"We are and will remain part of The United Methodist Church!"

Methodist pastor Yulia Starodubets from Ukraine is among the delegates to General Conference. She has experienced how good and important it is to be part of the worldwide United Methodist Church.
Traveling to General Conference, the highest governing body of the United Methodist Church (UMC), was time-consuming for Pastor Yulia Starodubets. Commercial air travel from Ukraine is still impossible. Her husband, Superintendent Oleg Starodubets, therefore drove her to Budapest by car. From there, she traveled via Munich to Charlotte (USA) for General Conference, which began on April 23 and will end on May 3.
Good news from the world of politics
Starodubets says she is glad to be a General Conference delegate for the UMC in Ukraine and Moldova. Late in the evening of the first day of General Conference, she also learned that the U.S. Senate had approved a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Around 61 billion US dollars will go to Ukraine. "When the aid package was approved, we were happy," she says. "Many of my friends posted on Facebook: 'God bless the USA for this decision'."
But even in the USA, the war in her home country has never completely disappeared from her thoughts. After her return, she will once again devote herself to the work that she, her husband and other members and friends of the UMC are doing with internally displaced persons in Ukraine. "We have mothers of fallen soldiers," she says. "All the families have their own story. They have all experienced tragedy."
Hotel to become a rehabilitation center
Shortly before her departure for the USA, Starodubets experienced an emotional climax. She, her husband and other members of the UMC in Ukraine - including the Methodist Bishop Christian Alsted from Denmark, who is responsible for Ukraine - gathered on April 7 in the village of Kamyanytsa near the western Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod to inaugurate a new Methodist center for internally displaced persons.
A grant of 1.5 million dollars from UMCOR, the aid organization of the global UMC, made it possible to purchase a former hotel that will serve as more than just accommodation once it is certified. "We see it as a future rehabilitation center," says Starodubets. "We want to take in people with physical and psychological trauma there."
Inspiringly committed
The people of the UMC in Ukraine have inspired many in the worldwide Church with their response to the war. Starodubets and her husband have an enthusiastic advocate in Bishop Christian Alsted, who is also responsible for Northern Europe and the Baltics. "They are outstanding and committed leaders," says Alsted of the two. "I have the highest admiration for them, how they can carry out their ministry under these circumstances and the stress they are under."
The UMC is still small in Ukraine, with 10 denominations. But Alsted says that another church outside of Kyiv has asked to join the UMC. A new Methodist local church is also being formed in Berlin for people who have fled Ukraine.
Regionalization and autonomy
At General Conference, Yulia Starodubets supported "regionalization", one of the most important items on the agenda. "Regionalization will allow us to live according to our faith and culture and still stay connected," she said.
A development at the General Conference has led to Starodubets having to answer questions. On April 25, delegates approved that four Eurasian Annual Conferences under the leadership of Russian Bishop Eduard Khegay become an autonomous Methodist church. The changes will take effect next year.
The power of connectedness
Ukraine was part of Bishop Khegay's Episcopal Area, but was placed under the supervision of Bishop Alsted in April 2022, as the war had led to tensions. Not everyone at General Conference is aware of this. "A lot of people have asked me, 'Are you leaving?' No, we are not. We are and will remain part of The United Methodist Church," says Starodubets.
Bishop Alsted has seen that identification strengthen. "I think what they have experienced in this war, the support they have received from the UMC, not just from UMCOR, but also from a number of local churches and individuals - that has made a big impression," he says. Regardless of whether it is about the UMC in the two neighboring countries of Hungary and Romania, about the pan-European solidarity within the UMC or about the global dimension of the UMC: "They suddenly experienced that an entire denomination is behind them. They experienced the power of solidarity."
Author: Sigmar Friedrich / Source: Sam Hodges, UM News
Featured photo: Pastor Yulia Starodubets (center) votes on a bill during the Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, USA. Starodubets is a delegate for the Ukraine-Moldova Conference. (Photo: Mike DuBose, UM News)