An abbreviated Annual Conference for Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania was held on September 10-11, 2021. Due to increasing Covid infection numbers, it could not be held for all together in Strumica (North Macedonia). Therefore, the three countries were connected in an online meeting, and the bishop presided over itfrom Zurich.
Particularly gratifying is the development of the Church in Albania and the emergence of a first generation of pastors. Mustafa Isufi, who officially took over the leadership of the church in Pogradec eleven years ago, could be admitted to Full Connection with the Annual Conference. The related ordination as an elder is planned for next spring. Then we hope to be in Albania for the first time with the Annual Conference. Two other ministers, Florian Cela and Gjergj Lushka, have been able to complete their studies in the Albanian language study program of the Church of the Nazarene. They were accepted as probationary members of the Annual Conference.
Two years ago, the Conference decided that Albania should become a third district of the Annual Conference. Due to the Covid pandemic, not all steps to constitute the district could be completed, but the process to do so is well underway. Two new church planting sites have also been added in these two years: Buzaisht in the Mokra Mountains and Librazhd, which is located between the municipalities of Pogradec and Elbasan. In total, 33 people were received into the professing membership in the first half of 2021, and for many it was at the same time connected with their baptism, as they came from a non-church or non-Christian background. The total number of Methodists in the country is not increasing at the same rate, however, because more and more people are finding work abroad and leaving.
To varying degrees, all three countries have been impacted by lockdowns and restrictions on worship services and have launched new online services. All countries also reported how happy people were to be able to meet again. However, to date, most cross-country events have still been canceled. At the Annual Conference, however, there was a palpable will to do more together and also to focus the conference itself on common concerns. This is a hopeful perspective for the common future of the UMC in these three very different countries. A small leadership group from all three countries will now set to work to put this into practice. For Advent, the three countries will publish common Advent devotions.
The next Annual Conference is scheduled for May 12-15, 2022, in Pogradec, Albania.
Source: Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich/Switzerland
Photo: Dusan Tordaj, Serbia