History of the Parish Congregation of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in Letohrad

At the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, the broad land on the North bank of the upper stream of the Ticha Orlice River belonged to the Zampach family and to the lords of Poststein who were followers of the Hussite movement. In 1410, Nicolas Zampach of Potstein pleaded for the annulment of the anathema imposed on John Hus and asked for condemnation of the burning of Wiclef's writings.

In 1415, Nicolas signed a protest against the burning of Master Hus and approved the Military Order of Zizka. A small parish of the Unity of Brethren (Unitas Fratrum) was founded in 1457 in nearby Kunvalk by Brother Rehor. Even the local feudal lord Matej Strachota became a member after its founding.It was written of him "...who having left his fort on the Vorlice River because of its wealth, was in the Unity of Brethren in poverty." In 1467, another parish was founded, namely Orlice, which is part of present day Letohrad. The parish lasted until 1620 when its pastor tragically died.

Other reports about non-Catholic congregations are only fragmentary. However, counter-reformation movements gained footholds in the local region and other regions of the Czech Republic. We find documents in the municipal archive of how local authorities interrogated a prisoner after the Battle of the White Mountain (1620) who would not speak of the counter-reformation movements even after torture. The local authorities were suspicious that the prisoner belonged to a forbidden church and of his alliance with a devil. During the end of the 18th century, there continued allusions to "bellwethers" of Kysperk in local literature (Kysperk was renamed Letohrad).

The Edict of Toleration in 1781 brought great change. Already by 1782 one reformed congregation existed in Horni Cermna, a single parish in a wide region, which still exists today. However, Kysperk remained predominantly Catholic with only five protestant families living here after World War I. Change continued with the conversion movement named "Away from Rome" after the First World War when Czechoslovakian citizens left the Catholic Church which had been discredited to a large extent because of its close association with the Hapsburg monarchy. Many of those leaving the Catholic Church became members of protestant churches. These new members reinforced the existing congregations and prompted the founding of new ones. The birth of Letohrad's congregation and its history begins at this time.

The first Sunday service of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB) took place in Kysperk in 1921. Ladislav Repa, the pastor of the Horni Cermna congregation, conducted services in the local elementary school. By the time there were fifty people present with their families, a new congregation was formed as a 'preaching station' under the sponsorship of the Horni Cermna congregation. During the first ten years, the Kysperk congregation heavily depended on the 400 members of the Horni Cermna congregation. However, during the 1930s, the Horni Cermna congregation dropped to about 350 members, losing about 50 people who simply stopped attending church or converted back to Roman Catholicism.

The Kysperk preaching station was administered by a 'Board of the Preaching Station', ten members who were voted in for six year terms in accordance with ECCB regulations. The importance of the board was especially critical during the 1920s when contact with the home congregation was difficult due to a near absence of transportation. Only two possibilities existed to travel from Horni Cermna to Letohrad, by foot for by horse team. By the 1930's the situation improved with the introduction of bus and train service among Horni Cermna, Vermerovice and Kysperk. The transportation situation further improved when the pastor of Horni Cermna parish was provided a car to support his work.

Consequently, during the 1930's, the work of the preaching station in Kysperk stabilized. The Board met regularly, there were systematic parish collections, and money was raised for a harmonium. Also, financial support was offered to needy members of the congregation. Other projects receiving support during this time included Social Houses, the Missionary School in Olomouc, reconstruction of the Hus House in Prague and construction activities of other congregations. By 1938, members of the preaching station in Kysperk consisted of 193 members from Kysperk, 116 from Orlice, 22 from Kuncice, 23 from Vermerovice, 15 from Mistrovice, 11 from Lukavice, 6 from Rotnek and 8 members from Zamberk. There were even negotiations for assigning an assistant pastor from the home congregation in Horni Cermna who would be devoted to the preaching station in Kysperk. However, these negotiations failed due to financial constraints.

Everything changed with the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. The home congregation in Horni Cermna was located in a section of the country annexed by the German Third Reich and the preaching station of Kysperk was in the part of Czechoslovakia that was considered a German protectorate. Therefore, permission was required to cross the German state border. Permission to cross the border was controlled by the local authority in Lanskroun and was only valid for a specified period. Border crossing became harder and harder as permission became progressively more difficult to obtain. Since the preaching station in Dolni Dobrouc was in a similar situation with Horni Cermna, those church members in Dolni Dobrouc were reassigned to the preaching station in Kysperk where they remain to this day.

