The roots of the Methodist mission in Albania go back to the 19th century. In those days, American missionaries (later increasingly replaced by Albanians) not only preached and taught the Gospel, but also provided help in daily life. Their efforts to provide the populace with basic schooling were of especial importance. For many years the “Protestants” ran the only school for girls in Albania, and they also played an important role in the development of a common alphabet to integrate Albania’s various regions and dialects. Unfortunately, this hopeful work was not graced with longevity.
Albanian Communism took a strict and destructive form like no other in Europe, and when the country opened up politically in the early 1990s, it was in ruins. A process of cautious reconstruction followed, and even though it is sometimes overshadowed by unrest and tension, this process is irreversible.
In 1992, dedicated members of the UMC congregation in Wismar, Germany began to support this process by contributing material goods to Albania and rebuilding the school infrastructure in the mountain villages of southeastern Albania. Their dedication has been productive. The people in Bishnica, a poor mountain village of 800, began to take interest in the driving force behind this work, and with the formation of a full-time team of Albanian and German Christians in Bishnica, the next step was taken. The team continued and expanded its charity work and evangelization. Through these efforts, about two dozen people discovered their faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized in July of 1998. This represented the founding of the UMC in Bishnica. Since then, the Church has continued to develop: it now boasts about 100 members in Bishnica and other villages in the vicinity or — because of the migration — in the further neighbourhood.
Most of the people in Albania are still very poor. Shipments of badly needed goods and assistance from abroad are still very welcome, especially in the mountains. By replacing dilapidated furniture, patching leaky roofs, and repairing broken heaters, the aid workers contribute significantly to improving the working conditions in community buildings and schools. A medical/nursing service, a reforestation project, and the founding of a boarding school for children from distant villages where the schools have been closed, all contribute to securing a brighter future for the people in the mountains.
In spite of these improvements, more and more people are leaving Bishnica and the surrounding villages in order to look for work, to study, or simply to seek their fortunes in the larger cities. It is a great challenge to follow them and use the existing Emails to approach more people, but it has, for example, led to the founding of small Methodist groups in Pogradec, Tirana and Korca.
Two young Albanians who began their theological studies in the Graz-Waiern program in Austria in 2004 will return to Albania in Summer 2008 and will take over responsibility. This is an important step towards a new
future, in which the UMC in Albania will be led and shaped by Albanians.
Although there are loose Emails between the Methodists in Albania and in Macedonia (e.g. in the International Youth Camp in Macedonia), structural cooperation is not possible. For this reason, the Methodist work in Albania, which so far has not been officially registered as a Church, is under the direct supervision of the Bishop of the UMC in Central and Southern Europe.
Methodist work in Austria was begun in Vienna in 1870 by preachers of the Wesleyan Methodist Church from southern Germany. About thirty years later, it was joined with the mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Europe. Until 1920 there were severe restrictions by the State bodies; the Methodists only had the right to a “familial practice of religion”. When a mission conference was formed in 1911, it included congregations in Austria (Vienna and Graz), Hungary, and what is today Serbia (Vojvodina). After the First World War, this conference was divided due to the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A time of serious unemployment and poverty followed, during which the Methodist Church was able to provide significant aid, mainly through support from abroad. In response to the religious freedom in the new Austrian state, congregations were formed in Vienna, St. Poelten, Krems, and Linz, and a home for children in Türnitz was founded as well. The worship services and Sunday School were full. Czech language services were also held in Vienna. In 1933, the parliament was dissolved by force, and the new religious freedom was rescinded. Oppression under a Catholic-minded Fascist regime followed (“Ständestaat”). This regime was succeeded by the National Socialists in 1938 and by the Anschluss to the Third Reich. Until the end of the Second World War, the Austrian congregations were part of the Southern German Conference of the Methodist Church.
In 1945, the Methodist Church in Austria was reorganized. It was a difficult time. Challenged by their own distress, the Methodists helped countless refugees which had come into the country. As a result of this service, new congregations were formed in the refugee camps in Linz, Ried/Inn, Salzburg, and Bregenz. In 1951, the Methodist Church was recognized by the Austrian state. Pastors from the US, Switzerland, and Germany came to help rebuild the Church. In 1956 Hungarian refugees were accommodated by the congregations in Vienna, Linz and Graz and provided with food and medicines. In Linz a social ministry and a kindergarten were established.
Even today, internationalism and openness toward seekers of all generations are still typical characteristics of the UMC in Austria. Because of this, in practically all congregations, people from many different nations come together, and worship services are sometimes translated into several languages. In Vienna, there is also a lively English-speaking congregation that was founded in 1978. This basic openness is the reason that, slowly but steadily, the Austrian Church is growing.
Although the UMC in Austria is a small Church, it plays an important role in the ecumenical movement and in the organization and support of many international conferences. It is a founding member of the Ecumenical Council of Austria. It maintains close Emails with the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church (pulpit and table fellowship) and cooperates, among others, in the areas of charities, public relations, and religion lessons in schools.
