6:00 P.M. EST July 9, 2010
United Methodists in suburban Philadelphia joined Hungarian Christians in grief and prayer after two members of a visiting youth group died in a tour boat accident.
Authorities on July 9 recovered the bodies of 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem, two members of a cultural-exchange program with the youth group of Marshallton United Methodist Church in West Chester, Pa.
Two days earlier, seven youth and leaders from the Marshallton church hosted a group of 15 Hungarians on an amphibious sightseeing boat on the Delaware River. The Ride the Ducks vehicle stalled and an oncoming barge slammed into the craft, throwing all 37 aboard into the river. All but Schwendtner and Prem were rescued.
United Methodist congregations and other churches in the area are reaching out to the Marshallton youth group and the Hungarian visitors. Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy A. Johnson said the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference mobilized to provide counseling services.
Christ United Methodist Church in Lansdale, Pa., transformed its regular Wednesday night worship service into a prayer vigil for the accident victims and their families.
Marshallton United Methodist Church held a prayer service the following day. About 50 church members and others in the community sang familiar hymns such as “How Great Thou Art,” “In the Garden” and “Amazing Grace,” said the Rev. Bob Wilt, a district superintendent who attended the service.
After the service, the Rev. Scott Widmer, Marshallton’s pastor, said that the two youth groups had boarded the boat separated by nationality. That changed after the accident.
“There wasn’t a group of youth from America and youth from Hungary,” he told the Philadelphia Daily News. “There was one group, walking, praying, hugging each other through this ordeal.”
The Hungarians had come to the U.S. through Atlantic Bridge, a nonprofit group based in the Netherlands, which according to its website is “a Christian, international, cross-cultural team with a passion for young people.”
As part of the exchange program, a youth team from Marshallton United Methodist Church visited Hungary in 2006. Hungarian teams have visited the U.S. in 2007 and again this year. The youth groups share in Christian fellowship and fun, while the visitors stay with host families and visit cultural and historic places in their respective countries.
The Hungarian group arrived in the United States on July 2, and is scheduled to return to Hungary on July 23.
The program helps build the faith of both visitors and hosts, said the Rev. Gary Knerr, Christ United Methodist Church’s pastor. Kerr has been involved in the Atlantic Bridge program while pastor at Marshallton and now at Christ Church.
“A lot of these kids [from the former Eastern bloc] are brand-new Christians,” Knerr said. “That may be one of the biggest tragedies of what happened is that a lot of these people are new to the faith.”
He said those dealing with this tragedy are still in shock and, in some cases, overwhelmed by grief.
“We’re somewhere between Good Friday and Sunday at this point,” he said. “The thing we have that they didn’t 2,000 years ago is the promise that something does happen on Sunday. We cling to that same promise. We see that God always redeems these things.”
The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference is raising money for those affected by the accident. Donations can be sent to the conference, P.O. Box 820, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0820. Please put Marshallton United Methodist Church in the memo line.
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (615) 742-5470 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or firstname.lastname@example.org.