Another result of the complicated boundary situation was that Kysperk's preaching station had to affiliate with the administrative unit of the Chocen ECCB congregation. However, Chocen was even further from Kyperk than Horni Cermna so the Board of the Kysperk preaching station petitioned the ECCB Seniorate for approval of its own pastor. The Seniorate approved the request and on January 2nd, 1940, a student of theology, Josef Vobornik from Ceska Trebova, took up the pastor's office in Kysperk. After passing his final examinations in October 1940, he became an elective vicar. The following year he was selected as a seniorate vicar and was formally ordained by a seniorate pastor, J. Krenek, at Chocen two months later. Parish registers were established in Kysperk. Probably the most precious gift to Brother Vobornik from several parish members was a most valuable tool - a bicycle that enabled him to minister to those in distant places.

On September 1, 1942 the preaching station of Kysperk was designated as a branch parish of the parish congregation in Chocen and Vicar Vobornik was installed as its preacher. The Council of ten elders was elected and a curator, Josef Motl, was chosen; he was the former chairman of the Board of the Preaching Station. However, in 1941 Vicar Vobornik suffered from a prolonged illness that required a deacon, B. Polivka from Trebechovice, to substitute for more than a year. In 1942, Vicar Vobornik resigned because of poor health and the parish received a new vicar, Vaclac Hruby, in the winter of 1945-1946.

Since all apartments were under the control of the local authority, there was a great shortage of affordable housing and the pastor endured a year of extemporary housing before finally gaining a certificate for a flat. In 1948, the Kysperk parish transferred back under the administration of the congregation in Horni Cermna. By 1951, Vicar Hruby had left for Karlovy Vary and the Kysperk received a new pastor, Zbynek Honzal from Strmilov, who was installed in Febuary of the following year. However, the housing problems continued. Pastor Honzal was not able to get a flat certification from the local authority who refused to issue one for a pastor. Vaclav Hejl, a member of the congregation, offered provisional housing in his shop in spaces no longer in use. This proved an acceptable solution and soon Pastor Honzal was able to provide a full range of services to the congregation.

Beginning in 1953, the church districts were reallocated. The former home congregation of Horni Cerma remained in the church district of Chrudim while the congregation in Kysperk became a part of the church district of Hradec Kralov. The new home congregation became Trebechovice. By 1956, the congregation in Kysperk had become a parish congregation and selected its first parish pastor, Brother Honzal. In addition, the housing situation changed when the parish was able to purchase the house at 353 Tyrsova Street. However, only one small flat with a small kitchen and two rooms was available but it provided the five members of the pastor's family a marked improvement in residence. There were two other apartments in the house but they were occupied and therefore it was not possible to use that space for other needs of the parish.

The year 1959 again brought misfortune for the Kyrperk congregation when Pastor Honzal became sick and was unable to minister for over a year. His substitute was Pastor Josef Valenta from Kraliky who was augmented by several presbyters over the course of the year. Also that year, the services taking place at the local elementary school on Komenskeho Street were prohibited. Fortunately, an unused print shop was rented very soon afterwards and after a little reconstruction, the shop served the needs of the parish for 18 years.

Substitute pastor, Josef Valenta, left Kraliky in 1963 and transferred to Bucina. At that time, the ECCB decided that the congregation of Kraliky would be administered from Kysperk since it was understood that distant parishes could not be staffed by independent pastors. With Pastor Honzal only partially recovered, help with administration of the Kraliky congregation came from Pastor Jana Kosejskova from Zabreh who was responsible for administering the congregation at Pisarov. Transportation problems were prevalent since both Zabreh and Kraliky were quite far from Kysperk; the train was used to get to Kraliky but a car was necessary to get to Pisarov. In spite of the difficulties, church activities regularly took place at all these parishes.

Pastor Honzal completed his work with the parish of Kysperk and left because of family reasons in 1966. Jiri Vojtechovsky acceded to the pastor's office in that same year but left for the congregation in Hlinsko in 1969 after only three years, also departing because of family reasons. For well into 1970, the Kysperk parish remained without a pastor. Pastors from neighboring parishes assisted with Sunday services. The church district curator, Josef Prouza, was able to fill in twice a month and conduct Sunday school training for children. During 1971 to 1973, Vicarin Jarmila Stradalova came two times a week to Kysperk (Letohrad). Since she lived in Hronov, a town quite far from Letohrad, the parish was very grateful for her valuable temporary service.