The “Zentrum Spattstrasse” in Linz provides important social and pedagogical services for children and young people from all over Austria, and is widely known and respected. This institute for social-pedagogical initiatives includes welfare education groups for socially disadvantaged girls, a hospital for children with behavioural problems, a kindergarten, pedagogical training facilities, a day-care clinic, an out-patient clinic, and a shelter in the center of Linz, among other projects.
The Church is also an enormously important bridgehead to the Methodist congregations in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Albania. One fruit of these decades-old relationships is the study program in Graz-Waiern, which was developed to provide for the theological education of future leaders in the UMC in southeastern Europe. After learning the German language in Graz (6-12 months), the students take part in a theological study program with internships in charity work at the Diakoniewerk in Waiern. During this entire period, they are members of the UMC congregation in Graz, where the open atmosphere ensures that they will be firmly anchored in the UMC, even though they are far from their homes.
The UMC rounds out its missionary work by running a Protestant bookshop and publishing house in Vienna.
The Belgium Mission of the M.E. Church, South was organized in Brussels in 1922 as the result of moves carried out by the Southern Methodist Centenary Movement (USA) at the close of World War I. Development of the work led to the organization of the Belgium Annual Conference in 1930. After a struggle for existence, Unification of American Methodism in 1939 found Belgian Methodism in a state of promising vitality, as shown by the strong delegation sent to Copenhagen for the European Methodist Uniting Conference in August 1939.
A few days after the close of the gathering, the Second World War broke upon Europe, and Belgium was again invaded, with Methodism suffering serious material and moral devastation.
Bishop Paul N. Garber arrived in June 1945 to inaugurate a successful eight-year reconstruction program, and in June 1946 the Belgium Conference was able to resume its regular annual sessions.
In 1952 the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference was organized, at which time the Belgium Conference reported 21 traveling preachers, eight local preachers, 17 charged with 25 churches, 3,410 members and four institutions.
December 1969 marked the union of the Evangelical Protestant Church and the Methodist Church to form the Protestant Church of Belgium. This replaced, to a large degree, the organizational work of the Belgian Annual Conference–which included Dunkirk, France.
In 1978, a second union took place bringing together the two Reformed churches (the Reformed Church of Belgium and the Reformed Church in Holland–Belgian Section) forming the United Protestant Church of Belgium.
The United Protestant Church of Belgium represents a small minority in a mainly Roman Catholic country of ten million people. With 110 local congregations the church’s contribution to the life of the country far outweighs its minority status, especially through its social and diaconal centers.
The Synod of the church has overall responsibility for the teaching of Protestant religion in schools and also administers chaplaincy programs to prisons, hospitals, army and airport.
The United Protestant Church of Belgium is affiliated with the United Methodist Church in the USA, having the status of a united autonomous church.
This church sprang directly from the work of John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1738), which was part of the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century. John dedicated himself to serious Christian living in 1725; they met with others at Oxford to form the Holy Club, also nicknamed “Methodists” because of their rigorous approach to Christian life. They were ordained deacons and priests of the Church of England and went to Georgia as missionaries. On the voyage they were greatly impressed by the faith of the Moravians.
They returned to England dissatisfied with their spiritual state. On May 24, 1738 in a room in Aldersgate, John felt his heart strangely warmed; Charles had a similar experience. After this new beginning, reluctantly following the example of George Whitefield they began open-air preaching, despite the opposition of bishops and hostile mobs. Societies were formed, first in Bristol in London and then in many places. Lay preachers were employed; a system of circuits was formed and from 1744 onwards there was an annual conference of preachers, a centralized system geared for mission. John traveled 250,000 miles and preached 40,000 times and by 1791 there were over 70,000 members and over 400 chapels.
John Wesley never intended his movement to separate from the Church of England, but in 1794 he gave legal status to his Conference and ordained ministers for America. Disputes about the status of the traveling preachers and the administration of the sacraments were resolved by the Plan of Pacification (1795) which was a decisive break with the Church of England. Divisions arising from the constitutional disputes and fresh revivals led to the creation of the Methodist New Connexion (1797), to the Primitive Methodists (1812), the Bible Christians (1816) and smaller groups which largely united in the United Methodist Free Churches in 1857. All except the Wesleyan Reform Union and the Independent Methodists united with the main body, the Wesleyans, to form this Methodist Church in 1932.
This Church, which covers England, Scotland and Wales, is the largest of the Free Churches in England. It belongs to the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CBBI) and other ecumenical bodies and takes part in over 300 local ecumenical projects. It serves local churches through a connexional team, with four coordinating secretaries responsible for church life, church and society, inter-church and other relationship and central services. It has 333 districts, each with a Synod, presided over by a ministerial chairman. It emphasizes education in general and training for varied forms of ministries, both lay and ordained. The traditional Wesleyan stress on evangelism, social concern and the struggle for justice is expressed in its involvement for education and service, with young and older people respectively, through NCH and MHA, its two main social work agencies, as well as many local mission projects in inner city and rural areas.
