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.