How have the comparatively young local churches of the UMC in Albania come through the second year of the Covid pandemic? To an open eye, the challenges facing the Church are not hidden. But there is also much that is encouraging and hopeful to be discovered.
The positive development of the UMC in Albania is probably most conspicuous in the statistics. It is true that the Methodist churches also lost men and women who emigrated abroad for economic or other reasons. Fortunately, however, people of different generations were baptized and received as professing members of the UMC in all six congregations last year - most of them in Pogradec and in Buzaishtë. In total, the number of professing members grew from 195 to 239 within a year.
Reports from the local churches are characterized by gratitude and hope in view of what can be done despite sometimes difficult conditions. Of course, there would also be stories to tell about what is no longer or perhaps not yet possible. About restrictive Covid measures and sometimes severe and protracted Covid illnesses, for example. Or about the bag sewing project in Pogradec, which had to be discontinued after a significant period of beneficial existence. Or about the search for a plot of land for a new home for the bursting-at-the-seams community of Elbasan, which has not yet been crowned with success. Or about the feeling of not being closer to achieving the vision of a larger investment to generate a regular income and thus reduce the dependence on donors and organizations abroad.
But there are also many young and older people who want to be on a journey with Christ, who want to learn, to grow, to get involved, to take responsibility. There are people who seek fellowship - with God and with other people: in church services and Bible studies, but also in spontaneous encounters.
There are a multitude of regular offers and events in all local churches that are gratefully and positively received: music and language courses, Sunday school for children and teenagers, sports activities, women's and men's groups. These were supplemented last year by seminars for lay preachers and for those working with children. Not to be left unmentioned in this context, of course, are the various camps for children, young adults and members of all generations that were able to take place in 2021 - not as large as in pre-Corona times, but still. Camps that awakened joy, strengthened hope and deepened trust.
A special occasion was also the graduation celebration in November 2021 on the occasion of the successful completion of the theology studies that the two pastors, Gjergj Luskha and Florian Cela, had pursued during the last few years as part of a program of the Church of the Nazarene.
And finally, there is the desire to be "church for others", socially relevant, reaching out to people outside the local churches and their needs. The Diaconal Center in Pogradec for people in the last third of their lives and for people with disabilities is an expression of this desire - as is the Early Intervention Center for children with special needs in Tirana and the associated support for parents.
Under the leadership of Superintendent Wilfried Nausner and his wife Jean, the UMC in Albania will try to continue recognizing and doing what is possible in 2022 - and not be discouraged by doors that may have closed temporarily or forever.
Source: Urs Schweizer, Assistant to the Bishop, Zurich