Methodist Diversity in Europe on the Rise
by Krista Givens
Berlin, Germany, February 2, 2011--As in the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, people who spoke different languages joined a symphony of prayers and praise to God: French, Italian, Twi, Shona, German, Russian, Estonia, and English.
We gathered in Berlin on January 23-27 as the body of Christ, representatives of Methodist churches from across Europe. We came, 50 of us, to share in community, fellowship, and to support one another in our work with international, migrant, and language ministries.
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of the United Methodist Germany Central Conference was our host for an event made possible by a grant from the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
Our mission was three-fold:
The four-day conference was organized and led by the Rev. Carol Ann Seckel, a Global Ministries missionary who serves as the coordinator of Language and Migrant Ministries in Germany. Dr. Sarah Heaner Lancaster, a professor of systematic theology at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (USA), was our keynote lecturer, and Stephen Bryant from the General Board of Discipleship served as our Bible study leader. Six United Methodist missionaries in Europe took part.
A Changing Religious Landscape
The mixture of cultures and languages within European Methodism is impressive:
Doris Peschke, another speaker, pointed out that immigrant groups are changing the religious landscape of Europe: "Methodists in Italy, Catholics in Sweden, Eastern Orthodox in France and Portugal are very visible." Mrs. Peschke is general secretary of the Church's Commission for Migrants in Europe.
We identified ourselves as people living between the cultures of our homelands and the culture of our "host" countries. We are people living on the margins between the cultures of our parents and the developing cultures of our children. We are people living in the matrix of many cultures, trying to bridge our differences and embrace a vision of the church as a family of God.
Dr. Lancaster, our keynote speaker, reminded us that "the discomfort of being caught between cultures can be a source of insight for theology."
Unity in God's Love
Our ministries are not about our differences, which are clear from our lives in foreign cultures. Our ministries focus on what we have in common. Beyond our differences is the love of God that unites us--the love God shows us and the love we share with one another.
The 18 th century German poet and philosopher Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller said, "It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons [and mothers and daughters]." The love of our one God binds us together in Europe, in the Methodist family, and as the body of Christ in this diverse world.
Gatherings of Methodists from migrant and international churches in Europe began in 2006 when leaders of such congregations in Germany came together. Over the last five years, it has grown into an all-European event, including strong representation from the continent and from Great Britain.
The importance of these ministries was recognized by the late Rev. Sam Dixon, then the head of evangelization and church growth at Global Ministries, whose office funded the initial gatherings. Dixon was director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) at the time of his death in the Haiti earthquake of early 2010.
This year, some of the pressing questions addressed by participants included:
The Rev. Krista Givens is a missionary in Hamburg, Germany, where she is pastor of the United Methodist International Church. The Rev. Üllas Tankler, a staff member of Global Ministries, contributed to this story.
Date posted: Feb 04, 2011