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New bishop meets with United Methodist churches in Eurasia

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Photo courtesy of the Board of Global Ministries

Last fall's dedication of the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow represented a milestone for the church's growth in Eurasia.

Jan. 31, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*


In the year since his election as the new bishop for the United Methodist Church’s Eurasia Area, Hans Vaxby has established a goal of visiting every district.

Vaxby has met with pastors and church leaders in five districts so far, conducting sessions “for teaching, inspiration and consultation,” according to a Jan. 27 report. The Eurasia Area includes the Russia Annual (regional) Conference and four provisional conferences.

Spiritual formation has been an emphasis. “The strength in our leadership comes from inside,” he said. “It is when a deep, personal relationship with God is combined with professional skills in ministry that our work is most effective.”

Vaxby, who was elected Feb. 11, 2005, succeeded Bishop Ruediger Minor. He previously had served as bishop for the Nordic and Baltic regions of the denomination’s Northern Europe Conference for 12 years until his last term expired in 2001. After that, he was pastor of a local church in Helsinki.

Three important meetings are planned for this February, the bishop told United Methodist News Service. A proposed paper on church property, bringing the situation in Eurasia more in line with standards set by the denomination’s Book of Discipline, will be considered by the administrative council on Feb. 7.

Following that, on Feb. 8-10, the Eurasia Area cabinet will discuss accountability and evaluation and start to develop a manual for district superintendents in Russia.

Vaxby said he is looking forward to participating in the annual Russia Initiative Consultation, set for Feb. 23-25 in Falls Church, Va. The 11 district superintendents for Eurasia also will attend if funding is available.

A program of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the Russia Initiative covers Eurasia and encompasses an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 members in more than 100 churches.

“The church in Eurasia is only 14 years old and she is as challenging as teenagers should be ? she wants to and should grow up and take responsibility, but is still to a certain degree a child and needs support,” he explained.

“The consultation is an opportunity for our many faithful supporters and interested newcomers to meet representatives from our churches in Russia and Ukraine.”

In Eurasia, plans are in the works for a common curriculum for lay training and a comprehensive plan for pastors’ continuing education. Vaxby believes a hunger exists, not just for training, but for the ability to function more effectively as a church.

“Wherever I go, I meet people expressing their wish to be a part of the connection,” the bishop said. “It is about information, instruction and involvement, but maybe still more a wish to stand together as a church in prayer and ministry.”

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Bishop Hans Vxby
Vaxby took part in a daylong Sept. 10 dedication of the new Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow, organized by seminary President Tobias Dietze.
During the opening worship service, the bishop thanked God “for every person who gave a dollar or prayed for a minute for the Russian seminary and the Russian people. When God is behind something, it will happen. Our calling is to share the graceful message of Jesus Christ to a nation needing to hear.”
Three new churches — Lugansk in Eastern Ukraine, Stavrapol in Southern Russia and Pskov, close to Estonia — were consecrated in 2005.

The new congregations all benefited from ties to supporting U.S. congregations in financial, spiritual and personal ways, according to Vaxby.

“It is very complicated and, from time to time, extremely frustrating to build a church in Russia,” he reported. “Delays and (a) rise in prices can make the most patient person desperate. Local authorities are also not always very helpful, sometimes yielding to common prejudices about religious minorities.

“That is why the spiritual and personal support from supporting congregations has been as important as the financial support.”

Owning a building helps a congregation gain status in the community, he added, pointing to Pskov as an example.

“At the consecration of the church, staff from the local office for registrations of visas was present,” Vaxby noted in his report. “Over the years, they have seen all the people coming over from Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn., to help with building and ministry. Their presence was, no doubt, a sign of respect and recognition.”

The bishop told United Methodist News Service that while there are no direct problems with government officials, local cooperation “varies with prejudice against religious minorities, which sometimes seems to develop into political pressure.”

Vaxby encouraged more U.S. churches to join the Russia Initiative’s supportive congregations program, especially since the Eurasia Area receives less direct funding these days from the Board of Global Ministries. Supportive congregations contribute funds for salary and program expenses to designated pastors and local churches in Eurasia.

He noted that five to 10 congregations have insufficient support or no support at all. “If we can’t find help for them, pastors will lose their salary support,” he said.

More information about the supportive congregations program is available through Jim Athearn, director of the Russia Initiative, at (540) 662-2066 or jathearn@starband.net.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 
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