Celebrating and Promoting

This year's Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church in Austria took place in Graz from May 30 to June 2, 2024.
Under the motto "We celebrate the love of God. Let's promote development!", the members of the Annual Conference of the UMC in Austria and guests from the ecumenical community opened the 95th Annual Conference session, which took place in Graz this year, with a joyful worship service on Thursday evening. Pastor Dorothee Büürma said in her sermon, which she based on the "Parable of the Sower": "For me, this parable is an invitation to place ourselves alongside God. To help the farmer sow. And to observe with him where things develop."
The theme of "development" ran through the various reports, worship services and "conference talks" and was thus viewed from a variety of perspectives. In the "conference talks", for which a good third of the session time was reserved, the participants asked themselves where and how they themselves had experienced development in their biographies, what promotes development and what hinders it. Interviews, statements, and panel discussions livened up the discussions and also provided insights into very personal experiences. The fact that listening is an essential element in promoting development was emphasized several times.
Some of the developments in the local churches and in the Church as a whole were presented in the written reports. As part of the overall renewal elections, there were changes to the women's network, among other things, and a new Annual Conference lay leader and the members of the newly created "Network for Christian Pathways and Learning Community" were also elected. The formation of this network is a structural development step that had been prepared over a long period of time. It involves the replacement of various commissions. A six-member core team focuses its work entirely on the core mission of inviting people into the Christian community, as formulated in the thesis paper on the understanding of mission. Its work is aimed at better networking and coordinating both church-wide working groups and the ministries of the congregations.
A Styrian evening in a Buschenschank (kind of a seasonal tavern) on Saturday evening once again provided the opportunity for cheerful table fellowship, encounters, conversations, laughter...
In the closing service on Sunday, the core team of the new "Network" and the new Annual Conference lay leader Maria Sonnleithner were commissioned for their tasks and blessed. Changes were also announced in connection with the appointments. Pastor Esther Handschin is moving from Vienna to Graz and Pastor Frank Moritz from Graz to Bregenz and thus to the Annual Conference Switzerland-France-North Africa. He was, therefore, bid farewell and sent on his journey to Lake Constance with thanks and heartfelt blessings. In his sermon, Bishop Stefan Zürcher took up the conference theme once again and referred to the new heaven and the new earth as the foundation and goal of all human endeavors to promote developments that make life flourish.
Author: Bishop Stefan Zürcher, Zurich (Switzerland)