Albania: Baptism in the Municipal Theatre

The members and friends of Pogradec UMC had a very special day on the second Sunday in Advent 2012: 29 men and women were baptized in the municipal theatre – the church hall was too small.

It is cold in the small municipal theatre in Pogradec, in Albania. The small radiators are turned off – they would not be able to heat the large room anyway. Outside it is minus 9C degrees and is snowing. The wind blows from the sea and the waves crash onto the shore. It is almost dark when the congregation of the United Methodist Church meets for worship. On this Sunday, many new members are to be baptized and admitted into membership. For this occasion the church hall was too small.
Advent means arrival, and on this second Sunday in Advent it is apparent that Christ has entered the lives of many people. For a long time this congregation and their pastor have been on their way together. The people to be baptized are well prepared. They want to live their lives now with dedication to God and follow Jesus Christ.
The room fills slowly. In the end, only a few seats in the back rows remain free. The room becomes warmer, not only because of the people but also because of the joy. Many have come through the cold and snow to get to church. It is clear that it is about the beginning of a new life and a life in communion with God and with other people.
The pastor, Mustafa Isufi, presents the people and calls them to come forward. The wooden stairs to the stage creak, but they are stable.
All of those who are baptized are doing so with the expectation that God is with them, They are determined to ensure, in their homes and in their environment, according to their conscience, to avoid evil, to do good and to live in communion with Christ. A spiritual life begins with hearing and doing. A life with Christ is focused on the future – life is before us.
After the baptism, baptismal certificates and Bibles are presented. The congregation applauded each time. For some, it was a long way to the baptism and for all, a very personal decision.
Unlike so many other Advent and Christmas celebrations, that we have experienced elsewhere, there is no Christmas nostalgia, no looking back at a lost childhood or adolescence. There is no regulation as to how such a celebration must take place.
This Advent, appropriately, is a beginning. We are reminded that the birth of Jesus is the beginning. More important than the memory of this is what the life of Jesus has made possible.
When the worship service closes, we return through the cold to the small Methodist church on the shore of the great and stormy Lake Ohrid, where a snack was prepared. We sit together and it is felt quite simply, that Christ has arrived: In the hearts of the people and in the community.

Source: Superintendent Wilfried Nausner and Jean Nausner, Tirana/Albania
Date: January 2, 2013