ŠUMPERK. Taking a trash can filled with leafs and debris from the roof of an evangelical parish’s garage in this Czech town is no easy task. Sacristan Miroslav Drozd is reconsidering his plan to take the can down by ladder when suddenly almost two-metre-tall priest Jakub Pavlús appears, reaches for the can and places it on the ground.
“That’s why we took him,” Drozd told the Slovak Spectator laughing and playing with three running and cheerful dogs. “He's good for manual work.”
The new priest Pavlús also plays with the dogs for a while then goes to prepare for a biblical lesson.
Pavlús moved to the parish of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ČCE) in Šumperk in early June. Almost one year after the The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia (ECAV) chose not to prolong the year-long contract with him, because he defended same-sex marriages.
At that time, he had twin daughters, just a few days old, lying in the intensive care unit after a premature birth. As a young father, he looked for manual work to be able to pay for his children’s medicine. People then started a collection to support him, and brought in more than €10,000 in less than a week.
Evangelicals in Turany, where Pavlús worked for a year, praised his work, but no one asked them for their opinion. The last worship was, therefore, emotional.
“I got used to the place and made some friends there,” Pavlús told the Slovak Spectator. “It was like I broke up with a girlfriend after a year.”
Pavlús’ case, however, is not only a story of a suspended priest, according to theologian Ondrej Prostredník of the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava.
“The bishops used Pavlús to send a message to others,” Prostredník told The Slovak Spectator. “Since then, the discussion about homosexual marriages has completely stopped in the church.”
ECAV has not responded to questions regarding the case.
Referendum on family
When he began his theology studies, Pavlús disagreed with homosexual marriages. In his diploma thesis, however, he devoted himself to this subject and gradually changed his view.
“For me, the key question was what in marriage really matters,” Pavlús said. “If two people love each other, want to live together and will live together regardless if I give them a blessing or not, then they do not have to ask for my opinion.”
He added that he did not see anything bad about creating a platform for such a relationship in the form of marriage.
On the other hand, Pavlús did not spread his opinion among Turany parishioners. Most of them did not even know.
His superiors learned about his sentiments only after a campaign took place before the 2015 referendum on family, aiming to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. The bishops asked Pavlús about his opinion on same-sex partnerships during a meeting. When he did not accept the official view of the church, they called him in for an interview.
As priests just starting out in ECAV have one-year contracts, which do not have to be prolonged, the bishops told Pavlús to act wisely during the interview.
“They were not interested in my family situation, the work in the parish or the opinions of its members,” Pavlús said. “They were just dogmatically interested in my attitude towards marriage.”
Pavlús' views on marriage and family are in contradiction with the doctrine of the Evangelical Church in Slovakia, reads the ECAV's official statement on this issue.
“That was why the Bishops’ Assembly disagreed with the new job contract after [the previous] fixed-term contract had terminated,” the bishops told the press.
Such issues are a matter of humanity and mutual respect and should be carried in such way, according to theologian and publicist Miroslav Kocúr.
“Pavlús’s case resembles rather a managerial decision of a bishop,” Kocúr told The Slovak Spectator.
A friend working as a priest in the Czech Republic advised Pavlús to look for a church within the ČCE. The church has a long-standing problem with a lack of priests and after a few month trial period, it welcomed him.
“As a pastoral worker, he showed good abilities for working in our church,” ČCE spokesman Jana Vondrová told The Slovak Spectator.
He chose the parish in Šumperk with several hundred members and which has been without a priest for three years.
With his wife and children, he now lives in a two-storey parish house close to the church.
“I’m happy that me and the priest have similar personalities and I’m glad that he is here,” Drozd said, adding that the parish in Šumperk is not only a church institution but also a community centre where Pavlús fits in well.
Drozd agrees with the views of Pavlús and says that he does not like the way in which he lost his previous work.
“I don’t think that Christians should behave like that,” Drozd addressed the Slovak bishops.
Czechs like him
Compared with the Slovak church where Pavlús worked, the Czech one is much smaller and around one hundred people fill the church.
“I would like to have a more gothic ceiling,” says Pavlús about a simply furnished church, where Germans, Hungarians and Poles have held services together with Moravians.
That is why this local church is more tolerant than others, according to Eva Dobravová who is a member of the church.
“This church is atypical,” Dobravová told The Slovak Spectator. “Few churches are so tolerant.”
Parishers in Šumperk, together with ČCE representatives, do not oppose Pavlús’ view on marriage.
Czech law does not recognise same-sex marriage, only a registered partnership, therefore, Pavlús could not marry same-sex couples even if he wanted to.
ČCE does not have an official stance on such marriages and considers homosexuality to be the subject of discussion. There are, however, arguments about whether priests should bless such relationships. Thus same-sex couples have to make some effort to find a priest willing to give them their blessing, according to Pavlús.
This approach is more acceptable than the ECAV’s one, according to Prostredník.
“The Bible texts do not condemn the firm and lasting relationship of two people of the same sex based on love,” Prostredník said. “The attitude of the ECAV leadership is indefensible in today’s theological discourse.”
Pavlús says that he is happy with his new work and he is increasingly fine with the idea that he will spend a long time there.
His believers agree that they would welcome that.
“The Czechs have gained a lot with his arrival and Slovaks have lost on the contrary,” said Drozd.