Our calling challenges the Methodist Church to respond to the present age, in its worship, learning and caring, service and evangelism. Its worship is a mixture of formal and free, with the Wesley hymns still important to a people “born in song”. Its commitment to prayer and bible study in small groups, to youth work, pastoral care and social outreach, are the main characteristics of a Church proud to celebrate over 250 years of Methodist witness and over 200 years of overseas missions as its contribution to the World Church. The rediscovery of Wesley’s message for today and the connection between our Methodist heritage and contemporary mission, as we prepare to celebrate the 300th anniversary of John’s birth (2003), is a vital part of its ongoing commitment to evangelical revival and the quest for holiness, personal and corporate, offering Christ to all through worship, witness, preaching and service.
The first Methodist missionaries came to Bulgaria from the US in the middle of the 19th century, and were received hospitably by the Turks who ruled the country at the time. But they did not merely set up new congregations. It was also one of these missionaries, Dr. Albert Long, who translated the whole Bible into Bulgarian, thus making the Word of God accessible to the Bulgarian population in general for the first time. By choosing the East-Bulgarian dialect fort his translation he tremendously influenced the Bulgarian literature of the following 50 years and even the creation of an official national language. In the years that followed, girls’ and boys’ schools were founded, contributing to the literacy of the country. However, in spite of the success and significance of this early pioneering work, the history of the UMC in Bulgaria in the following decades was like a roller coaster, and, often enough, the Church had to fight for survival.
The period of Communist rule from 1947 to 1989 began with a terrible persecution of all Churches in the country, and was an especially dark era. Many pastors were beaten, thrown into prison for long periods, or even murdered. A law implemented at the time nominally provided for religious freedom, but in reality it rendered practically all Church work impossible. All Email between the UMC in Bulgaria and the international Church was prohibited.
Following the political opening of the country in 1990, only two of the original sixteen congregations still existed, and the pastors were either old and frail, or had already passed on. In spite of this, the UMC was able to reorganize, and relations were renewed with the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe and with the supervising bishop.
Since then, the Church has been growing continuously, thanks to God’s grace and the tireless efforts of many lay people and a few pastors from the new generation. In many places where earlier Methodist congregations once existed, new work is being done after an interruption of many decades.
In carrying out missionary and service work, the UMC in Bulgaria has not forgotten that it has been a minority church since its founding. For one thing, this is reflected in the fact that it makes a point of spreading the Gospel to minorities, such as Turkish gypsies, Armenians, and Rom. Moslems (after decades of atheist teachings, this denomination is more an ethnic and cultural reference than a religious one) also learn about Jesus Christ in personal talks, evangelization meetings, and film viewings.
The goal of spreading the Gospel in word and deed is the motor for many social projects such as soup kitchens, literacy courses, out-patient clinics, prison work, creative or play times for neglected children and youth, etc. Samuel Altunian, one of the young pastors, says: “It’s impossible to imagine being a Church in Bulgaria today without providing these services for the poor and the minorities.”
At the same time, the importance of the literature projects should not be underestimated. These support not only the printing and distribution of Bibles, but also practical guides for the reader.
It may not show outwardly, but many members of the UMC in Bulgaria are very poor. The massive economic changes since 1989 have, for the most part, worsened their situation. Thus the existence of the Church and its credible service among the people continue to present a challenge that should not be underestimated.
The Central and Southern Europe Central Conference has its roots in the turbulent times before and after World War II. The Geneva area, formed in 1936, was elevated to a Central Conference and elected its own bishop in 1954. Since then the Central Conference was a bridge-builder between east and west and south. In the present history of Europe we uphold the connectional principal as a continuing task. Together we are ready to face the challenges of the future. The Central and Southern Europe Central Conference is composed of United Methodism in Albainia, Algeria/Tunisia, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic/Slovak Republic, France, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/Republic of Macedonia.
Beginning in Zagreb 1923, various missionary initiatives worked to build Methodist congregations in Croatia. This work was carried out in the Serbo-Croat language, in contrast to the Vojvodina region (now part of Serbia), where there were many thriving German-speaking and Hungarian-speaking congregations at the beginning of the 20th century. The missionary efforts in Croatia were, however, not particularly successful, and were eventually discontinued.
On the other hand, the Methodist Church maintained various congregations in Istria (e.g. in Pula), which belonged to Italy. But when Istria became part of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1947, this work, too, was discontinued.
Peter Zunic, a native Croatian, heard the call to missionary work in his former homeland during his studies at the Theological Seminary in Reutlingen, Germany. In 1995, he and his wife Heidi travelled to Split, Croatia. There they began to approach people with a message of hope and with deeds of love, and in this way worked to revive the work of the UMC in this country. Through their efforts, and often through seemingly coincidental encounters, a network of relationships sprouted. From this, a small but growing congregation with faithful and dedicated members has developed.
