At the moment, the UMC in Central and Southern Europe is in a special situation as there are two bishops sharing the responsibility for this area. Or is it a little different again?
On February 26, 2023, it will be exactly 100 days since Stefan Zürcher was elected bishop of the UMC in the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe. While such a day is often used to draw a first conclusion, things are a little different here. This is because the previous bishop, Patrick Streiff, will not finally retire until August 1, 2023.
So how exactly will the transition from the current to the new bishop take shape? And what is already important to the latter during this transitional period?
Bishop Zürcher had already made a first trip to Germany in November 2022. In January 2023, he had flown to the USA, where an introductory event was held for all the newly elected bishops of the UMC in the fall of 2022. Bishop Zürcher's official inauguration then took place on February 1, 2023. On the occasion of this significant yet unspectacular day, he wrote a very personal letter to the leaders of the UMC in the various countries of Central and Southern Europe. In it, Bishop Zürcher mentioned, among other things, the keywords anticipation and respect, gratitude and trust.
"I am looking forward to many encounters and conversations in the coming months," Bishop Zürcher said. Not to say what's what, but to "learn from and with you and to expand my horizons." Mixed in with this anticipation, however, is an awareness of the scope of his ministry. "The times in which we live are characterized by many challenges – both within and outside the Church." The political, cultural, social, religious and therefore also church realities in the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe, he said, are in some cases very different from country to country. "This will challenge me." He said he is all the more grateful not to have to carry the tasks associated with his new office alone.
"Since my election in November, I have experienced great trust and appreciation," Bishop Zürcher continued. For this, he said, he was grateful from the bottom of his heart, because without mutual trust it would not work. That this trust remains sustainable even in times of unfulfilled expectations and limited possibilities is his hope. "Hold on to trust so that our togetherness will also bear in such moments," he asked the church leaders.
A few days after his official inauguration, Bishop Zürcher traveled to Romania with Bishop Patrick Streiff - and there will be several more such joint trips in the near future. Bishop Zürcher expressed gratitude for this time of transition together. "During these first months, I will accompany Bishop Patrick Streiff and gain insight into the new tasks from him. I am very happy about that."
Amidst all the new tasks, however, the newly elected bishop will also have to practice letting go. At the beginning of March, he will hand over his office as District Superintendent of the District of Northwestern Switzerland to Stefan Zolliker, and in May the move to a new apartment will take place.
Bishops Streiff and Zürcher will attend this year's Annual Conference meetings together. The conferences will still be under the leadership of the current Bishop Streiff; the closing service will then be led in each case by Bishop Stefan Zürcher, and with this day the responsibility for the respective area will also pass to him. Wherever possible, Bishop Zürcher will then stay a few days longer to enable getting to know each other through meetings, conversations and visits. "This exchange should encourage us to accompany people in our own way on their journey to follow Jesus in order to change the world," Bishop Zürcher said.
The exact arrangement of the transition period is a necessary but also just a rather internal matter. However, Bishop Zürcher is convinced that the UMC in Central and Southern Europe should not be focused on itself. "As many as possible should experience God's shalom and experience having enough - inside and outside our Church." Sharing life and faith, being and having, is both an invitation and a beautiful task, he said, and he wants to accompany and support the leadership of the UMC in particular in this, "as best I can."
Source: Bishop Stefan Zürcher / Urs Schweizer, Assistant to the Bishop