Slovakian learning about church life, cultures in Blooming Prairie

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2003

A Slovakian pastor-to-be is picking up some new ideas in Blooming Prairie for his future congregations.

Stefan Panuska, from Martin in central Slovakia, came to First Lutheran Church on June 23 for a three-month internship. His seminary has connections with the United States ELCA, and he is one of five students currently in the country.

Panuska said there are a lot of differences between the two countries' churches, and he hopes to incorporate some American practices into his style.

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Interaction between congregation members is different in America. Bulletins, after-church coffee hour and ushers are some concepts he rarely sees at home.

"There are some (ushers) in our congregations, but it's rare," he said. "I think it's very kind and can improve the mood when someone is smiling and invites you into the church."

He also thinks collection plates are much more effective than donation boxes at the front of the church because people feel more obligated to contribute when the plate is in their lap.

Panuska said he is learning a lot about the liturgy as well. In Slovakia, the style is much more traditional. The gospel, for example, is sung.

"In terms of the liturgy, the way we worship, this is very new to Stefan," Pastor Heidi Heimgartner said.

Heimgartner was the church's first intern, back in 1999. Working with Panuska, she said, has been enlightening. Some things that may seem routine are

not common world-wide.

"It makes us more conscious of what we do," she said.

Panuska has been active in all parts of church life in Blooming Prairie. He has contributed to the liturgy, Bible studies and hospital calls. He has also become active in the recreational side of pastoral work. He now golfs a number of times a week, something he never had the opportunity to do in Slovakia.

The major religion in Slovakia is Roman Catholic, Panuska said. About 60 percent of the population practices that faith. Only about 7 percent are Lutheran, but his home town is in a Lutheran area.

Panuska said the transition to American life has not been too difficult. The terrain and weather is similar to Slovakia. The food is the biggest adjustment.

"Your portions are just very large, so my weight is just growing and growing," he said.

Sheep cheese and sauerkraut soup are some dishes from his home country. He shared a recipe with Bible study members for bryndza, or potato dumplings.

Around here, he likes the pizza from his host family's parlor in Blooming Prairie. He is living with Keith and LuAnn Miller, owners of The Pizza Cellar.

Panuska said he is glad to be in Blooming Prairie. When he heard it was a small town, he had a different picture in his head.

"It's a nice town, little, but is has everything you need," he said. "It's a small town, but it's not what you call a village where I'm from."

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by email at