A dawn of hope in the present struggle in the church

After the decisions of General Conference as the highest legislative body in the world-wide United Methodist Church in February, a study group has been formed in the episcopal area of Bishop Patrick Streiff. The study group shall search for ways how to deal with these decisions. At its last meeting, the study group has affirmed in a surprisingly clear manner that it wants to strengthen what connects us – and accordingly will send a working paper to the church councils in the different countries.
During a first, organizing online-meeting in end June, the study group of the episcopal area of Bishop Streiff (Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe) decided that its meeting in Vienna in end August, shall serve to «take the bull by the horns» and address the basic question whether the members of the group are willing to invest time and energy into a search for a common way forward. After its meeting of end August, the group expressed a strong willingness to remain together as a central conference. The church leadership in the 16 countries of the episcopal area (district or annual conference church councils) shall be informed about the process. For this aim, a working paper had to be developed which could be finalized by the members of the study group in end September. It shall be presented to the church councils in the respective countries in the coming weeks.
«The willingness to look for and strengthen what we have in common, is a dawn of hope on the horizon», said Bishop Streiff after the meeting of end August. «At our meeting, bridges became apparent which may become a pathway for us into a common future.»
Intensive discussions on prejudices
Bridges became visible in a process at the Vienna meeting, when members of the study group shared in an open and fair way how they see each other’s side. In one of the steps of the process, the members worked in two different groups, related to their convictions. The task was to describe as fair as possible the «other» conviction around four areas: how do they understand the Bible? How do they see the relationship between faith and life, doctrine and acting? What is their opinion on the tension between unity and diversity? How do they see homosexuality and marriage? – Then, each group presented its answers and the other group could respond. It came to a very intensive sharing which led to the insight that the «frontlines» are not so uniform, that the own image of the «other» needs to be revised, and that there are bridges and common ground. «We need more such honest sharing», was the common agreement among the members of the group.
Looking ahead
Other steps in the process included collecting advantages and disadvantages of either staying together or separating, and sharing scenarios on ways of structuring the ministry in the episcopal area and/or in Europe in the future – independent of how realistic it would be.
Church councils in each country shall take a stand
But first of all – and the members of the study group agreed on this – the church councils shall position themselves whether they are willing to engage in a common way into the future. The working paper which will be sent to them starts on the basis of the present, valid Book of Discipline of the central conference. The church councils shall take a stand whether they support – as primary task – the will to search a common solution on the level of the existing central conference, even if this may lead to a longer process. The answers shall be collected until the end of January 2020.
Plans for next meetings
In the meantime, the study group will have an online-meeting in November for being kept informed about processes and plans in a European and worldwide horizon of the church. A further two-day meeting in February 2020 will look at the responses from the church councils and prepare the report from the study group to the meeting of the executive committee of the central conference in early March 2020.
Bishop Patrick Streiff
Photo: Marcus Dall Col, unsplash.com