Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Rest of Geneva

Four months, almost to the day, since I promised to blog again.  I have an average of 7 hits a day on a blog that hasn't posted in four months.  Talk about faithful!  Or maybe (probably) they are set on automatic to see what might come up.

Today is Maundy Thursday, which, among other things, celebrates the community gathered around Jesus and continuing in fellowship ever since.  Not a bad day to take up the communication again, sharing with the little community of this blog. 

I promised to say something about the rest of my experience in Geneva.  It was wonderful.  I found more new friends and enjoyed the parish a lot.  I had dinner out several times.  I visited Lausanne and Bern.  I spent four nights in Zurich at a great-priced Priceline hotel and visited St. Gall and Einsiedeln.  I spent the better part of a day at the Fondation Martin Bodmer, one of the great collections of books and manuscripts in the world.  The parish had its annual picnic at the house of a member family that had a huge lawn running down to the lake. 

Particularly fun was the Sunday we celebrated the youth and children's ministries.  The gospel that day was the story about the disciples out in a boat on the lake in a storm and Jesus asleep on a cushion in the front of the boat.  We -- the kids and I -- acted out the story, forming a boat, putting Jesus -- our Jesus was nominated by the kids -- on a cushion in front.  We swayed and moaned and pretended to barf out the side of the "boat" and generally had a good time of it.  Then I asked the kids how they felt about Jesus sleeping through all of it, and one of them got up and kicked "Jesus" in the butt.  It brought down the house!  What fun that day was!

The last Saturday I was there I arranged to visit the ancestral village of some of my mother's relatives -- the Mohneys, my mother's mother's father's line.  I am named for that gentleman, Adam Mohney.  He was the male figure in my mother's early life, as her father had been killed (and the family left without pension) while he was working for the Pennsylvania Railroad a few months before she was born in 1919.  In their Swiss days they were known as Manni.  Busy family genealogists (online!) had traced them back to the village of Dotzigen, in the Canton of Bern, a little south of Biel, on the River Aar.  Apparently they left around 1685 or so, moved to the Alsace and then around 1710 emigrated to Philadelphia.   Parishioners of Emmanuel, Samuel and Helena Mbele-Mbong and their grandson, volunteered to drive and we had a perfectly wonderful day.  Samuel is a retired official of the United Nations weather service in Geneva.  I had contacted the pastor of the local Swiss Reformed parish, a combination of four villages with two church buildings, who could not spend much time with us (the mayor had just died and much pastoral work and planning needed to be done) but found us a terrific guide in the person of Manfred Baumgartner, retired from the Swiss telephone company and treasurer of the four-village parish.  He was absolutely wonderful, and guided us around Dotzigen and the area, and even introduced us to a couple there who had us in for coffee.  The husband grew up in Southern California, and had been to Mount Calvary as a teenager!  Talk about a small world.

As Manfred explained it, Dotzigen and the three other villages are on the edges of a roughly circular plain that used to flood every few years.  The soil there is rich, but the hardships on the farmers at flood time there were great.  The river was finally re-channeled in the 1890s, but I think I have an idea why these ancestors of mine left.  They were probably tired of the insecurity of it all.

What a wonderful time all of us had that day!  I owe a great debt of thanks to the Mbele-Mbongs!

One other thing deserves mention.  A member of the staff of the parish discovered that her Swiss visa was about to expire.  The severity of the Swiss government response to her application to remain in the country where she had lived, studied and worked for a long time came as a surprise.  Immigration is a huge issue in Switzerland, as in other Western European countries.  They, being Swiss, have a different take on this sort of process than we have in the US.  In my experience working in Hispanic ministry in Anaheim and East Harlem the US approach is draconian in theory but the INS is so slow in doing its work (I hesitate to use the word incompetent, but I only hesitate a bit) that often years go by and lives are established and processes have to be adjusted from time to time to accommodate the human realities of people's lives.  Not so in Switzerland.  One ignores deadlines at one's peril.  One makes a mistake in one's application and one receives that interestingly detached look that Swiss bureaucrats cultivate.  One receives a first response and then tries to change it and one discovers that rules are not meant to facilitate one's own life.

There is an upside to all this efficiency, of course.  Everything is clean.  Everything runs as it is supposed to run.  There is an awesome honesty to Swiss public affairs, and a real righteousness in public dealings.  I am not making fun of this.  I really loved it.  But.  The downside of public efficiency is that when it concerns one personally, one discovers how very thorough it can be.  My understanding is that she received a grace period and had to be gone last fall.