Along with regular evangelization work in the center of Split (sometimes in cooperation with other evangelical congregations), the production of Christian literature is an important part of the work here. The devotionals and other literature produced here (e.g. a Croatian translation of a compendium of John Wesley’s sermons on the Sermon on the Mount) are treasured and used far beyond the bounds of the Church and the country. Also, Peter and Heidi Zunic have made Email with a nearby orphan’s home, and regularly organize activities for the children, such as excursions, movies, etc.
Still, in an environment that is almost exclusively Roman Catholic, missionary work is very difficult. Time and again, people who find themselves in personal emergencies open themselves to dialogues with the Methodists and demonstrate a basic openness toward God, but turn away when they discover they are dealing with a Protestant church. They are afraid of being considered traitors to the Croatian people.
In the last years, concrete efforts have begun for activities in other cities in the Adriatic coastal region. But in Sibenik, too, the work is just beginning, and is proceeding very slowly.
For structural reasons, the Methodist work in Croatia is under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of the UMC in Central and Southern Europe in Zurich. But the congregational leaders also have a good relationship with their Methodist brethren in Macedonia and in Serbia.
In 1920, missionaries from the US-based Methodist Episcopal Church, South began their work in Czechoslovakia. They organized evangelization meetings, distributed Bibles, and provided emergency services to the people, who were still suffering from the consequences of the First World War. This work led to the founding of various congregations and to the birth of the UMC in Czechoslovakia. In the early years, the Church grew rapidly. Later, the young Church experienced very difficult years, at first in a financial sense, and then for political reasons. Yet in spite of persecution and oppression by the state, from restriction of activities to the arrest of pastors, rays of hope always managed to shine through.
At the end of 1989, the political changes in Eastern Europe suddenly offered many new opportunities for Christian service in a highly secularized society, and the UMC was still there, with renewed missionary zeal that soon led to the founding and growth of new congregations. For the most part, the new members were young people who were hearing the message of the Gospel for the first time, and who with their enthusiasm brought a strong new dynamic into the Church.
The political separation of the country in 1993 and subsequent founding of the Czech and Slovak Republics did not separate the Annual Conference. The UMC in these countries has undergone structural adaptations, but is still organized as an annual conference with two districts.
The growing congregations in the Czech Republic are confronted with many social challenges. The fact that the country joined the EU in May 2004 has not changed this situation. But these needs are viewed as an opportunity to spread God’s love. Because of this, they often lead to a new engagement fort the Kingdom of God and to programs which also try to alleviate the material needs of the people. For example, one emphasis of the UMC in the Czech Republic is the work with drug addicts (this includes a comprehensive preventive program in youth groups and schools). Other areas of emphasis include multifaceted youth work and support for prison inmates, the homeless, single parents, and the handicapped. This work lends credibility to the Gospel message and helps people to find Christ.
Near the middle of the 19th century the Methodists in New York purchased an old ship and anchored it in the harbour as a mission for the thousands of Scandinavian immigrants and sailors who were coming to America. It was called the Bethel Ship and its pastor was Olaf Gustaf Hedström, a Swedish sailor, who had been converted in America.
In 1858 Christian Willerup, a Dane who had been converted on the Betel Ship, and was serving as superintendent in Norway, was released to become an evangelist in all the Scandinavian countries.
During a family visit to Copenhagen, Christian Willerup began public meetings. The first congregation was established in 1859, and in 1865 the church received official approval by the state, according to The Royal Constitution. It was first in 1911 that Methodism in Denmark had grown substantially enough to receive status as an Annual Conference. At the time there were 53 pastors, 27 congregations, 127 preaching stations and 3,634 members.
Now the number of members is declining. The main challenge that the UMC faces today is that of changing from a survival mode to a mission mode. Many churches are holding on to what they have rather than taking the risk of new ways of thinking and doing ministry. Another challenge is to strengthen youth work.
Methodism in Estonia began in 1907 through two lay preachers Vassili Täht and Karl Kuum who started preaching on the island Saaremaa. During that time Dr. George A. Simons from the USA led the work in St. Petersburg.
The first congregation was founded in Estonia in 1910 and two years later the first church was built in Kuressaare on Saaremaa. From 1911 to 1920 the Methodist work in Estonia was a part of the Russian Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1921 the Baltic and Slavic Mission Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was founded with headquarters in Riga, Latvia. In 1924 the Mission Conference was turned into Annual Conference with 46 local churches, 29 pastors, and 1639 full members in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
In 1940 the Baltic countries became parts of the Soviet Union. During World War II the people and Methodist work suffered great losses. Thanks to God the Methodist Church in Estonia survived the Soviet period (in Latvia and Lithuania the Methodists virtually disappeared). After regaining our independence in 1991 the Methodist church had 17 local churches.
