A synod delegation visited the Slovak Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Serbia on the occasion of a conference for the pastors of their Church which took place on March 9. Bishop Wilma S. Kucharek led the group which included the Rev. Dr. Thomas S. Drobena, pastor in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, and the Rev. Dr. Cheryl M. Peterson, professor of systematic theology and associate dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.
The conference opened with a service of Confession and Absolution and Holy Communion at the church in Novi Sad. Conference presentations featured a presentation by Bishop Kucharek on the history and theology of women’s ordination, a presentation by Professor Peterson on Lutheran-Pentecostal Dialogue, and a presentation by Dr. Drobena on Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue. The panel was invited by Bishop Jaroslav Javornik of the Slovak Lutheran Church in Serbia to address these topics of interest to local pastors. The Slovak community in Serbia is a Lutheran minority in a majority Serbian Orthodox country, which is also being impacted by growing charismatic and Pentecostal churches in their communities.
In addition to participation in the conference and meeting with local pastors, the group was warmly welcomed, prior to and following the conference, by several congregations, including the church in Stara Pazova, where Bishop Kucharek spoke to lay leaders and brought greetings to an active bible study group, the church in Kovačica, where Pastor Drobena preached, the church in Padina, where Bishop Kucharek preached, the church in Kisač where Bishop Kucharek brought greetings to the faithful gathered for morning prayer, and the church in Pivnice, where Bishop Kucharek led a bible study for the faithful gathered there and prayed with the youth and individual members in response to a Spirit-filled time of song by the congregation’s various choirs; other congregations visited included Slankamenské Vinohrady, Hložany, and Báčsky Petrovec. On Sunday, March 12, Bishop Kucharek preached in the Lutheran congregation in Kulpin, served by Bishop Javornik.
Throughout the visit, greetings were brought on behalf of the synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; in addition, meetings with pastors and lay leaders discussed the ongoing challenges and opportunities in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, changing demographics in Vojvodina (the northern region of Serbia, which is home to most of the Slovak Lutheran Churches), the war in Ukraine, and other current realities.
Bishop Javornik expressed his gratitude for the continued cooperation between the Slovak Zion Synod and the Lutheran Church in Serbia, and the opportunities for mutual enrichment and support that enrich our ties as the body of Christ. Professor Peterson thanked the synod for its work in the region and for enabling her visit. “I will admit I did not know what to expect when I was invited to visit Serbia, almost twenty-five years after [the Yugoslav wars and NATO bombings]. The pastors and lay leaders I met have given me a “face” to this part of the world, showing me a church that is resilient, grounded in faith, proud of their Lutheran heritage, and dedicated to their youth.”
The Lutheran Church in Serbia consists of congregations in three conferences, founded by Slovaks who moved into the fertile lowlands in the south of the Habsburg monarchy to work as farmers or as soldiers in the military frontier with the Ottoman Empire some 250 years ago. Last year, the Lutheran Church in Serbia, whose Bishop Javornik and a number of their pastors are past participants of our synod’s seminarian trainee program, celebrated the centennial of their independence from the Hungarian Church.