Vienna was yesterday – Slovakia is today
Kathy, Joan, Judy and I landed in Vienna an hour early (at 7:30) got our luggage, and flew through customs faster than I’ve ever done before. No line, no questions, stamp the passport, and move on. Amy arrived a few minutes early on her flight due at 9:00.
Often when I train VIM leaders and teams, I ask small groups to discuss what makes a perfect leader – or a perfect team member. Today I began to think about what makes a perfect tour guide. Maybe an expatriate American (United Methodist) – intelligent and curious – who’s lived in Vienna for over 30 years – who’s willing to share his beloved city with others – and who’s sensitive to the needs of weary travelers who have only one day to experience Vienna. Jerry Barton sent me an email before we arrived saying he’d try to meet us at the airport and would be “the only one with a white chin beard, glasses, and a Panama hat. :-)” He in fact did meet us at the airport and provided a gift beyond measure. Himself.
At the airport we rented an “airportdriver” who transported us and all our luggage to the Pillottihaus, a Catholic guest house in the middle of Vienna. After a brief rest (emphasis on brief), Jerry passed out the 24 hour passes he had purchased for us. Those enabled us to ride the subway and the tram whenever we got weary of walking.
Talk about open heart, open arms, open mind – Jerry Barton was hospitality personified. From the airport to the time he left us at the end of the day (10:00) he shepherded us, showed us the Vienna he loved, took us to restaurants that would give us a taste of high class Vienna, and a meal of authentic Austrian food, fed us tidbits of history, walked us through the old city, through palace gardens, along the Vienna River and the Danube canal, and provided fascinating information from the perspective of a man who asked questions through the years about whatever he was curious about.
He finished our day by taking us to the English German United Methodist Church (Sechshauserstrasse) where he was a member and once-a-month organist for the English congregation. Except for the cross above the door and the sign beside the door, we would not have known this was a church. Centuries ago Austria was strictly Roman Catholic – not welcoming Protestant churches in any way. I was tired enough I don’t remember the name of the ruler who finally decreed that Protestants could have their churches in Austria, but their architecture could not look like a church.
We met Stefan Schroeckenfuchs, the pastor of the German congregation who was kind enough to answer our questions about this unique church, the two congregations who share the building, and the community in which the church lives – in a district which is home to more refugees and immigrants and Roma than any other district in Vienna. He shared the difficulty in ministry with the Roma whose culture does not promote the work ethic of most of the people of the congregation. He talked of the complexity of trying to minister to a diverse congregation and encourage them to reach out to people who have been labeled as beggars and thieves, sometimes with justification. He began the foundation of our search for answers by admitting that he, too, was searching for the way to answer God’s call. He left us with a question to ponder – who’s the bigger thief, the powerful business magnate who cuts corners, has a cut-throat approach to making money, and rips off others, or the poorest of the poor who steals food to survive. Who do we want the most in our churches? I got the impression he was trying to be a faithful servant – in spite of unclear answers to this challenging ministry. More tomorrow…