In 2005 the church has total membership of 1700, 26 congregations with many of them in new places and newly built churches. The number of clergy is 47. The church is very active in outreach work (e.g. organizing summer camps, publishing a magazine “Koduteel” and Estonian “Upper Room” edition). Alpha courses are arranged, as well as Disciple courses. Mission trips have taken place to Finno-Ugric nations in the former Soviet Union. Challenges facing the church include training of leadership, mission and evangelism and older buildings in need of repair.
The church runs social projects (e.g. soup kitchens and children’s Care Center “Lighthouse”). Children’s work has a high priority.
It has its own theological seminary with over 100 students, many of whom are from other denominations.
The Methodist Church holds membership in the Estonian Council of Churches and the Estonian Evangelical Alliance.
On the Finnish side of the Bay of Bothnia, Methodist preaching began to be heard by 1859 and the years to follow. Gustaf Lervik, a coxswain who had returned to his homeland, began to preach in his home country after being converted aboard the Bethel Ship in New York. Later, the Bärlund brothers joined in as preachers. In the 1880’s, impulses from Sweden led to a new start for Methodism in Finland, and the first congregation was established in 1881. Methodism in Finland fell in under the Sweden Annual Conference and had status as a district under the leadership of Superintendent B.A. Carlsen. In 1887 the first Finnish-speaking congregations arose, and two years later B.A. Carlsen established a mission to Russia, with meetings held in St. Petersburg, leading shortly thereafter to congregational development. The Czar, who at the time ruled both Russia and Finland, gave official approval in 1892 to the Methodist Church in both states. The Sweden Annual Conference organized “The mission in Finland and St. Petersburg” during the same year. In 1907,
German-American Dr. George A. Simons (son of Frisian immigrants from Sylt, in Schleswig) was appointed as superintendent in St. Petersburg. The link to Sweden weakened, and under his leadership the work developed rapidly with ramifications for Russia and Estonia. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 put a stop to all possibilities for church growth, yet, in spite of opposition, the work continued into the 1920’s. The Methodist Church in Finland gathered for the first time as an independent Annual Conference in 1911. The church had 1,568 members. In keeping with the development in Finland after its independence, the work was separated in a
Swedish-speaking and a Finnish-speaking conference in 1923. Finnish-speaking Methodism suffered greatly during World War II, since 60% of its members lived in regions that were incorporated into the Soviet Union.
Today the Finland Finnish AC has 800 members and 9 congregations. Two of the congregations have seen a strong increase in membership and four congregations have regular work with children and youth. The economical situation is difficult.
The Finland Swedish AC has 1100 members and 14 congregations.. The church has decided that 2006-07 will be a Children’s Year and steps have been taken to focus on children’s and youth work. The economical situation is improving through prudent stewardship and an increase of tithing. The church is looking to the future with confidence.
The first Wesleyan missionaries came to France from Great Britain via the Channel Islands in 1791. About sixty years later, the still relatively small movement was consolidated to form the French Wesleyan Conference. This conference remained in existence until shortly before the Second World War. Then, sixteen congregations voted to join the French Reformed Church. Six congregations in the southeastern part of the country broke away because they were unwilling to take this step. During the following decades, they continued to exist, along with two more congregations, as autonomous “Eglises Evangéliques Méthodistes de France” (EMF), and numbered about 1,500 members and friends.
Today’s “Union de l’Eglise Evangélique Méthodiste en France” (UEEMF) was founded in 1868, when the Evangelical Brethren in Germany sent a German-speaking American missionary to Strasbourg, for the purpose of initiating a German-speaking congregation there. Other missionaries from Germany and Switzerland came to the surrounding cities with the similar intentions. From these efforts, the nine congregations of Alsace-Lorraine developed.
In southwestern France, the missionary work began in 1926 among Swiss immigrants who had settled in Agen after the First World War. Eventually, the congregation’s clientele changed, and the work was carried out in French, as was also the case in Alsace-Lorraine. In the 1980s, missionary work of the congregation in Agen led to new initiatives in Fleurance and Mont de Marsan.
Although there had always been Emails between the EMF and the UEEM, for a number of reasons, the two churches have tightened their links significantly in recent years. In 2002, following intensive talks, it was decided to provisionally incorporate the EMF into the UEEMF, and thus into the Annual Conference of France and Switzerland. This decision was made definite in 2005.
Today, important areas of emphasis in the Methodist congregations include working with children and young people, conversation groups and creative groups for women, and missionary work and evangelization, as well as literature. However, the congregations are also aware of their heritage of social service and take this mission seriously, and work to help people at the personal level.
Chinese, Korean, and Cambodian congregations, which all have the status of associated congregations and which display an astonishing missionary dedication, meet in the buildings of the Methodist congregations.
