Report from the First Prague UU Weekend in 2017
By Nancy Klein
Imagine a beautiful European city with a wide, flowing river, a castle on the hill, richly decorated building facades, a variety of theatrical, art and film events and dozens of churches that host classical concerts nightly. And imagine visiting such a city in the company of an eclectic mix of international U*Us, exchanging spiritual insights and practices. This cultural paradise actually exists: It is Prague, in the Czech Republic. And that company existed in the group that came together at the end of March for the Prague Spring weekend.
We came to this amazing city on the Vltava River to attend the March 31–April 2, 2017 UU weekend hosted by the International Unitarian Church of Prague. We received a warm welcome when we arrived and were greeted by Rev. Mark Shiels lay leader Susan Goldberg, and many other attendees from around Europe. We met people living in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, England, France and, of course, the Czech Republic. Rev. Shiels said there were 12 visitors from other countries at the weekend event, plus 29 people from the International Unitarian Church of Prague.
On Friday night, we had a wonderful dinner together at the church building and listened to a lovely concert of Czech music, including piano music and singing. Saturday morning, Rev. Shiels taught us some very relaxing Buddhist meditations. Afterwards, the weekly service was held, featuring prayers, poems, joys and concerns, hymns, a collection for a social justice project to help Roma people and a lovely homily about Czech Unitarianism titled, “The Way of the Sunflower!.” Rev. Shiels spoke about the healing properties of sunflowers and shared how this flower features prominently in Czech Unitarianism.
Saturday afternoon, two different city tours were offered: one about the Cubist architecture in the city and a second one on eccentric Prague. My husband attended the Cubist architecture tour and saw houses, apartment buildings and two twisted but paired buildings called the Dancing House, known locally as Fred and Ginger. I attended the eccentric Prague tour and we saw the home where scientist Johannes Kepler lived, a black foreboding statute of a mythical man that was supposedly the inspiration for Darth Vader, a seemingly endless tower of books in the public library, the Jewish quarter with its backward clock, the smallest street in the world, statutes of two men peeing in a fountain, and the Charles Bridge, among other delights.
That night, some of us gathered at a local Lebanese restaurant and had a wonderful dinner together. Sunday morning, about 20 UU weekend attendees gathered at The Globe for brunch to bond once more and reluctantly say our goodbyes. Many of us plan to attend the Spring UU retreat in Ulm, Germany at the start of June. We look forward to seeing some of the friends we made in Prague at that event.
My husband and I both had a great time meeting other UUs in Prague and exploring the city. It’s always fun to travel but it’s even more meaningful to travel and meet up with like-minded people to worship, share a meal and explore our surroundings together. Here is what two other attendees had to say about this first-of-its-kind event. “It was a wonderful weekend in Prague,” said visitor Tony Zamparutti. “We received an amazingly warm welcome from the Unitarians in Prague and this was combined with the opportunity to wander through a magical city. It was a weekend of meeting new people and seeing old friends, enjoying Czech beer and Lebanese food and more, and a weekend of spiritual exploration and physical wandering.”
Added Susan Goldberg, the lay leader for services at the Unitarian Church of Prague, “The great thing about the weekend is that the guests really had some time to visit Prague and our church. It was very personal. When we meet in conference centers, it’s not so easy to see the town and still get all the conference or workshop stuff done. I’d love to have more retreats like this in other European cities.”