Moscow Bishop Says Future of the Church
Depends on a “Passion for Mission”
Falls Church, Virginia, February 28, 2006—The future of The United Methodist Church and its leadership in any land or culture depends upon “a passion for mission,” according Bishop Hans Vaxby of Moscow.
“And you cannot fake passion,” he said in an interview at the 12th consultation of the denomination’s Russia Initiative, sponsored by the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries on February 23-25.
The bishop, who is Swedish by birth and a long-time pastor in Finland, was asked about the future of pastoral leadership in his Eurasia Area, which covers a huge swath of Asia and Central Europe.
Methodism, which had been present prior to the Communist Revolution, was revived by The United Methodist Church in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. There are now 104 congregations spread over 11 time zones.
Many of the first generation pastors were second career people who will retire soon, the bishop explained, and the Church is not finding it as easy as it was a decade ago to recruit younger potential pastors. The post-communist society is settling into a basically secular frame of mind, and church careers do not compare well to business opportunities, even for deeply religious individuals.
Bishop Vaxby is not worried. “A passion for mission will always win over all the difficulties,” he said. “Yes, we need more pastors, which is one reason we are organizing youth forums for college students. The discussions at these events show a great deal of maturity, and I am sure that out of them will come a harvest from what the church has already planted.
“A new generation of leaders will come; they will come out of a passion for mission—for making disciples of Jesus Christ--cultivated by personal relationships.”
Bishop Vaxby acknowledged in the interview and in his address to the consultation that The United Methodist Church in Russia faces major financial challenges. These have resulted in part from a cutback in mission block grants and the need to finish renovation of a seminary and a church headquarters building in Moscow.
“Yet, I have heard no one in Eurasia say that we have been abandoned by the Church in the US,” he said. “The relationships are too strong. We know we have not been abandoned.”
All economic and personnel problems work out, he advised, when there is a passion for mission, and for a second time he said, “you can’t fake passion.”
The bishop said his greatest joy is that of being part of a mission process in which “God is at work and many people are partners.”
The Russia Initiative is a partnership among congregations, conferences, agencies and individuals in Russia, the US and Western Europe committed to United Methodist mission in the territories of the former Soviet Union and surrounding areas.
Date posted: Feb 28, 2006