A full time pastor was again assigned in 1973. Pastor Kveta Silarova was installed in October 1973 but the special occasion was conducted in the renovated print shop since the state authorities would not allow the parish to rent a larger hall in the local Cultural House. However, by 1977, the second floor of the parish house on Tyrsova Street was vacated and the municipal authority permitted services to be conducted there. The following year building reconstruction was completed which configured the second floor as a flat for the pastor and the first floor was rebuilt as a chapel and the pastor's office. Since August of 1979, Sunday services have been held in a place owned by the parish. However, the parish had to wait until 1990 to regain control of the ground floor. Pastor Kveta Silarova was offered a position with the Synodal Council in Prague in 1985 and left Letohrad parish after twelve years as its pastor.

The year 1986 was full of positive events. The parish received a new full time pastor, Pavel Ruml, and was able to purchase a new car to allow him to extend ministry to the various areas around Letohrad where small groups were dispersed. That year also marked the 30th anniversary of the parish's founding. The former pastor of the congregation, Pastor Honzal from Jindrichuv Hradec, preached during this occasion and the parish welcomed many guests from neighboring districts as well as from more distant churches and places. In 1989, the parish again welcomed a new pastor, Jana Rumlova, the wife of the parish pastor who acceded to the pastor's office and began to administer the congregation at Kraliky.

Good things continued as the 1990s brought the downfall of the totalitarian regime and the parish was finally able to control the ground floor of the parish house on Tyrsova Street. The ground floor was used for a number of parish activities after some needed renovations. There was a bookstore there for several years under the management of Jaroslav Skalicky. The space was also regularly used for coffee and socializing after Sunday services.

The 1990's also ushered in an opening of the parish to the outside world. Several new partnerships were forged with churches in Hausen (Switzerland) Jansdorf (Germany) and Annapolis (U.S.A.). Of special importance are the partnerships with the congregations of Jansdorf and Annapolis. Regular visits are supported and guests to Letohrad are usually accommodated with the hosting families; this permits better understanding of the life of believers in other countries. We should not overlook the support these congregations provided to the construction of the new church building, both in their personal participation in construction and through their financial support.

The decade of the 1990s provided new opportunities for outreach. Since 1991, the parish has offered pastoral services and provided other help to the House for Handicapped Boys in Zampach. Both of the Letohrad pastors regularly officiate at their craft exhibitions and concerts. The parish also arranged several summer camps for the youth of the parish and to some of the boys with disabilities. During 1990-1995, the parishes in Kostelec and Orlici were administered from Letohrad. In addition, the parish in Horni Cermna was administered from Letohrad by Pavel Ruml during 1997-1998. This was an opportunity for our parish to reciprocate the support and care that Homi Cermna provided in the beginning of the century. Also, five of our young members completed their theological studies while others finished a course for deacons. At present two of our members study at the evening school of the Church Bible School in Hradec Kralove.

There were also some unfortunate happenings during the 1990's. Parish life ended in both Kraliky and Cervena Voda. In 1997 the congregational house was sold in Kraliky because Sunday services were already being conducted in Cervena Voda and people from Karaliky went to services there by car. In that same year, however, Sunday services were cancelled in Cervena Voda because of a diminishing number of participants. That congregational house was also sold in 1997. Only in Pisarov are services regularly taking place. Those people coming from Kraliky and Cervena Voda are transported to Letohrad for services by car.

In 1998 the anniversary of the establishment of the Unity of Brethren was celebrated within the Letohrad congregation. Many special guests from local and distant churches, representatives from the political and cultural spectrums also participated in this great event. The cornerstone of the new church building was laid during this special occasion.

In September 1999 there was another change of the congregational pastor. Pavel Ruml accepted the position as a chaplain in the Czech Army and his wife, Jana Rumlova acceded to the pastor's office. Pavel Ruml's farewell celebration took place on September 22, 1999 in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Wenceslaw. Besides a number of guests from different churches and the army, both representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, and of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethern, Synodal Senior Pavel Smetana, participated in this event.

1999 also marked another event of great importance. The small congregation in Pisarov celebrated the 70th anniversary of laying the cornerstone of the local church building there. Almost all participants of Letohrad's Sunday service attended the celebration service. The last pastor of the Pisarov congregation Josef Valenta preached at the occasion. The usual order of the service was altered with readings from the chronical and ended with a gathering with refreshments.

A final thought regarding the completion of the new church building in 2001. A decision was made to sell the parish house at 363 Tyrsova Street that had faithfully served the Letohrad congregation for 55 years. In 2002, after so many years, the parish could finally move to a dignified space that will, we firmly believe, serve not only the needs of the congregation but also fulfill a need of the town and the people around us.

Written in 2002. Special thanks to Mr. Josef Stejskal, the chronicler, to Klara Jahnova, the translator and to Ed Skinner, the text corrector.