Building bridges in multicultural congregations

The United Methodist Church in Austria consists of people of very different cultural backgrounds. To focus on a uniting foundation and to actively build bridges – that was the aim of the Annual Conference which took place from June 7-10, 2018, at the English Speaking United Methodist Church of Vienna.
The theme «Building Bridges» offered various topics of conversation – that became obvious at the four-day conference: while discussing the good and evolved relationship of the Protestant churches within the country, for instance, or while remembering the dispute on human sexuality, which is endangering the unity of the global church. But also in the specific issues of the agenda: such as the role of the church in social and other media and the associated challenges or the newly developed training course with a focus on pastoral care and communication. The basic modules of this training course with the title «Accompanying People Well» cover the topics communication, mindset, I as a helping person, age and sickness as well as dying, death, grieve, and life. Part of the domain «Adult Education» are also three study days on an elemental order of worship service, which will take place in fall 2018. Here, one can find bridge building potential, as well.
That the image of building bridges does not only include opportunities but also limitations, can be found in the assessment that a bridge also implies ditches or trenches, which might actually not exist. Beyond debate, however, is the vigilant and cautious commitment of the church in times where enemy stereotypes are searched for and created and society’s solidarity with the weaker one is put to the test, as Superintendent Stefan Schröckenfuchs stated. Michael Chalupka, the departing director of Diaconia Austria, took up that thought and not only thanked the UMC for the longstanding and good cooperation but also for not being a national church and that a pleasant diversity can be seen in its congregations.
In worship services, the theme was incorporated in a very personal way. What does it mean for people with different cultural heritages and influences to find a common homeland? What does it mean exactly to remember «that nothing and no one can keep us from being part of God’s family», as Superintendent Stefan Schröckenfuchs expressed in his sermon? And wherein lies, what Pastor Helmut Nausner formulated so clear and challenging in his thoughts on Romans 12:1-2, saying «Whoever has given his heart and life to God, his thought will be changed»? The grateful memory of Ingegerd Nausner as well as Wilhelm und Helene Nausner, who have passed away in the past few months, revealed what changed thinking can achieve.
But first and foremost, practical bridges were built. In singing songs from various countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, North- and South-America as well as dancing to them. In practicing different forms of worship. And, of course, in using time to enjoy an international buffet or in using a barbeque in the church garden for heartfelt encounters and lively conversations.
The conference ended with a festive worship service on Sunday. Once again, various instruments, a multicultural choir, and an African choir as well as the English sermon of Bishop Patrick Streiff emphasized the topic of the conference. So not only was the newly appointed local pastor Frank Moritz-Jauk sent out to be a bridge builder, but also all members and friends of The United Methodist Church in Austria.
Source: www.emk.at/ Office of Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich (Switzerland)

Photo: Worship Service during Annual Conference meeting in Vienna (Austria)