A Strong Connection and a Reason To Celebrate: the Russia Initiative
by Mary Beth Coudal
The United Methodists in Russia love to celebrate. This year the partying begins on the Roman Catholic Christmas on December 25, continues through the New Year on January 1, 2006, and culminates on the Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7, 2006.
Many of the Russian United Methodists will continue to celebrate in 2006 when they gather with their U.S. partners in Falls Church, Virginia, outside of Washington DC, for the Russia Initiative Consultation from February 23 to 25. The Rev. Sam Dixon, Evangelization and Church Growth, invites everyone interested in growth and partnership with Russian churches to attend.
At the Russia Consultation, said Rev. Dixon, the Russian United Methodists and their sisters and brothers in the U.S. have many reasons to celebrate. The first reason is to mark the one-year anniversary of Bishop Hans Växby's episcopal appointment. Originally from Sweden and formerly a pastor in Finland, Bishop Växby presides over The United Methodist Church in Russia and several adjoining countries.
Many United Methodists have met Bishop Växby during one of his more than a dozen visits to mini-consultations and church meetings across the United States throughout the year 2005.
Another reason to rejoice, according to Vladimir Shaporenko, Executive Secretary of the Congregational Mission Initiatives, is to mark the fourteenth year of the Russia Initiative. "It's a mature mission program and the largest of the 11 initiatives," said Shaporenko.
The Russia Initiative encompasses one-sixth of the landmass of the globe. In the more than 100 churches in five conferences, Shaporenko estimated that there are between five and seven thousand church members and that the number is growing.
By drawing upon the generosity of supportive congregations in the United States, the planning team hopes to bring to the consultation, for the first time, 11 Eurasian district superintendents.
Dr. James Athearn, the coordinator of the Russia Initiative, said the experience at the consultation is mutually supportive between the participants. He invites U.S. church members to, "Encourage the faith walk of people who are new Christians. In many cases, three years after becoming a Christian, a person in Russia becomes a pastor. Relational and financial support is needed The Russian faith stories are quite personal, and the consultation encourages sharing these stories."
Bishop Växby described a U.S. partner church struggling to meet the financial obligation to the Russian partner, "The (U.S.) pastor wrote that he didn't think the church would have the money to visit that year. The response from the partner church in Russia was, 'Please come. We don't have to have your money, but we need you. Please, come if you can,'" according to a recent story from the United Methodist Reporter in North Texas by Joan Gray LaBarr.
The connection between Russian and U.S. churches mimics the formation of church growth at the time of Jesus, according to Dixon. "Working with the mission initiatives is getting a glimpse into the earliest church - we have the same challenges faced by Peter and Paul."
The growing pains experienced by the new Russian United Methodist Church remind Dixon and Athearn of a teenager coming into his or her own. The Russian United Methodist Church, like a teen, feels empowered, independent, adventurous, and responsible.
"And like a teenager, they (the Russian United Methodists) know what is right and what is wrong When Katrina hit, they held prayer vigils and offered a contribution to the United Methodist Committee on Relief," marveled Shaporenko.
Although Shaporenko questions the future of an upcoming law that may hinder
Russian churches ability to receive financial support from outside of their
country, Shaporenko said, "No matter what happens the Russian United Methodist
Church will continue its ministry. Churches continue to develop churches."
Date posted: Dec 16, 2005