Points of Email between Church and society include several institutions with which the UEEMF is affiliated: the Bethesda charity three homes for the elderly in Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Munster; the retreat center in Landersen, which has been through difficult times, but now looks to the future with renewed confidence; a
home for the elderly in Valleraugue; and diverse Protestant bookstores (CEDIS).
Together with the four congregations in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the congregations in France form the “District francophone” of the Annual Conference Switzerland/France.
The United Methodist Church in this country, called “Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche” in Germany, has various sources. Methodism here was started by Christoph Gottlieb Mueller, a German who had fled to England during the Napoleonic wars and was converted there. He returned to Germany in 1830 and began to preach in Wuerttemberg and the Southern part of the country.
In 1849 American Methodists sent Louis S. Jacoby, a German immigrant, who had become a minister in Illinois, to Germany. He began his work in Bremen and was soon joined by others from America. In the same year Methodism began work in eastern Germany. The work established by Jacoby and his associates became the Germany Mission Conference in 1856. German Methodism carried the work into Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the former Baltic States. There was union with the groups formed by Mueller and the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1897. In 1905 the United Brethren joined the Methodist Church.
Sixty-three years after that merger, in 1968, the German Methodist Church united with the German E.U B. Church (“Evangelische Gemeinschaft”), which had developed in a similar way as the Methodist Church. In 1850 Johann Conrad Link of the Evangelical Association returned from America to his homeland and started preaching in and near Stuttgart, Soon other American ministers followed to testify to the love of God among their former fellow countrymen. Step by step they spread their missionary work all over Germany, and preached in France, and Switzerland. In 1865 they founded a German Conference.
Due to the German division a Central Conference in East Germany (then German Democratic Republic) was formed in 1970. It set up its own institutions for theological training, publishing, social and diaconal work. The common membership in the UMC provided the framework to retain the unity in spirit and to establish partnership but to serve under different political and societal conditions. German reunification in 1990 allowed the union of the Central Conferences in October, 1992. In the Federal Republic of Germany there are three annual conferences (East, North, South).
The School of Theology is located in Reutlingen, Wuerttemberg, where students from Germany, Switzerland and other European countries are trained. The United Methodist Church in this country carries on quite extensive social work in hospitals, homes for senior citizens, aftercare institutions for drug and alcohol addicts. In addition there are training institutions for adult educational work and vacation centers for young people. A growing sector is the ministry for migrants and asylum seekers.
The first Methodist missionaries came to Hungary from Germany and Austria in 1898. They were able to gain ground with their message relatively quickly, first among members of the German-speaking population, and soon among Hungarians, as well. The Methodist missions grew steadily, and soon comprised more than 1,000 members. But due to political developments following First World War (Trianon Peace-treaty, loosing two third of Hungary’s territory) only one congregation remained with one pastor and 100 members. The UMC strengthened in the 1920-ies again, a strong social work system was organized. Another crisis followed Second World War due to the deportations of the German speaking population and the resettlement of the Slovakian speaking population in Slovakia. In addition, all church institutions were confiscated by the state between 1946-49. Difficult years of restriction and isolation followed in the communist era for all the Churches, even the existence of the UMC in Hungary was threatened. All these and tensions within the church eventually led to a painful split in 1974.
But God called new people, who put all their energy into the mission of the UMC in Hungary in the 1970-80-ies. And the political changes of 1989 provided new opportunities. Suddenly, many new possibilities for spreading the Gospel in word and deed opened up. New dimensions were added to the work of the Church, and the congregations grew.
The fact that the UMC in Hungary provided a home for four congregations in Transcarpathia (Western Ukraine) for ten years and assisted them in such matters as training of lay workers, demonstrates that the Church was not only preoccupied with taking care of its own problems. (Since 2003, these four congregations have been part of the UMC in the Ukraine, and thus belong to the area supervised by the Bishop of Eurasia.)
The UMC congregations in Hungary continue to report growth in their missionary and charity activities. They produce TV and radio programs, work with children and youth, and each year organize a nationwide family summer camp which is attended by several hundred people. They are active in religious education in schools, and provide support for prison inmates and drug addicts. They run two homes for the elderly in Kaposszekcsö and Budakeszi, and have built a varied and comprehensive service for the Roma (agricultural extension service, literacy courses, pre-marital counselling, etc.). But above all, they organize regular evangelization meetings, in order to remind the people, by means of the Word and good music, of the One who, in the face of the major changes and insecurity of the present time, wants to give them new perspectives in life.
One happy result of these activities is also a challenge: many of the buildings being used have become too small and outdated, and many congregations are dreaming of new church buildings. They hope that when finances are available, step by step, these dreams will come true.
Beside its own work, the UMC in Hungary is also very active in ecumenical matters, and often assumes a leading role. Recently, the cooperation between six Churches with Wesleyan origins (the so-called “Wesley-Alliance”) has been especially fruitful in the form of a common training program for lay workers.
At the same time, the UMC in Hungary is under great pressure, not least of all due to the country’s recent entry into the EU. The government has repeatedly burdened the Church with new measures, such as large increases in the minimum wage and new standards in social institutions. But Church leaders are confident that their previous experience will once again be confirmed: We are not alone!
John Wesley made the first of his twenty-one visits to Ireland in 1747, finding 280 Methodists who had been gathered together in Dublin by pioneer lay preachers. The word spread very rapidly inwards and served to strengthen the Protestant witness in a country which is predominantly Roman Catholic except what is now known as Northern Ireland. The first chapel was opened at Dublin in 1752 and the first conference was held at Limerick in the same year. Emigrants from Ireland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were of immense importance in spreading Methodism to other parts of the world. They included Barbara Heck, Philip Embury, Robert Strawbridge, and Robert Williams, pioneers in the United States of America, and Laurence Coughlan, the founder of Methodism in Newfoundland. The Irish Methodist Church has one constitution throughout the Republic and Northern Ireland with a President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. The President of the British Conference, as the successor of John Wesley, presides, however, over the Irish Conference, and six Irish representatives sit as members of the British Conference. There are 222 congregations, 16,200 recognized adult members and a total community roll of almost 55,800. There are 130 ministers in active work and 60 retired ministers. Local preachers total 293, with 68 local preachers on trial.
Methodism has made an important contribution to Irish education, including the establishment of Wesley College in Dublin, Methodist College in Belfast, and Gurteen College in Co Tipperary-this last a college of agriculture. It has developed a wide-ranging social work service, largely through its five city missions in Dublin, Belfast, Newtonabbey and Londonderry, which control several homes for the elderly, hostel accommodation for needy men and woman, residential care for adolescents and day care centers for the elderly. An increasing number of churches in other towns provide a range of services on their premises, including luncheon clubs, community advice centers, pre-school play groups, practical help and work with the elderly, etc.
Together with other churches, the Methodist Church in Ireland is deeply concerned with the issue of reconciliation and peace in Ireland. Many of the ministers and people have taken leading roles on efforts to establish peace during recent years of community strife.
Methodism was introduced into Italy during the second half of the last century, when the Risorgimento movement for reunification of Italy was in full force.
In 1859 the Wesleyan Missionary Society of London sent its general secretary to sound out what possibilities there were of Protestant preaching in this country. The Rev. Henry Piggott and his co-workers arrived in 1861 and their preaching gave birth to the “Wesleyan Methodist Church.”
Methodism first spread in Northern Italy, then from 1864 through the South. A theological school was founded together with social centers, and a few periodicals started publishing. This work, however, met with great difficulty after the rise of fascism in the 1920s and one by one the centers were forced to close. The government sent some ministers away from their churches and revoked others’ permission to preach. The decade from 1935 to 1945 could be defined by the motto “resist at all cost.” Thanks to the Lord the congregation did resist and since then they have continued to witness their faith, within the limits of their possibilities.
In 1871, the year after the break of Porta Pia, when the Pope’s temporal power was limited to the Vatican City, the Episcopal Methodist Missionary Society of New York sent the Rev. Leroy Vernon, who began his work in Modena, Bologna, Florence and Rome. In 1873 he was in Milan and proceeded to visit many other cities and smaller towns all over Italy. The Episcopal Methodist Church reached its widest diffusion during the years 1911-1935. At the same time, once again because of the financial crisis and the fascist regime, many of its achievements had to be renounced, both in the field of evangelization and the social and educational works.
Piggott and Vernon had not been the classic missionaries of the colonialistic age. They had a very clear understanding of the historical period Italy was going through. They put themselves to the task of contributing, by preaching the gospel, to developing an all-Italian Protestant Reformed Movement. This also served to expand those areas of freedom which were already open. A Protestantism completely immersed in the spirit of the Risorgimento was developing.
In May 1946 the union took place of the two branches of Italian Methodism. The Evangelical Methodist Church of Italy was born as a district of the British Methodist Conference. In 1948 the Italian Methodist Church took part in the founding of the World Council of Churches. In 1962 it achieved full autonomy with its own Conference. In 1975 the process of federation began between the Waldensian and Methodist churches and became operative in 1979. Churches have maintained their individual identities and organization, including financial administration. We share ministers between our churches, have one theological college, and one united circuit and district meeting.
Today there are about 4,200 Italian Methodists of whom 2,700 are baptized members. They are constituted in about 50 congregations spread all over the country. There are numerous Methodist social projects, especially in the south of Italy. The most significant are the “social center” in Villa S. Sebastiano (Abruzzi), and in Scicili (Sicily) “Casa Materna” in Portici near Naples; “Centro Emilio Nitti,” “Casa Mia” in Naples, the youth center “Ecumene” near Velletri that runs biblical training and which promotes debates on social and political problems; “Creating Hope” Intra for refugees and migrants’ Methodist Center.
