as well as interlopers like me.

For the first evening’s worship, it meant running the worship in two languages – German and English – and therefore choosing hymns which could be sung in both. It meant providing a transcript in English of the German-language sermon, as well as a headset translation for those who only spoke Russian.

But for the time of open prayer the invitation was to use our own language and for some time we shared as people poured out their prayers. We couldn’t understand most of them and yet, in an extraordinary, we understood exactly what was going on.

The community of faith was reaching to God, holding each other up before their Father and longing for the best. It was a remarkable moment – and a great note on which to begin five days together.