More than 140 years ago, US-missionaries led the cornerstone for Protestant work in the territory of what is now Macedonia. Of enormous significance for the further growth and development of the work and its large social effects was the committed service of the «Biblewomen» who in the face of great difficulties visited remote villages and shared the Gospel in word and deed. However, the United Methodist work in Macedonia also went through times of war, repression, and isolation. Today, outreach ministries among people facing difficult situations (e.g. elderly people, people with special needs, or people belonging to the Roma minority) are important parts of the church’s work. The Miss Stone Center with the «Meals on Wheels» program is a special ministry operated by people from the UMC. A project of particular significance for the peaceful future of Macedonia is the endeavor to promote interfaith contacts and understanding. Other priorities include the production of Christian literature, programs for children and youth, activities for women, and the education of new lay and clergy leaders in order to help with the challenge of building a church for future generations with an impact on society. Despite political separation of their countries, the local churches in Macedonia and Serbia still belong to the
same Annual Conference.
The Northern Europe Central Conference is devided into two Episcopal Areas: The Nordic and Baltic Episcopal area consisting of the United Methodist Churches in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden, and the Eurasia Episcopal Area consisting of United Methodist Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova, and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). Information on each church is listed separately by country.
In Norway, the story of Methodism began with seaman Ole Peter Petersen’s preaching in 1849 and the years ahead. In 1851, O.P. Petersen established the Norwegian-Danish Methodist Church in America. In 1856, Danish-American Christian Willerup was sent to Scandinavia as a superintendent in order to lead the church, which had emerged spontaneously. The first Methodist church was founded during the same year, thereby making the establishment of the Methodist Church in Norway a reality. In 1876 the church in Norway received status as an Annual Conference. There were 29 pastors, 19 congregations and 2,798 members, and the conference got its own superintendent, Martin Hansen.
The membership number has been declining for the last 50 years. The Annual Conference Council has therefore prioritized and recommended tools like Natural Church Development, Alpha and Walk to Emmaus in order to try to turn this development.
The UMC in Poland was established in 1920, as a result of missionary and humanitarian activities planned by The Episcopal Methodist Church, South (USA). During the years of Nazism (1939-1945) and Communism (1945-1989), the attitude of both regimes towards the UMC was ambivalent, which at least allowed its continued existence. Even so, the UMC was hit hard with the nationalization of church buildings. Today, great importance is placed upon ministries with children, youth, and women. A far-reaching radio and television ministry is another priority for the UMC. At various places social service ministries have been established (e.g. «Step to Hope» focusing on addicted people and their families as well as on people affected by domestic violence). A theological seminary contributes to the education of the leaders of these ministries. On the other hand, the church is challenged by migration (many young and well-educated people leave the
country) and by the fact that a number of church buildings are in urgent need of renovation and improvement. The UMC in Poland is working hard on building bridges and on developing a common Christian witness with many other churches in Poland. Thanks to this credible service in the society and in interdenominational relations the UMC is – at least in most of the larger cities – a recognized and appreciated church.
The origin of the Methodist Church in Portugal arose from the witness of two English laymen, Thomas Chegwin in 1854 and James Cassels ten years later, who were responsible for initiating small groups for prayer and Bible study following the pattern established by John Wesley and his class system.
In 1868 Portugal’s first Methodist Church was built in Vila Nova de Gaia where the first baptisms and services of Holy Communion were celebrated. The growth of Methodism under the leadership of Cassels was clearly evident, and persistent appeals were made to the Methodist Missionary Society in London for a missionary to assist his work. The request was eventually granted and a young minister, Robert Hawkey Moreton, was sent in 1871.
Moreton was a prudent man who never received anyone into membership without a prolonged inquiry. Within a few years the Methodist Church was building the Mirante Methodist Church, its first place of worship in Porto, and launching its great educational crusade against a high rate of illiteracy by opening primary schools. Meanwhile the future spiritual leaders of the church were emerging, the most prominent of them being Rev. Dr. Alfredo Henriques da Silva who succeeded Moreton, who expanded the work of the church during the more favourable years of the first Republic.
Between 1920 and 1940 the Portuguese Evangelical Methodist Church experienced its most fruitful period of expansion, recruiting members from all social classes, increasing the number of its schools and confirming itself as one of the most dynamic and prestigious evangelical churches in the country.
During this era the Church produced various publications of a spiritual and intellectual quality; most outstanding was the monthly “Portugal Evangélico”, the oldest Portuguese evangelical publication.
The isolation created by the World War II, a lengthy dictatorship, the lack of continuity of leadership when Rev. Alfredo da Silva began to age and the shortage of preachers gave rise to a crisis in leadership, which the Synod sought to resolve by once more appealing for ministerial support. This resulted in the appointment of the Rev. S. G. Wood and in 1954 the Rev. Albert Aspey, who for 29 years assumed the leadership of the church. During the time new areas of work thrived, the number of ministers increased, the church became involved in the ecumenical movement and, although forced to close down its primary schools, redirected its social program to concentrate on other types of community service including projects in support of children and the aged.
In 1984 the church returned to leadership by a national when the Rev. Ireneu da Silva Cunha was elected as chairman. The following year the Synod, meeting in Aveiro, took the decision to proceed towards autonomy. With the approach of the 125th anniversary of Moreton’s arrival in Porto and following consultation with the Methodist Missionary Society, the 1994 Synod resolved to draw up the required statutes and regulations, and approached the Conference of the Methodist Church in Great Britain with a view to assuming full autonomy. This was granted in June 1996 by the Conference in Blackpool, and officially transferred October 26, 1996, in Porto. The Portuguese Methodist Church is now fully autonomous, a member of the Methodist European Council and of the World Methodist Council.
