The United Methodist Church in North Africa is experiencing difficult times. However, signs of hope are becoming visible again and again.
From April 24 to 25, 2023, the active pastors of the United Methodist Church (UMC) in Algeria and a representative of the congregation in Alger met in Tunis (Tunisia) with the two bishops Patrick Streiff and Stefan Zürcher as well as with district superintendent Freddy Nzambe from Tunis. Tunis was chosen as the meeting place because it was still not possible for the two bishops from Switzerland to obtain a visa for Algeria.
It was a special joy that three pastors from Algeria arrived who intend to officially enter the service of the UMC at the coming gathering of the Annual Conference Switzerland-France-North Africa. Getting to know each other was an important part of the meeting - not only during the introductions, but also during the meals and breaks. At the "North Africa Platform" immediately before the Annual Conference meeting in June 2023, there will be an opportunity to deal more intensively with the concrete work of the United Methodist congregations in North Africa. Therefore, there was enough time in Tunis to share personal stories of life and faith. It is impressive and encouraging to see the passion with which everyone is doing their ministry under the most difficult conditions. For example, most of the meeting places have been closed by the authorities and the future is uncertain.
Further, the meeting provided a good opportunity to give the new pastors an overview of the connexional structures of our church and to familiarize them with the understanding of ministry and the involvement in the community of pastors of the Annual Conference. In this context, questions of how to deal with the issue of homosexuality in North Africa were also discussed. The Muslim context, in order to live fruitfully the mission of the Church, allows only a traditional attitude. Thus, the pastors present signed a document that states, based on the decision of the Central Conference last November, that in Tunisia and Algeria the traditional attitude formulated in the Church Order of 2016 will continue to apply in the future. This document is at the same time an expression of the readiness and the will to remain part of the UMC, even if the General Conference 2024 should allow an opening. It is reason to be very grateful that there is a possibility to be church together with the brothers and sisters in North Africa also in the future! The common mission, even if in very different contexts, and especially the common orientation towards Jesus Christ are a sustainable foundation.
During these two days, the participants shaped this common orientation towards Christ in personal exchange, reflections and times of prayer. Several times and without consultation, encounters of Peter with Jesus came to the fore. These stories make it clear: doubt and uncertainty are part of the existence of the church. But in the encounter with Jesus Christ, who holds the church in his hands, they find their limit, and new courage of faith, but also wisdom, as our North African brothers and sisters especially need, grow.
Source: Bishop Stefan Zürcher, Zurich (Switzerland)