The 2008 Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance is being held in the beautiful old city of Prague, in the Czech Republic, known in the old Soviet days as Czechoslavakia. Prague, of course, is much older than the USSR, and much of its proud architecture from the 9th century onward is still around.
I had time for a quick walk-through of the Old City today (following an even quicker ride on a modern subway). Many of the buildings date from the 14th-16th centuries, and I found it as charming as it is crowded. Buildings tend to be ornately detailed and delicately colored: you can’t turn around without seeing something new that begs for a photograph.
The Charles Bridge over the Vitava River is ruled by pedestrians and buskers of every sort, a cobblestone crossway lined with religious sculpture, street musicians, and charcoal artists. A huge stone cross bore not only Jesus, but a golden Hebrew inscription that translates “Holy, Holy, Holy, LORD (Yahweh) of Hosts.” Jesus appears to be flanked by his mother Mary and the Apostle John, both wearing forlorn expressions.
Huge crowds gathered outside the Old Town Hall, parts of which date to 1338. A massive and complicated clockworks on its main tower chimes every hour. I don’t know if the other hours are better, but the 5:00 p.m. show was rather disappointing, with only a few bells ringing, though the rope for one was pulled by a skeleton.
A disappointing side of the city is that bathrooms (at least in that area) are hard to find and gnerally involve payment. If I didn’t already know that “WC” stands for “Water Closet,” which is code for a toilet, I’d never find one. A sign outside of one dingy dungeon-type bathroom said the charge was “10-22 Kz” (you get about 14 Czech crowns to the dollar). I don’t know if the bathroom charged by which stall you visit or whether you wash up afterward: I moved along.
Restaurants were numerous, but waiters so nonchalant that I gave up my quest to have traditional roast pig’s knee and dumplings for dinner. Instead, I bought a grilled sausage on a hard bun from a street vendor for a heartburn-inducing supper before heading back to a BWA meeting that must have given its “Implementation Task Force” something worse than heartburn. After four years of work on a plan to recommend some basic restructuring of the BWA’s Executive Committee, the task force hopes to have its proposals approved this year.
A two-hour discussion session to allow comment leaves me wondering how much of it will happen, however. There was no lack of discussion and opinion. Offered with both good humor and deep passion, speakers expressed their concerns and hopes, most related in one way or another to being assured that the committee’s makeup will reflect appropriate regional, ethnic, gender and age diversity.
One thing you learn at a BWA meeting: whether they come from Alabama or Australia, Argentina or Armenia, Baptists will be Baptists. They will hold to different opinions and they will speak their minds. On good days, they will love one another at the same time.
Where the Baptist World Alliance is concerned, most days are good days.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.