The work is centred in Porto and covers mainly the northern half of the country, in 14 local churches. The membership is around 1,000 in a church community of 2,000. There are eight Portuguese full-time ministers, one of them the first Portuguese woman pastor; one having a secular job and one retired. There are sixteen deacons and deaconesses to preach, two deaconesses to serve in areas of need in the life of the Church and two still called lay preachers. The women and the youth have their own organized departments.
Plans are underway for the building of a large community centre in Porto and for developing work in Lisbon, where there is a good number of Angolan Methodists who did integrate the Portuguese Church.
The church is committed to social action with solidarity centres to support aged people and children, one in Aveiro area, another one in the mountain village of Valdozende and another one in Braga city. A new solidarity project is being developed in Porto to support children and families in need. There is increased ecumenical cooperation with the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches through the Portuguese Council of Churches, which shares in several areas of ecumenical life.
The main aim of the Church is to share Jesus in words and actions blessed by God and guided through the Holy Spirit.
After the political changes of 1989/1990, various mission activities led to the birth of many independent churches. Some of them even called themselves Methodists. But this Methodist work was discontinued almost everywhere. The roots of the current UMC go back to 1995, when an independent missionary from the USA with United Methodist background went to Cluj-Napoca. Together with his wife he ministered to the people in this area, set up homegroups, distributed medicines and food, while bringing the good news by doing all this. The Romanian leaders of the churches in Miceşti and in Cluj kept in touch with him after his return to the USA in 2006. It then became obvious that for sustainability and future growth the churches should look for a church home. After visits, conversations and prayerful consideration they decided in 2011 to join the UMC. In 2014, a third church was established in the city of Sibiu. The village ministry around Cluj-Napoca, including diaconal activities and humanitarian aid, is still a very important part of the work and provides many opportunities to preach the Gospel and to put love into action.
The UMC’s work in the Vojvodina region (the northern part of what is now Serbia) was begun by German missionaries. German emigrants – and this was the reason why the churches were exclusively German-speaking until 1904. In the following years the work grew, and thriving new churches were born among other population groups, as well. But there were not only joy and growth, the church experienced persecution, suffering, isolation and setbacks, as well – mostly because of political reasons. Today a varied children’s and youth ministry, Christian outreach
programs, local and regional activities for women and men as well as practical help for people in need are some of the priorities of the local churches, which combine both the proclamation of the Gospel and love in action. In a country still falling on hard times while looking for a future, they aim to help people to discover God’s love – beyond any border of ethnicity. The fact that a new generation has accepted the calling into the ministry of the church and is taking the lead regarding this aim is an important sign and a source of hope. Despite political separation of their countries, the local churches in Serbia and Macedonia still belong to the same Annual Conference.
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. In the following years many local churches were established – first in what is now the Czech Republic, later in what is now Slovak Republic. The church grew rapidly but also experienced politically and financially difficult times. Today the UMC is very mission-oriented. This is clearly seen in its evangelistic programs, its youth ministry and its work in the communications media. The social services for people on the margins of society (particularly people belonging to the Roma minority in eastern Slovakia) are another priority of the church work. The UMC is also very engaged in ecumenical activities (not least in regard to theological education) and
stands for a common Christian witness. The UMC in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic is organized in a cross-border Annual Conference with two districts.
The Methodist Church in Spain was started in the northeast part of the country by missionaries from England in 1869. But before this date, at the beginning of the 19th century, there was some missionary work done by a British Methodist minister, William H. Rule, who from Gibraltar established some Protestant day schools and groups of worship in the south of Spain that had no continuity because of the presence and action of the Spanish Inquisition. But this attempt to establish a Protestant church in Spain was the first done in the country since the 16th century.
In 1868, a change in the government started a new period of tolerance and the first Protestant churches were established. The first Methodist church was organized in Barcelona on September 1, 1869. Afterwards others were created in Catalunya and the Balearic Islands. The life and witness of these churches has been limited by intolerance and lack of liberty that prevailed in Spain all through these years with just very few and short expectations. There was no religious freedom in the country until Franco’s death, when a new constitution (1978) was approved that established a clear separation between church and state and total freedom.
In 1955 the Methodist churches were integrated in the already existing Spanish Evangelical Church that was formed by congregations with Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Lutheran traditions. Since then the church has strong relationships with the Methodist Church in England and The United Methodist Church USA. The Spanish Evangelical Church was received as a member of the World Methodist Council in 1981.
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. Today’s UMC in Switzerland was formed, after various unification processes, from three different Methodist movements. The Church grew and soon Switzerland was itself the source of missionary work. Men and particularly women were sent out to nearly all continents to do good works, to teach people about God, and to help build new congregations. This resulted in lively relationships, which have not ceased to exist till the present. In addition to the ministries with children, teenagers, and youth the last third of life increasingly becomes the focus of attention of the congregations. Furthermore, there are missionary activities and serving ministries at many places, and congregations are opening themselves by initiating programs based on the needs of people not affiliated with any Church. The cooperation with other Churches is another important priority and is considered to be an active contribution towards a common Christian witness. The fact that the Methodist work is carried out in an increasing number of languages is also distinctive of the UMC in Switzerland. Finally, the Church maintains close ties with various social and other institutions (Bethanien/Bethesda Charities, homes for the elderly, group living facility for mothers and children, home for people with special needs, hotels, retreats).