One on One Pavel Paluchnik – Young pastor at “design” church near Prague
In Černošice, a short train ride from Prague, there is a small but eye-catching church – with lots of curved surfaces and a rough concrete finish – which has appeared in design magazines and is frequently visited by architecture enthusiasts. It belongs to the Církev Bratrská, a Czech Protestant denomination, and its minister is Pavel Paluchnik, who is only 31 years of age.
When we spoke in a children’s club room in the remarkable church building, Pavel told me that his father had been a pastor in several Bohemian towns under Communism. So was his dad’s work in some sense underground?
“Yes it was. As a child, I didn’t have a great idea of what it was all about and if he had some problems. But afterwards when I talked to my father I learned a lot of interesting stories from him.
“It’s true that my father had a lot of opposition from the state and from the supervisors. There was a kind of supervision from the government and it was not easy to work with youth, or to do more Bible lessons or have family gatherings and sing songs and read the Bible.
“Also my father was invited several times to the police and he had to say what was going on at the church. So it wasn’t easy. It was a kind of atmosphere of fear.
You must have seen your father’s life improve hugely then in 1990 [following the Velvet Revolution of late 1989], when you were quite young?
“Yes, a lot of things changed, of course. I remember the year 1989. We were at the time in Česká Skalice, which is a small town, and my father was attending the demonstrations there. They were very small demonstrations, with a few dozen people. But he also used this opportunity to preach the gospel.
“This I remember, as a child. I was eight years old and it was really exciting. Afterwards things changed a lot, and new opportunities came the church and for congregations. It was a different time, of course.”
You were telling me earlier that as a child you didn’t want to become a minister yourself. What changed? When did you decide to take a vocation?
“It was a long process. You know, I was very happy to read the Bible and to study all these things, theology, and also to work with youth. But I thought it wasn’t work for me to do as a full-time job. I wanted to study history or geography, or some languages.
“I think it changed when I studied in Belfast in Northern Ireland. I used to go out in the evening or even during the night to the docks of Belfast, where the Titanic was built.
“It was very interesting and I found it to be a symbol, that everything has to sink – all my ideas or all my thoughts regarding what was most important.
“I found it a calling to the ministry. The last obstacle was pulled out of my way and then when I came home from Belfast after a year of study I started my ministry.”
You’re 31 years old, you look young, you wear t-shirts and jeans – and you’ve already been here for three years. How did the congregation take to having such a young minister at first?
“Well, you should ask them [laughs]. They seem to be quite happy, but I’m not sure if they also had some worries about that, and I suppose they had…”
Well, from your point of view, are there particular advantages or disadvantages to your age?
“I think both are true. It’s a big challenge of course. It really depends on what kind of church you are placed in, if there are brothers and sisters who really help you and you find many…co-workers, or if you have to do it on your own and nobody asks you, how is it going?
“So in this church I find it really nice that there are so many friends who are really helping me and supporting me.
“It was a big challenge to start. Two years ago the new church building was built and also this congregation was established three years ago. So everything is very new. Also I am young, so it’s a big challenge how to manage the situation. But hopefully…we believe that God is guiding us.”
You mentioned the church building. It’s one of the most remarkable churches I’ve ever been in. It’s super modern, it has a concrete surface on the outside [and on some parts of the interior], it has curves, it looks rather like a ship. Why did the congregation here in Černošice decide to invest in such an incredible building?
“It’s a long story [laughs]. The work started here in Černošice 80 years ago. It used to be a place, we call it a station, of a bigger congregation in Prague, where the gospel was preached and where a few families lived.
“We used to have a kind of family house which we used for gatherings for services and also for clubs for children. But we realised that there were so many people coming and that we had no space for them, so we needed either to reconstruct the old building or to build a new one.
“So there was a big idea to start a new church building. Because Černošice is a special place, near Prague, where many people are living in beautiful family houses…”
It’s quite a wealthy place.
“Yes, it’s a kind of wealthy place. Many rich people live here. Also we could say that many young families are living here. So it’s a big challenge, how to win the interest of these people. And we wanted to build a church building that would be modern, which would attract people.”
I was saying the building looks a bit like a ship, and I know that’s kind of your logo. You even have a club for children called Loďka, like small ship.
“Yes, that’s right. What’s really interesting is that the architect [Zdeněk Fránek] didn’t design it to be like a ship, or at least that’s what he maintains. But everybody comes here says, this is a ship, Noah’s Ark or something like that.
“I think the shape really is like a ship. But the architect says it could be many other things as well. It’s modern art, and it depends on everybody who comes how they feel it.”
“Yes, many young people. But all generations are interested in this building. Mostly those who study architecture. Every week we have visitors here who just want to see the building. They walk around, and if they have the opportunity they go in.
“It’s a great opportunity to explain why the building looks like it does. There’s not just a worship meeting room – there are many other rooms, as well as a flat for the pastor.”
You also have something I haven’t seen before – there’s a small pool outside that looks like a paddling pool for children, but you use it for baptisms.
“Yes, it’s used both for baptisms and for children. It’s a design element in the first place, which the architect wanted. He wanted to also have many of these pools, but it was too expensive.
“You can see the mirroring of the building on the surface of the pool. That’s very interesting. But of course for our use it’s important that we have a baptism place. And because it’s quite flat, and there are steps down into it so children can play in it. So yes, it’s a very popular place.”
My final question is, given that you are so young, do you use social media much to communicate much with your congregation and other people?
“Of course. I think in this time you need to use all the social media. We have a website and Facebook is also important.
“But the most important thing is to have a relationship with people. Many people come, but what we need, what we really want, is to be in touch with a concrete person and to share the gospel with him or her, and also to help with the problems that they are tackling.”