The first Wesleyan congregation in Switzerland was founded in Lausanne in 1840. The Methodist Episcopal Church began its work sixteen years later in Lausanne and Zurich. And finally, the Evangelical Brethren Church founded its first congregation in Berne in 1866. Thus today’s UMC in Switzerland was formed from three different Methodist movements.
In the early days, missionaries from Germany, Great Britain, and America worked to build the Church. Local preachers soon cared for a growing number of congregations. However, this period was a time not only of growth, but also of resistance and oppression. Any religious movement that belonged neither to the Catholic nor to the Reformed Protestant Church was treated as a sect, and proselytizing was viewed as «stealing members». Violence against preachers and lay missionaries was not uncommon.
But the spread of Methodism in Switzerland was not to be stopped, and soon Switzerland was itself the source of missionary work. Members of the Church, especially women, were sent out to nearly all continents to do good works, to teach people about God, and to help build new congregations. Today, eleven men and women work in the service of Connexio, the mission and service network of the UMC, in Argentina, in the Congo, in Algeria and in Croatia – in projects for development cooperation, emergency aid, missionary congregation building, and inter-church aid.
In Switzerland as elsewhere, the UMC’s field of activity includes much more than pure congregational work. The Church maintains close ties with various social and missionary institutions:
– Bethanien Charity in Zürich
– Bethesda Charity in Basel
– 8 homes for the elderly
– 1 group living facility for mothers and children
– 1 day nursery
– 1 home for the mentally handicapped
– 2 hotels
– 1 backpackers villa
– 5 retreats
In many places, the congregational efforts emphasize work with children and youth and the organization of worship services in a contemporary style. Music also plays an important role, just as in the early Methodist movement. In addition to numerous choirs and vocal groups, many congregations also have their own bands, brass choirs, or other instrumental ensembles.
The cooperation with other Churches — be it in the context of the Evangelical Alliance or in the ecumenical context — is an important priority of the UMC and is considered to be an active contribution towards a common Christian witness.
There are still a number of women’s groups and missionary societies. In the past 15 years, congregational partnership teams have been established. In all these groups, the participants not only discuss the issues of their own lives, but also follow the work of Methodist congregations in other places (Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, Asia), and make practical contributions.
On the other hand there are several groups and congregations made up by people from Latin America, Africa or Asia which meet in UMC buildings and which have an already longstanding or a rather new but growing relationship with the UMC.
And finally, there are missionary activities and serving ministries at many places (working with drug addicts and the socially disadvantaged; open youth work; lunch projects, support for asylum seekers, etc.). Many congregations are opening themselves to the non-members around them by initiating programs based on the needs of people not affiliated with any church.
Together with the UMC in France and the Methodist congregations in Northern Africa (Algeria/Tunisia), the UMC in Switzerland makes up the Annual Conference of Switzerland/France.
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