«And he taught them» – Annual Conference in Austria

The 86th Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Austria took place from May 28 to 31, 2015, in Vienna.

The gathering was opened with a worship service focusing on the conference theme «And he taught them». Rev. Michael Chalupka, director of Diakonie Austria, underlined in his sermon that Christian action would always have to be a response to hearing the Word of God.

In his report, Superintendent Lothar Pöll acknowledged the good cooperation of the Protestant Churches in Austria and particularly mentioned the Protestant «Year of Education» 2015 as an important step towards the Reformation Jubilee 2017. There is a special website with information on activities, events and offers related to this «Year of Education».

The Diakonie Zentrum Spattstrasse, a social institution of the UMC, is active in many different areas. The annual report particularly mentioned the new mission statement, the continuing education program for employees, the expansion of the program for girls with eating disorders and the renovation of the kindergarten.

Ecumenical Christianity is a primal Methodist concern. This could be experienced quite regularly during the past year: the UMC was involved in a variety of ecumenical events, and Superintendent Lothar Pöll is currently chairperson of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria, which took a clear stand on various socio-political themes – for instance on the refugee policy in Austria and the EU, on the situation of the Christians in the Middle East, or on the Armenian genocide 100 years ago. Since the Christian Churches spoke with one voice, political authorities and media paid attention to their message. There was also a joint statement of the officially recognized Churches and religious institutions condemning violence justified by religion.

One highlight of the Annual Conference was the ecumenical opening service of the Long Night of the Churches on Friday evening with official representatives of other Churches, members of the Annual Conference and additional brothers and sisters from the UMC as well as a number of interested guests. This festive service with a sermon of Bishop Patrick Streiff was followed by a buffet dinner and a panel discussion on «educational justice» with various high-quality experts.

In regard to the Reformation Jubilee 2017, the Protestant Churches are challenged with the question «What does it mean to be Protestant?» There was a survey in which almost all local churches of the UMC in Austria participated. The local churches were encouraged to offer a faith course in 2017/2018 in order to get into a conversation on faith issues.

The Children and Youth Committee presented a new concept, which led to a lively discussion on the essentials of the ministry with teenagers and youth.
The basic course for lay people involved with preaching will come to an end in September. An extension course will follow immediately afterwards. These courses are very much appreciated.

Many visitors from other local churches participated in the closing service of the Annual Conference. Referring to a poem of Charles Wesley, Bishop Patrick Streiff illustrated the importance of the connection between «knowledge and vital piety» for education in a broader sense. The hope of John and Charles Wesley is also the hope of the UMC today: Where people are willing to be called into discipleship and to learn from Jesus, the most important process of education is beginning – to grow into the image of God.

Two pastors will be appointed to new churches: Rev. Martin Siegrist will serve Linz UMC, Rev. Esther Handschin will serve Wien-Florisdorf – in addition to Salzburg UMC, which she served in the past years already.

Source: Rev. Martin Siegrist, Vienna, and Rev. Anke Neuenfeldt, Graz
Date: June 2, 2015