Reaching out to the people for 115 years

«Be holy!» was the theme of this year's meeting of the Provisional Annual Conference Serbia-Macedonia, which took place from April 3 to 6, 2014, in Kisač (Serbia).

Since at least 35 ordained elders are required for establishing an Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC), this conference has – in spite of its age of over 100 years – still the status of a «Provisional» Annual Conference. The Serbia district consists of 14 local churches with nine ordained elders (two of them retired), two probationary pastors and three local pastors. The Macedonia district consists of 12 local churches with three ordained elders (two of them retired but still active), one probationary pastor and four local pastors (two of them retired but still active). Superintendent Wilfried Nausner, who is responsible for the work in Macedonia, also oversees – together with his wife Jean – the new mission work in Albania. From a structural point of view, this work does not belong to Serbia-Macedonia Provisional Annual Conference, but as a result of personal relationships there is an increasingly strong connection among the Methodists in these countries. In Albania, there are another three United Methodist churches; two of them are developing very well, while the third one is decreasing in numbers because many people are migrating elsewhere in order to find a job and a better future.

The general economic situation in all three countries is more than difficult. Many church members have no significant income. Therefore, local giving can only cover a small part of the salaries and other expenses (in spite of the fact that the pastors’ salaries are very low and amount to 240 EUR/month only). However, the fact that the percentage of self-financing is increasing – regardless of all difficulties – is an encouraging sign of hope.

In the course of the conference, two specific objectives were mentioned. In his report, Supt. Wilfried Nausner referred to one of the most important tasks as follows: «It is our priority to train church leaders who are able to empower others to take mature, wise and scriptural decisions, which serve the common good rather than self-interest. The point is to encourage new people to take responsibility for our church.» He spoke about his vision of a missionary church sharing and living out God’s love to this world by taking a stand for the people and the society. Against the background of this report, it was a special joy to hear that – after many years without new candidates for the ministry – a young person from Macedonia will start an internship year in order to explore his call to the ministry.

Supt. Ana Palik-Kunčak also referred to the theme of mission, and she did not hide from difficult questions: What have we been doing for a long time, but without success? What are the people’s needs in this day and age? Where do we recognize a need for change? By inviting the conference members to briefly «visit» all local churches, she introduced a number of encouraging examples of witness and service: a kindergarten, English courses, a sewing project, special choirs, a ministry with drug addicts, a ministry with children, etc. She particularly underlined the importance of the emk-spielmobil (a mission tool of the UMC in Germany with a huge variety of outdoor games), which is attracting hundreds of children and parents each year, and which will again come to Serbia next summer in order to serve six local churches during almost four weeks.

A second objective related to the UMC in Albania. The growing work in this secularized country is not connected to any of the seven Annual Conferences in Central and Southern Europe. And although the time of ethnic conflicts both between Serbs and Albanians as well as between Macedonians and Albanians is only 15 years back, the pastors suggested openly that the UMC in Albania should become part of the Serbia-Macedonia Provisional Annual Conference. The increasingly sustainable relations seem to open a door to a structural change, which could not have been enacted from the top.

The conference was an opportunity to experience an amazing hospitality and to get an insight in the situation of the UMC in three different countries, whose economic problems also create difficulties for the local churches.

Source: Esther Steiger (Switzerland) / Pastor Ralf Schweinsberg (Germany), edited by Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff