From March 13-17, 2013, 110 delegates and guests from about 20 countries gathered in Winterthur (Switzerland) for the 17th session of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe.
Rigels Kasmollari, a young man from Albania, said on the day of his arrival: «I hope that at this Central Conference meeting we will succeed in building bridges between local churches and individual persons so that through listening and sharing we may enrich, better understand and help each other.» These hopes came true: It once again became obvious that the belonging together of so different people from many countries does not only exist on paper, but that it is a lively reality – in the exchange of everyday life and faith experiences, in shared hopes, in mutual encouragement and in a sustainable fellowship. And when during an evening event the last verse from 1 Corinthians 13 was read in 20 languages – from Arabic and Bernese German to Turkish and Hungarian – it was visible that in midst of this diversity there is a sustainable common foundation.
The decision of the Central Conference to implement a new functioning has also to be understood against this background. Between the sessions taking place every four years there will not only be international Working Groups dealing with subjects from various areas (e.g. theology, church and society, etc.). Rather there will be an additional annual «theme day» on which subjects of cross-border relevance will be discussed. The participants of these «theme days» are supposed to serve as multipliers in their respective countries. The general theme for the next three years, which was agreed on, will be «Mission in Modern Times». The work on this theme shall include an examination of the own tradition, a compilation and discussion of the present understanding of mission in the various countries and also a view beyond the borders of our own Church.
In order to reach a new generation and to raise awareness for the great potential of this belonging together, YouMe 2013 will take place in August 2013 in Serbia. This will be a camp for young adults from Central and Southern Europe aged 16 to 23 years, and it will not only offer opportunities to make relationships and build friendships, but it will also include leadership training in regard to ministries with young people.
However, belonging to the Central Conference is not always considered enriching. Sometimes it is also experienced as limitation of freedom and autonomy. This became visible in the extensive conversations on the present situation and the future journey of the UMC in Poland. Following various discussions and decisions in the past, the delegates received a report, which suggested a formal process (in chronological order) to establish an autonomous or autonomous affiliated Methodist Church in Poland. The Executive Committee of the Central Conference commissioned the Bishop with the task to make sure that at the 2013 Annual Conference in Poland, prior to the election of a new General Superintendent, a vote should be taken. This vote should make clear whether the UMC in Poland wants to remain part of the worldwide United Methodist Church or whether it wants to become an autonomous or an autonomous affiliated Church. The Central Conference delegates, for their part, expressed unanimously and with applause that they wish that the UMC in Poland may remain part of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe.
Some further issues from various reports and conversations:
- The Working Group on Theology and Ordained Ministry presented the document «Truth in Relation», which is considered to be a Methodist voice in regard to the meaning and importance of Christian truth. This document will be an invitation and encouragement for groups and local churches of the UMC in Central and Southern Europe to deal, for instance, with truth in the Bible, truth and certainty or truth and pluralism.
- The Working Group on Liturgy informed that the work on compiling new liturgies will be abandoned in favor of other necessary groundwork and clarifications – particularly in regard to a Methodist understanding of congregational worship in the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe (indispensable elements, nature, emphases). Based on this groundwork suggestions and experiences will be shared.
- Subject to the approval of the Annual Conference Switzerland-France in June 2013, its name shall be «Annual Conference Switzerland-France-North Africa» in the future. The important ministries in North Africa will thus explicitly become visible in the name of the Conference.
- As successor of Regula Stotz (Basel/Switzerland), Barbara Bünger (Thun/Switzerland) was elected as new coordinator for the women’s work in Central and Southern Europe. Her main tasks will include organizing international consultations and leading national seminars, but also enabling continuing education of individual women.
- Since the last Central Conference meeting in 2009, 16 new congregations were established in Central and Southern Europe. With Romania and Belgium two new countries became part of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe – it includes now 16 countries.
- Martin Graf (member of the governing council of the Canton of Zurich), Bishop Charles Morerod (Roman-Catholic Church), Pastor Rita Famos-Pfander (President of the National Ecumenical Council), Bishop Michael Bünker (General Secretary of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe) and Pastor Guy Liagre (General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches) were welcomed during an ecumenical encounter, which was marked by mutual appreciation. In their addresses, the guests expressed their gratitude for the many good relations the UMC in Central and Southern Europe has beyond its borders – relations, which are a vital contribution towards a common Christian witness for the good of all people.
Three Bible studies each morning reflected on the theme of the Central Conference. In addition Bishop Patrick Streiff pointed in his Episcopal Address to the fact that the key biblical concepts faith, hope and love are also of central importance in the tract of John Wesley, «The Character of a Methodist». And thus he did not only focus on the situation of the Central Conference and on the emphases of the current and future work (for instance regarding building up church communities or developing principled leaders). Rather he also spoke, by referring to the foundational topics of this tract from Wesley, on the three steps of love, which are perfected when, out of the experience of love from God, both love to God and love of people – to other people and to oneself grow. He expressed his hope that God might continue to find in the UMC in Central and Southern Europe a church with engaged people who hear his call into his mission with faith, hope and love – being aware that the pivot and first and most important of all is the relationship with God.
Source: Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich/Switzerland
Date: March 20, 2013