The UMC in Central and Southern Europe is affected by the impact of the current pandemic - and likewise, upcoming decisions on issues of human sexuality are putting the diverse relationships to the test.
From March 11-13, 2021, several meetings of UMC leaders in Central and Southern Europe took place. It was due to the still drastic travel restrictions that the meetings could only take place online. However, the reports from the various countries made it clear how difficult the current situation is with regard to the coronavirus in view of an incipient third wave in many places. Persistently high numbers of illnesses and deaths were mentioned, here and there, the health care system is on the verge of collapse, curfews characterize everyday life. There are areas in Eastern Central Europe where the situation had partly eased (e.g. Bulgaria or Romania); however, Pastor Wilfried Nausner, Superintendent of the EMK in Albania, also said: "Covid-19 is simply another life-threatening issue...".
In many European countries, the UMC has in general been allowed to conduct its services during most of the past months. However, curfews, regulations on keeping a distance, and restrictions on the number of participants in the worship services have here and there led the UMC to shift its focus to online services. These days, the UMC in the Czech Republic, for example, even has suspended its church events nationwide for two weeks due to the breakdown of the healthcare system. In many places in Central and Southern Europe, alternative ways of celebrating worship services and strengthening relationships have been found. Those responsible are trying with great commitment to live hope and to awaken it in the hearts of the people. On the one hand, thanks to this online presence, many people are reached beyond the circle of the UMC. On the other hand, the question of a loss of significance of the church in these times can be heard here and there - and what church life after Corona might look like.
The main reason for the meetings, however, was the situation of the whole church with a General Conference, which had initially been postponed until summer 2021. Shortly before the meeting of the Executive Committee, it became known that another pandemic-related postponement of General Conference would occur to summer 2022. Therefore, the next meeting of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference has now also been postponed to November 16-20, 2022. At that time, the election of a successor to Bishop Patrick Streiff is also to take place. The nomination process as preparation of this election will be carried out at the Annual Conference meetings in the first half of 2022.
Much space was given to conversations about a possible separation of the UMC on the basis of differing attitudes toward issues of human sexuality and, in particular, the definition of "marriage". Bishops Christian Alsted (Northern Europe/Baltic States), Eduard Khegay (Eurasia) and Harald Rückert (Germany) were also connected at times to report on their situation - the latter in particular also in view of the challenging process of the Round Table and its results in the Central Conference Germany. In the discussions among the members of the Executive Committee of Central and Southern Europe, it became clear once again that in some countries the convictions regarding homosexuality and marriage will remain unambiguously traditional. On the other hand, it also became clear that the future of the UMC in the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe cannot be built on the foundation of a position statement on one controversial issue, but that a conversation is needed about renewing mutual commitment and formulating a common vision for the UMC in Central and Southern Europe and in Europe as a whole. Therefore, the formation of a corresponding discussion group was supported by the majority, which should use the time "won" by the postponements to reflect in particular, with a view to being a church together, on what unites us, what mission we can live together much better than separately, and how we want to deal respectfully with remaining differences.
Source: Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich