From June 3-5, 2016, the members of the Annual Conference Czech Republic-Slovakia of The United Methodist Church gathered in Prague. On the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the death of Jerome (Hieronymus) of Prague, a Czech church reformer and co-founder of the Hussite movement, the theme was «The truth of the Lord wins».
About 23 years ago, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved, with its constituent states becoming the two independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The United Methodist leaders then decided to remain together as one Annual Conference, but to establish two Districts. Because of the fact that a number of issues only relating to one country are dealt with at the respective District Conferences, the Annual Conference is an opportunity to focus on other priorities: encounters, fellowship, mutual encouragement and celebration – for instance on the occasion of new churches/preaching places, a positive development of specific ministries, the fruitful ecumenical cooperation, or the admission of a probationary pastor and the ordination of an elder.
The UMC in the Czech Republic slightly grew last year – in spite of the fact that there were also a few church splits or departures of members due to conflicts. Such crises are sometimes caused by the fact that new people join the UMC, but that after a fading of the initial euphoria they realize with a certain disillusionment that the UMC is a «very normal» church with regulations and rules, as well. Their way does not lead into a stable, sustainable and responsible relationship, but instead they leave the church after a while.
In Slovakia the number of church members is stable – but one can also observe that, compared to the number of «professing members», a quite considerable group of people remains in the status of «friends». It will be an important task of the church to think about how to encourage and promote the step towards becoming a «professing member» and to make the understanding of this commitment a subject of discussion. The pastor of the English-speaking UMC in Prague talks about similar experiences: While an encouraging and hopeful number of students participate in the worship services, they have difficulties in doing a step towards a higher commitment.
During the time of communism, the pastors of the UMC were paid by the state. They received a very small salary, which was a means of monitoring, as well. Even today, part of the salaries is still paid by the state – both in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. In the Czech Republic, however, the first year has started in which this state support for pastors’ salaries is decreasing according to a mutual agreement. In view of this continuously decreasing and finally ceasing state support, the UMC is focusing on increasing the sense of responsibility among the church members – not without success, as it seems right now.
In his annual report, Superintendent Pavel Procházka from Slovakia recommended that the church employees study theology at a university in order to be able to meet the high expectations of the current knowledge-based society. And in the most general sense, both districts seem to rely and focus on a sound education, that they cultivate a well-conceived liturgy and very good sermons, and that they aim to encourage a spirituality relating to the whole human being.
Source: Pastor Stephan Johanus, Zurich / Urs Schweizer, Assistant of the Bishop, Zurich
Date: June 7, 2016