OFFICIALLY it’s called the Bratislava International Church, but the people who worship in its English-language services all refer to it as Malý kostol or the Little Church.
Their service is held each Sunday at 9:30, sandwiched between a German service and a Hungarian service in the Malý evanjelický kostol on Lycejná at the intersection with Panenská 26/28, in a building that from the outside does not even look like a church.
“It was deliberately designed that way, in accordance with the restrictions on the building of Lutheran churches in the Austrian Empire still in force in the eighteenth century,” wrote Reverend Jonathan Sorum in an introduction to a booklet that describes the large painting that hangs next to the altar. Sorum is married to Reverend Ann Sorum, the church’s associate pastor.
“The church itself is a sign of the struggle of the Slovak Lutherans to persevere in the midst of a hostile environment,” Sorum wrote.
“Great pastors, friendly, friendly people; an island of peace.” That’s how Tocher Mitchell, a banking consultant, who is project manager of the EBRD SME [European Bank of Reconstruction and Development Small and Medium-sized Enterprises] facility, describes the congregation where he, his wife, and son worship.
“I like the way people from different countries and different cultures are gathered by their faith in Christ and are like family a long way from home,” said Biser R Katev of Svishtov, Bulgaria, who spent six months in Slovakia doing research on e-commerce.
Both Katev and Mitchell found the church through its regular ads in The Slovak Spectator.
The congregation serves people from many nations and denominations, even if the form of the service is Lutheran. A weekend retreat organised by the Sorums this winter was attended not only by Katev, but also by people from Ethiopia, China, Nigeria, Ghana, and the United States.
“Three things bring us together,” comments the church’s weekly bulletin, “the desire for Christian worship, the English language, and the fact that we are living in, or at least visiting, Bratislava.”
“It’s like a ministry to a parade,” Reverend Paul Hanson, the church’s pastor, observed, referring to the transient nature of the congregation.
In the US, a former member of a congregation returning to visit will be introduced by another long-term member of the congregation. In Bratislava, Hanson comments, it has been he who has increasingly made such introductions.
By the time he completes seven years as pastor at the end of June, he will have outlasted all but one or two members of the congregation. In fact, Hanson says, church membership has turned over twice since he came to Bratislava.
When the Hansons arrived, church attendance averaged about 50 worshippers per week. Last year, aided by a lively children’s Sunday School led by Melanie Radoja, it rose to 70 - 80, including more than 20 children, which gave the church a more youthful look than many American congregations.
Attendance this year is down to 65 - 70 per week, in large part because some of the families with children have moved on, Hanson explains.
The church began holding regular Sunday services in 1994, although occasional services had been conducted since 1991 for the various Americans who teach at the Bratislava Evangelical Lutheran seminary and the historic Lutheran gymnasium.
31. May 2004 at 0:00 | Owen V. Johnson