A new heart and a new spirit

The Annual Conference Serbia-Macedonia of The United Methodist Church met from April 6 to 9, 2017, in Murtino/Macedonia.

Murtino is a farm town in the east of Strumica and is located in an area, which is marked by the cultivation of vegetables. Both the borders to Bulgaria and to Greece are not far away. During the past months, the host church had, with a great commitment and supported by friends from abroad, enlarged its facilities so that everybody could be accommodated – the 58 conference members and guests from the two districts Serbia and Macedonia as well as from the mission area Albania and the two guests from Germany and Switzerland. The plenary meetings took place in the church building of Murtino UMC, the meals were served in a hotel located in a neighboring village.

The challenging circumstances under which the gathering took place are well described in the report of Wilfried Nausner, Superintendent of the UMC in Albania and Macedonia: «This report is written in a difficult time for Macedonia. Tensions and fears have rekindled. People are worried – and the members and friends of the UMC are affected, as well. […] The attempts from inside and outside the country to cope with this crisis have not been successful up to now. The tone is increasingly harsh, and the willingness to compromise, which had not been highly developed anyway, seems to be completely lacking. […] Macedonia needs men and women taking a stand for peace, and prayers are also needed in this difficult time.»

Superintendentin Ana Palik-Kunčak from Serbia was also rather pessimistic about the current situation: «Adverse circumstances in Serbia lead to the fact that young people leave the country, which reduces the number of people attending the worship services. In addition, our members are increasingly old and ill. This situation is very painful, particularly for the smallest congregation, which is already challenged by questions of survival.»

However, in spite of the many big challenges the church and the people are faced with: there is an amazing commitment; there is awakening and development; there is encouragement; there is mutual support and assistance of the worldwide family; there is vitality; and there is hope. Some example where this becomes visible:

- The kindergarten KORAB in Pivnice/Serbia is challenged by the emigration of whole families; however, it nevertheless remains a part of the church with a very good reputation far beyond the UMC, not the least because of a good media presence.
- In Šid/Serbia, the ministry with migrants resulted in very good contacts to Christian families from Iran; about 15 to 20 people occasionally visit the worship services of the UMC.
- Thanks to a good cooperation with a Slovakian cultural organization in Kisač/Serbia, there are a number of possibilities to reach out to people not belonging to the UMC. Particularly on church holidays, it is even possible to celebrate worship services in the «Slovakian National House».
- The «Miss Stone» Center in Strumica/Macedonia is continuously expanding its ministries: in addition to the 160 beneficiaries of the «Meals on Wheels» program, another 45 people in Radoviš, about 30km from Strumica, regularly receive a hot soup.
- An educational project with Roma children in Ohrid/Macedonia aims to improve the desolate situation of the Roma and to open up hopeful perspectives.
- After many years of preparation, the UMC in Macedonia finally succeeded in publishing a new hymnal.

Music and hymns also played an important role in the evening worship services and particularly in the musical evening on Saturday: congregational singing as well as songs of a youth group, of the choirs from Murtino and Strumica, and of the «united Yugoslavia choir» (consisting of people that regularly met during youth gatherings decades ago) were an invitation to praise God. At the same time, they were also a very colorful expression of the history and culture of the Balkan countries.

In the closing worship service, Vladimir Fazekaš (Serbia) was ordained elder, which was a particularly joyful moment and a special highlight.

Source: Stefan Ilg, Adliswil / Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich
Date: April 19, 2017