Joyful signs of life of a courageous Church

The Austria Provisional Annual Conference met from June 3 to 6, 2010, in Vienna under the intentionally ambivalent theme «Living Christ». The Conference Speaker was Dr. Clive Marsh of England, and in his presentation, Dr. Marsh pointed to the necessity that the Church seeks to find a positive approach towards the current everyday culture, a culture of entertainment. What Churches often dismiss as «cheap entertainment» is, for many people, actually a search to satisfy emotional and spiritual yearnings and therefore has real meaning. Churches should not brush this reality aside with arrogance but should rather offer an opportunity for people to talk about «their» music, «their» movies etc. – and thus to come into contact with these yearnings. Only when people feel that they are taken seriously and their emotional needs respected is there a foundation from which to discover the living Christ together.

In his report Superintendent Lothar Pöll pointed to the positive development of the Austrian Church in recent years: Until the eighties the UMC in Austria was a decreasing Church, and the congregations were shaped by the charm of the sixties. Since then significant changes have occurred. The congregations have become more open and multifaceted and the church rooms more modern and friendly. And for a number of years now there has been a small but steady growth in membership. The main reason for this church growth is the fact that people from outside the Methodist Church are joining the UMC. Local giving has grown disproportionately in recent years, something that is urgently necessary for the Church to survive. Superintendent Pöll underlined that he would not know «any other Church of our size that has accomplished this». The only disadvantage is the fact that the average worship attendance is decreasing, in other words, while the number of people attending worship is increasing, the regularity of their attendance is declining.

The church property in St. Pölten – for many years a structural «problem child» of the property management of the UMC in Austria – was successfully sold in May 2010. St. Pölten UMC is now faced with the challenge to find a new home. The small church, however, is quite willing to focus on the positive aspects of this challenge and to explore the possibilities of being a church in a more radical way than up to date.

In spring 2010 the last issue of the church magazine «Methodist» was published. The completely restructured Commission on Public Relations introduced a new public relations concept for the UMC in Austria. As a first step the website will be improved so that it can serve as a communications platform with weekly news reports. A «Newsletter», which can be printed and thus made available for people without internet access will be developed, as well. In addition public relations training for local churches will be offered.

During the Annual Conference Martin Siegrist was commissioned as a Certified Lay Speaker. In the closing worship Christoph Petau was commissioned as a Local Pastor. He previously was a priest of the Old Catholic Church but has been an active member of Graz UMC for many years. The Annual Conference recognized his ordination and assigned him (on a voluntary base) to Graz UMC.

Source: Pastor Stefan Schröckenfuchs, Vienna/Austria
Date: June 9, 2010