|United Methodist Russians, U.S. supporters meet|
A United Methodist youth choir from Kurgan, Russia,
performs hymns and Russian spirituals during the 13th Consultation of
the United Methodist Russia Initiative.
UMNS photos by Jerry Campbell.
By Elliott Wright*
Nov. 26, 2007 | LEAWOOD, Kan. (UMNS)
United Methodist congregations in Russia today are somewhat like the
churches to which the Apostle Paul wrote his letters: young and striving
This comparison, made by Bishop Hans Växby of Moscow, struck a
positive cord at the 13th Consultation of the United Methodist Russia
Initiative, a program that also embraces Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.
"That really speaks to me, and I can use it in talking about our
mission," said Rochelle Lacy, the Russia Initiative coordinator in the
Northwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference. Many other participants
from the United States had similar responses.
The image of the initiative's youth and development was evident in
the energy and confidence of the Eurasian clergy and laity who helped to
lead the consultation. There were 275 attendees, of whom 67 were from
Russia and nearby areas.
The initiative, launched in 1991 under the leadership of the United
Methodist Board of Global Ministries, is a partnership among Eurasian
and U.S. annual conferences and congregations committed to church growth
and development in Russia. It covers most but not all of the United
Methodist Eurasia Episcopal Area led by Växby.
"For someone living in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova or
Belarus, it is not difficult to identify with the congregations of the
New Testament," says Bishop Hans Växby in his keynote address.
"For someone living in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova or Belarus, it is not
difficult to identify with the congregations of the New Testament," the
bishop said in his keynote address. "Paul is writing to new local
churches with multiple challenges."
The challenges in Eurasia, he said, include the fact that new church
starts are not always recognized by the surrounding society. The
leadership is young, congregations struggle with their identities, and
questions come up concerning teachings as well as behavior. The bishop
gave a wide range of examples, also pointing to indications of maturity
within the 15-year-old revival of Methodism in the former Soviet Union.
Spiritual life is deepening, he said, offerings are growing, and
there are increasing requests for educational materials. Plans are under
way to translate into Russian the Disciple Bible Study II series, which
is published by United Methodist Publishing House. The first Walk to
Emmaus, a Christian discipleship retreat, will be held in Russia next
year, and plans are under way to publish in Russian The Upper Room, the daily devotional guide from the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.
As one step toward maturity, consultation participants suggested that
U.S. congregations in the Russia Initiative — now called "supporting
congregations"— be renamed "partner churches," indicating that something
more than financial support is involved.
In a brief interview, Växby said the greatest immediate opportunity
for United Methodists in his area is for the congregations and their
members to "live the Christian faith openly within their times and
places; to live so that the inner and outward holiness of our Wesleyan
understanding can be seen by the society at large."
At present, one regular and four provisional annual conferences make
up the Eurasia Episcopal Area, with a total of 106 congregations and
officially recognized Bible groups and 105 ordained clergy.
The smallest conference is Ukraine and Moldova with 15 congregations
or Bible groups and 14 clergy members. The others range from 20 to 26
congregations/groups and from 18 to 30 clergy members.
Eight new congregations have been started in the last year, and six
are being planned for 2008. Leadership for new congregations is a
primary educational emphasis at the Moscow seminary and in some of the
partnerships with U.S. congregations.
The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, which served as host for
the consultation, and its pastor, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, are deeply
involved in partnership to build leadership for reaching unchurched
people who form the primary audience of the mission in Eurasia.
A consultation workshop on leadership for the future introduced a
model developed at Bethany United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas.
Roots and growth
Methodism existed in both eastern and western Russia prior to the
Communist Revolution of 1917, virtually vanishing until the fall of the
U.S.S.R. in the late 1980s. The United Methodist Church was formally
reintroduced into Russia in 1992 and is a legally recognized
denomination in a predominantly Russian Orthodox country. It began with
Several independent congregations have recently sought admission into
The United Methodist Church. Among these is the Church of the Great
Commission in Chisinau, the only United Methodist Church now in Moldova,
a republic between Ukraine and Romania.
The Rev. Irina Mitina of the Church of the Resurrection in
Voronezh, Russia, leads singing during the three-day gathering
in Leawood, Kan.
United Methodism in Eurasia is ethnically and culturally diverse, a
fact explored in a consultation paper on "Cross-Cultural Ministry in the
Eurasian Context" prepared by the Rev. Natalya A. Shulgina, a doctoral
student at Emory University, Atlanta. There are Korean Russian United
Methodists along with European Russians, others of Asian background and
members of other cultures.
The Rev. Irina Mitina of the Church of the Resurrection in Voronezh, a
city in southern Russia, was in charge of music for the Kansas event. A
choir from Kurgan, a city in Siberia, provided special music. Much of
the worship was in both Russian and English, with simultaneous
translation provided by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
There are three United Methodist congregations in Voronezh. Near this
city, the church owns a camp and conference center that needs extensive
work. This facility is slowly being physically renovated through the
joint efforts of Russian United Methodists and United Methodist
Volunteer-in-Mission teams from the United States.
The seminary in Moscow operates a small residential study course, now
with three students, and a much larger extension program, currently
with 16 students. Those in the extension program come to the school for
designated periods of time each year. The Rev. Tobias Dietze is director
of theological education.
Becoming a U.S. "supportive" congregation, or partner, with a Eurasia
congregation is a considerable commitment. The average level of
assistance is between $6,000 and $9,000. Support includes pastoral
salary, housing and benefits, along with cost of rental space for
The Rev. Dr. W. James Athearn of Clear Brook, Va., is coordinator of
the Russia Initiative for the Board of Global Ministries and can be
reached at email@example.com.
Currently, the mission agency has two missionaries working with the
church in Russia, four in Ukraine and two in Kazakhstan. While
Kazakhstan is part of the Eurasia Area, it is a separate mission program
focused on Central Asia.
The Russia Initiative and its many components can be supported
through a range of projects and ministries linked to the Advance for
Christ and His Church, the designated mission giving program of The
United Methodist Church. A list can be found online at GiveToMission.org by entering "Russia" or "Ukraine" in the country line.
*Elliott Wright is the information officer for the Board of Global Ministries.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Choir from Siberia enriches consultation
Russian church camp to benefit from volunteer teams
Reaching out in mission to the unchurched
Russia Mission Initiative
United Methodist Church in Eurasia
Board of Global Ministries
Give to Mission