The Evangelical Association from Kõnigsberg District started evangelistic work in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in 1908, with the establishment of the first church in 1912. From this point, the work developed into the formation of congregations in Kuldiga and Liepaja. German Methodism started work in Riga with the appointment of George R. Durdis in 1910. This led to the establishment of the first Methodist church in Riga 1912. In 1911 the Methodists came into Email with a Moravian Brethren missionary who had founded the congregation in Liepaja, which in turn became a Methodist church. The Baltic countries attained independence after World War I, and the work developed rapidly, with American support.
The Incorporation of the Baltic countries into the Soviet Union after World War II was catastrophic for the Methodist church. Systematic persecution of pastors and congregations, as well as confiscation of buildings destroyed a great deal of the work. In Latvia, a small group of earlier Methodists remained, and in 1991 the Emails led to the reconstruction of the United Methodist Church of Latvia. Since then there has been growth and the operations have spread from the indigenous languages and people to the Russian-speaking population. Latvia UMC has status as District Conference within the Estonia Annual Conference.
The church has good relations with other denominations. The number of membership is growing and the church is happy by the fact that they have a new camp site, Camp Wesley, which was opened last year. Diaconal ministry is an important part of the church’s ministry.
The Methodist movement began at the turn of the 20th century with a spiritual awakening in a German-speaking community in Kaunas. The first Lithuanian-speaking congregation was created in 1923. By the 1939 Baltic and Slavic Conference, Lithuanian Methodism included seven active congregations. Following the Soviet occupation in 1944 all Methodist activity was forcibly stopped, congregations disbanded, and property nationalized.
In 1995 Methodists from Europe and the United States began to assist a small group of surviving Lithuanian Methodists in efforts to reorganize congregations and reclaim property. As of 2005 there are eleven congregations with a total of 485 members and 1,000 persons who participate regularly in Methodist activities. The congregations have active ministries of worship and teaching, feeding ministries, English instruction classes, economic development programs, and a drug and alcohol addiction help center in Birzai.
The churches are currently served by five Lithuanian pastors and five missionaries from Britain Sweden and America.
Lithuania celebrated the 10 years anniversary since the re-opening of the UMC in 2005. Many congregations have seen growth and a number are involved in building projects. Diaconal ministry is an important part of the church’s ministry.
More than 130 years ago, missionaries from the USA laid the cornerstone for Protestant work in the territory of what is now Macedonia. Macedonian freedom fighters, trying to pry their country loose from the Ottoman Empire, also contributed to this early work. Captured and sent to prison in Thessaloniki, their hearts were changed, and after being released, they returned home with a new mission: to spread the Gospel.
However, the Methodist mission in Macedonia would never have developed so well without the faith and courage of “Bible women” who travelled to remote areas in spite of poor roads and the scorn, stone-throwing, and brutality of scoffers. These “Bible women” not only passed on the Good Word of the Gospel; they taught other women to read and write (which meant that these women could now also read the Bible), organized sewing groups and nursing courses, and provided people with help and advice in all sorts of areas. In nearly every place where the Bible Women were active, there appeared not just local schools, but also congregations.
Yet these newly founded congregations faced a high level of initial resistance, even though their members always worked for the good of the entire community. Their meeting houses were burned, and in the beginning, those who converted to Christianity were often thrown into prison. But the congregations survived this treatment. They still exist today, and they are growing!
For more than ten years, the UMC has been officially recognized by the Republic of Macedonia. So today, the Church is fighting a different kind of battle. The past years, with political unrest, war, and waves of refugees, have led to economic misery. Unemployment is around forty percent, and many people live far below the poverty level. So far, there is no viable social safety net (welfare payments of 30 Euros/month for a family of four don’t go very far). The mere expenses for groceries, firewood, and medicines are beyond the means of many people.
The congregations do what they can to counter this need in the name of Jesus Christ, with words of hope and deeds of love. In doing so, they overcome the nationalist tendencies by providing support to minorities. For example, in several places they have developed evangelization programs and social efforts for Rom, and organize regular international youth camps with participants from Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Germany, and the USA.
Institutional services and social support for individuals are equally important. Thus, with generous support from abroad, the UMC has built a social service center in Strumica, a city in the eastern part of the country. This center provides elderly, needy people with a warm meal each day under the auspices of “Meals on Wheels” and with additional assistance.
The very active and diverse dialogue with other Churches (Orthodox, Catholic) and religious communities (Jews, Muslims) is an important contribution towards a common, peaceful future of the country.
Today, Macedonia and Serbia are two politically independent countries, but the UMC congregations still form one organizational unit (Annual Conference) with two districts. However, due to the unfavorable economic situation, they are able to cover only about 10% of their own budget, and the lack of pastors is also a heavy burden, although this latter aspect is improving.
With great dedication and faith in God, the members of the UMC accept these challenges. The call to Paul in the Book of Apostles “Come here to Macedonia and help us!” is just as current now as it was 2,000 years ago