|United Methodist Church Now Official in Albania|
New York, NY, August 26--The United Methodist Church now officially exists in Albania. The formal papers were signed on August 20 in Tirana by Bishop Patrick Streiff, leader of the denomination in Central and Southern Europe.
Methodist work began in Albania in the 19th century by missionaries from the United States. The small Balkan country was then part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. That mission lasted only a few decades. After World War II, the country fell under a rigidly anti-religious brand of communism, a condition that lasted until the early 1990s.
Methodism was reintroduced from Germany when the doors reopened. The first 25 people were baptized and a congregation established in the mountain village of Bishnica in 1998 where a United Methodist aid center had been set up the year before.
Albania has some 3.8 million people and a highly diverse religious heritage that includes Albanian-Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Muslims, and now a slowly expanding Protestant presence. About 60% of the people are Muslim, but there is a high degree of religious tolerance. Bishop Streiff sees the reborn United Methodist Church working in close collaboration with other Christian groups and has made contacts with Orthodox, Catholic, and other Protestant leaders.
The Albania economy is not strong, and one of the main challenges today is migration, both from the mountain and other rural areas into cities and emigration to other countries for the sake of better futures. Bishop Streiff’s office reports that the migration factor has affected the congregation in Bishnica, creating many changes including, on a positive note, leading to new house groups in Pogradec and Tirana. (The United Methodist Committee on Relief is seeking to help strengthen the Albanian economy by helping to create jobs through agricultural productivity. Read about this work at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/work/fieldoffices/work/albania/ .)
Registration as a not-for-profit organization will make it easier for United Methodists to own property and the process provides an opportunity for the Church to explain itself to the Albanians. The registration of The United Methodist Church is now complete except for ratification by the Supreme Court, which is expected.
The transition from communism to a republic was not easy for Albania. Poverty was acute in many areas. The first United Methodist outreach came in 1992 from Wismar, Germany, through an ecumenical Christian effort to provide material aid in the Mokra region of southeastern Albania. This work continued over the next few years, even as the country underwent dramatic political unrest, and will certainly continue far into the future.
Albanians, in a very common pattern, began to show an interest in the spiritual motivations of the Germans who came again and again with assistance. This led to the aid center at Bishnica, and to evangelistic outreach and expanded social and educational services in health, agriculture, and forestry. By July, 1998, the first 25 persons were ready for baptism—the charter members of The United Methodist Church of Albania.
Two young Albanians, Rigels Kasmollari and Englantin Lushka, have graduated from the theological seminary in Waiern, Austria, and are expected to return home in 2008 to provide indigenous leadership.
In preparation for the formal organization of The United Methodist Church, Bishop Streiff and his predecessor, Bishop Heinrich Bolleter, and a delegation from Christian Association for Humanitarian Aid in Wismar visited the primate of the Albanian-Orthodox Church, representatives of the Roman Catholic Churches, the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, and other religious and humanitarian groups.
*Urs Schweizer, assistant to Bishop Dr. Patrick Streiff, provided the primary information for this story.
Date posted: Aug 28, 2007