The 18th gathering of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe of The United Methodist Church took place from March 8-12, 2017, in Zurich (Switzerland).
About 110 men and women from more than 20 European, North American and North African countries travelled to Switzerland in order to participate in the quadrennial gathering of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe. The joint celebrations, discussions, and moments of sharing revealed an incredible wealth – not only in regard to languages and cultural backgrounds, but also in regard to personalities and faith journeys. However, the theme «Jesus is Lord», which was chosen for this meeting, underlined that there is something uniting all these people across any differences – not only in theory, but also in practice.
Four years ago, Bishop Patrick Streiff drew in his episcopal address on Wesley’s pamphlet «The Character of a Methodist» and expounded the three steps of love: the personal experience of God’s love for us, the empowerment to love God with our whole heart, and the consequence to love our neighbor as ourselves. With the new theme «Offer them Christ!» he built on these thoughts. As people who ourselves have been moved by Christ, it is our task – particularly in the midst of the processes of change of our times – to talk of the hope that lives within us: in a listening, respectful, self-critical, inviting, and peacemaking way and in particular by being close to the hearts of the people, by making Christ relevant for them, and by being willing to serve them. The Episcopal Address 2017 can be downloaded from here.
The report of the Working Group on Episcopacy made obvious that this was Bishop Streiff’s second to last episcopal address. In other words: Bishop Streiff will retire in 2021, and a new bishop will have to be elected then. After a rather lengthy discussion, the voting members decided to change the Central Conference regulations and to allow for a transparent preparatory process for the election of a new bishop, defined by the Executive Committee. The seven Annual Conferences shall play a part in this process; the details, however, still have to be worked out.
The Working Group on Liturgy did not only take responsibility for shaping the worship services and moments of prayer during the Central Conference gathering in a very colorful way. They also offered a comprehensive report on their work of the past quadrennium and presented various motions. These motions dealt with the essential elements in the Methodist Worship Service (Arriving / Listening / Sharing / Moving on), with promoting Holy Communion, and with working out a concept for pilot projects with churches that would like to gather experiences with a conscious local application of the elemental order of service as well as with promoting Holy Communion.
The Social Principles 2016 shall be translated into German – in cooperation with the UMC in Germany – and submitted to the Executive Committee for approval in 2018.
Particularly in the area of the ministry with children, youth, and women there are a variety of cross-border encounters and relations. They are a proof of the fact that the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe is not primarily an organizational structure but a living community of learning, sharing, and being on a joint journey. The Mission Summit of the partnership program «In Mission Together» (October 6-8, 2017, in Prague/CZ) and the European Methodist Festival «Staunen!» (May 9-13, 2018, in Cuxhaven/DE) are two international gatherings during which any interested person can have this unique experience, as well. Those who prefer living the togetherness from their homes have the possibility to be encouraged and inspired by the 36 meditations from nearly all countries of the Central Conference. The respective brochure, which was also published in Bulgarian, German, Hungarian, and Serbian, and which covers the time from March 12, 2017 to April 16, 2017 (Easter Sunday), can be downloaded from here. Some more translations of the meditations are still worked on.
- The voting members ratified a Covenant Document «Community of Methodist and Wesleyan Churches in Europe», which offers an official frame for a cooperation that in many places is already functioning well.
- For a number of decades already there have been controversial discussions on the position of the UMC on human sexuality. This subject was also mentioned in the episcopal address and in a report from the commission «A Way Forward»; it was, however, not dealt with in any group or plenary discussions.
- In a memorial service the delegates and guests remembered ten men who had been involved in the work of the Central Conference and who passed away in the past quadrennium. The lives of Ferenc Javor (HU), Daniel Husser (FR), and Bishop Franz W. Schäfer were particularly highlighted.
- For the Theme Days 2018-2020 several suggestions were submitted whose core relates to the theme of inclusion and exclusion – in regard to communication and language, to rich and poor, as well as to men and women.
The plenary discussions were over and over interrupted by varied country reports from the Central Conference and by informative words of greetings from the Nordic and Baltic Area, Eurasia, Great Britain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the USA. They provided the participants with an idea of the difficulties by which local churches are challenged at the various places. However, these reports and greetings particularly made clear: where people are willing to allow the love of God to reshape their lives, and where they dare to follow the sometimes difficult path of love, God can use them to let others find new hope and to open up new perspectives for life.
Source: Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Dr. Patrick Streiff, Zurich/Switzerland
Date: March 15, 2017