From March 6-10, 2019, about 40 members and guests of the Executive Committee of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe of the UMC gathered in Monospitovo (Macedonia) for their annual meeting. The preparation of the election of a new bishop and the further work after the decisions of the called session of General Conference in late February 2019 were among the main themes of the gathering.
For many years, Methodists from 16 countries have been on a joint way in the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe – in an area marked by considerable linguistic, cultural, political, religious, and also economic differences.
It was against the background of these economic differences that a whole day was devoted to thinking and sharing about the theme «Rich and Poor». Statistics presented the difficult living conditions of people in Macedonia in a way that made them comparable to other European countries. Looking at these figures, it was not really surprising that an alarming high number of young people do not see a future in their home country any longer but try to emigrate abroad as soon as possible. The UMC in Macedonia tries, in a variety of ways, to help people suffering from this development and to open up new perspectives to them. However, the leaders must not be left alone in their commitment. This was also emphasized during the Bible studies: richness and wealth, which can be found in the Central Conference, as well, comes along with the responsibility to share.
Taking into consideration the huge differences between the various countries, one may wonder: is a truly joint journey into the future an illusion only or can it really be possible? The working group Liturgy, through its extensive work on Methodist worship service, made clear how a joint foundation indeed allows for a great variety and freedom of shaping. The leaders of the working groups Children and Youth as well as Women emphasized that this joint journey is not only a possibility but a beneficial reality that has been lived out for a long time already. Particularly the women stressed how much they learn from each other, how their horizon broadens as a result of the mutual sharing, and how they mutually encourage and empower one another to take over responsibilities and leadership roles in church and society. A loss of these cross-border relationships would cause the reality that all would be among the losers.
A joint journey in regard to same-sex relationships, however, seemed to be more problematic. In late February 2019, the called session of General Conference had decided with a tight majority to maintain the current negative language regarding practiced homosexuality and to safeguard a stricter application of the respective rules. Since then, tensions took a dimension, which does not only threaten to tear apart the global UMC but also the Central Conference. During the meeting in Monospitovo, there were many lengthy and thorough conversations. Again and again, the wish to remain together was emphasized. However, the very diverse convictions regarding faithfully lived partnerships between two persons of same sex and restrictions on ministry by such persons became equally visible.
The question whether the lack of unity in this one question allows for a joint journey into the future at all, remained without answer. The Executive Committee therefore agreed to create a study group for studying and evaluating scenario(s) for the UMC in the various countries of the Central Conference to stay as closely united and/or connected as possible. The annual conferences in 2019 do not need to take any decisions. They can, however, take the pulse of their members in ways that are appropriate and helpful and thus support the members of the study group in their work that should be carried out throughout the coming year.
What the annual conferences actually have to do during their 2019 gatherings, is to elect the delegates to General Conference 2020 and to Central Conference 2021. Among the important and responsible tasks of the latter ones will not only be to decide on the implementation of the final decisions of General Conference, but they will also have to elect a new bishop for the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe. A respective procedure for nomination and election was finally approved during the meeting of the Executive Committee in Monospitovo.
In the past year, the working group Theology and Ordained ministry had dealt with David Field’s book “Our Purpose is Love”. In engaged discussions, it was stated: “To listen to each other actively, to realize that one cannot be right in all questions, are important impulses of love. How can you be convinced of an opinion and at the same time think that you could be wrong?” Such an active, respectful, appreciative listening and the knowledge of one’s own need of supplementation will be required in order to remain on a joint journey into the future – in spite of all differences. But maybe it would be possible exactly for that reason to set an example of hope in this world.
Author: Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich