While walking the dog early this morning through the village where I live, and thinking through the rest of my morning, especially the Pentecost celebration at my church, I found myself thinking about my neighbors.
To my friends in the U.S., I realize, these people are mostly secular and irreligious. (I nearly added “socialist,” but that’s a topic for another post, one I’ve been putting off.)
And yet nearly every day I find hints and clues that this picture of my new neighbors is flawed or incomplete. Last week, for example, my copy of the Meilener Anzeiger arrived. It’s the weekly tabloid which would keep me up-to-date on what was happening in my village – Meilen – if only I could read it.
On the front page – in fact, covering the entire front page – was an article by the pastor of the village church, Pfarrer Daniel Eschmann, explaining the meaning of Pentecost. The photo accompanying the article was of a 14th century painting depicting the giving of the holy Spirit. As I scanned the piece I tried to remember the last time I was invited to submit 750 words about Pentecost for the front page of a local paper in the U.S. (It happens in some communities, I know, but it’s not a widespread phenomenon. And in more than 30 years it never happened to me.)
So, the idea persists that Europe in general and Switzerland in particular is a godless place in need of evangelizing.
Twice in the last month I received letters announcing plans to establish churches in Zurich, funded by well-intended Americans, to “reach” people like my neighbors. From the glossy brochures that accompanied the letters, I’m guessing that these efforts will be well-funded. These letters were a “courtesy,” letting me know of their “exciting” plans, but mostly I sensed they were a kind of judgment that churches like mine had failed in reaching the “unreached” in Europe.
In addition to getting mail about new churches, I now regularly meet individuals who feel “called” to Europe, who find people in the U.S. to “partner” with them by providing funds for their mission work in places like Zurich. They will come and do their best to learn the language and then share the good news of Jesus Christ.
I’m told by friends who pastor churches similar to mine, in places like Paris, Stockholm, and Berlin, that most of these efforts fail to take root. They flourish for a time, or until funding runs out, and then they disappear. Some, however, do take root and grow, though their members are typically drawn from African and Asian expat populations.
What do I take from all of this?
Well, for one thing, I’m convinced that the typical U.S. view of European religious life is superficial at best, that we see European church life from the narrow perspective of our own experience. I suspect, as I’ve written previously, that religious sensibilities run deeper here than most realize.
And, for another thing, just so you know, I welcome the mission efforts. Go ahead and throw the seed. Some of it, I pray, will eventually land on fertile soil.