The 2020 meeting of Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference will probably remain the only one in which all members from at least one country and also the bishop can physically participate. Bulgaria still has low numbers of daily new Covid-19 infections at the end of September. So, the Annual Conference met in a shortened form from September 25-26 in Varna on the Black Sea.
While snow had already begun to fall at higher altitudes in Switzerland, the bishop was able to travel to and from Bulgaria without any hindrances and enjoy summer temperatures once again. The sea would even have been warm enough for a bath. But this year, fewer tourists came to this vacation region. The economic slump is very much felt by many people. Because the schools opened again at the end of September after a three-month summer break, everyone is expecting significantly higher Covid case numbers for the fall and a state of emergency with many illnesses among the mostly older teachers.
In Romania, the situation is different, as the number of cases had risen sharply again soon after the country's opening in early summer. Therefore, members from Romania only participated online in the conference sessions. It was clearly noticeable that both sides regretted not being able to meet physically. However, the reports gave a good insight into the work of the church in both countries and how the challenges of the lockdown were overcome.
In Bulgaria, the government never prohibited the holding of church services during the lockdown. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church insisted that in this particular situation - as during pandemics in previous centuries - it should continue to have worship services and celebrate Holy Communion. However, the church boards of the UMC in Bulgaria and Romania decided not to hold services in their churches and chapels during the lockdown - and afterwards only with protective measures. Most church members welcomed this decision. But there were also some who saw in it a lack of trust in God.
In both countries, the church very quickly switched to new online services. And it reached new people who had previously not come to church services in the church buildings. Some of these online services are still going on. For example, in Bulgaria there is still a short reflection and morning prayer every morning at eight o'clock. When the superintendent accidentally programmed the broadcast to eight o'clock in the evening on one day, he received many phone calls in the morning from worried people asking if he was sick. The callers would greatly miss the morning reflection.
The written reports and verbal additions during the conference discussions showed in many ways how local churches continued to provide social service to needy people in society. In Bulgaria and Romania, faith is active in love.
The next Annual Conference session is now scheduled for April 8-11, 2021. Everyone hopes that then the brothers and sisters from Romania will be able to come again.
Source: Bishop Dr. Patrick Streiff, Zurich
Photo: Online participation of the conference members from Romania (Photo: Stoyan Stalev)