Is it possible to remain connected in a church despite different convictions on the practice of homosexuality? A study group of Methodists in Central and Southern Europe looks for ways - and asks itself the question how strong the will is to remain together.
End February, the highest legislative body of the worldwide United Methodist Church, the General Conference, decided to maintain the traditional opinion that practiced homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and to ensure the implementation of this conviction in the church discipline, including sanctions. This decision has led to very different reactions and profound tensions among Methodists worldwide.
What are European Methodists doing?
Also in the episcopal area of Bishop Patrick Streiff, to which belong 14 countries in Europe and two countries in North Africa (Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe), very different convictions prevail, both with regard to faithfully lived partnerships between two persons of the same sex as with regard to the prohibition of a pastoral ministry of such persons. This became evident at a meeting of leaders within the episcopal area, early in March. Therefore, a study group was set up for developing and evaluating scenarios how the United Methodist Church may remain united and/or as closely connected as possible in the various countries of the episcopal area. End June, at a first online meeting, the members of the study group reported to each other about the processes and discussions at their Annual Conferences (Synods). Bishop Streiff shared information how the decisions were received worldwide and in other European countries and what developments were emerging.
No longer a viable central conference?
The meeting also focused on the legal framework for Central Conferences. If positions within the Central Conference remain as they currently stand, a separation would be inevitable. However, each of the resulting sub-entities would no longer be big enough to be organized as a full standing central conference with the right to elect a bishop. This was a new discovery also for Bishop Streiff. In light of the planned election of his successor in 2021, it attracted attention and threw a spotlight on the importance of the pending decisions.
Is there still a will to be church together?
A next meeting of 24 hours will take place at the end of August in Vienna. Originally, it was planned to look at some basic elements of Methodist identity. The members of the study group, however, agreed to directly address the key-question for them and to talk about how strong the will to be together still is: To what extent are they willing to invest time and energy in the search for a common path? And how would scenarios look like for a common path or how would the consequences and possible cooperation be in separate paths? According to Bishop Streiff, the bull will now be taken by the horns.
The study group
The study group is composed of Bishop Patrick Streiff, two persons from Switzerland and one from France, two persons from Austria and one person each from the church areas of Bulgaria and Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Macedonia, as well as Albania.
A total of four meetings were planned, two of them as online meetings, two more as 24-hour meetings.
The study group's mandate is to study and evaluate scenario(s) for staying as closely united and/or connected as possible, in light of a strictly enforced «Traditional Plan» that may be enacted at the 2020 General Conference. The results of its work will be reported to the Executive Committee of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe in March 2020.