European Methodists find common ground at festival
8/8/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
Photographs and three sidebars - UMNS stories #397-399 - are available with this report.
By Kathleen LaCamera*
and Liz Marriott enjoy the European Methodist Festival in Potsdam,
Germany. They spent four days riding their motorbikes from their home in
Loughborough, England, to attend the event. This is the couple’s annual
annual vacation and they see their opportunity to participate in the
festival as a “gift from God.” A UMNS photo by Kathleen LaCamera. Photo
number 03-267 Accompanies UMNS story #396, 8/8/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
and German Methodist pastor Volker Kempf demonstrates his technique of
“spray art” during the European Methodist Festival in Potsdam, Germany.
Kempf said he chose to use umbrellas for his work at the festival
because he felt they were a “good symbol of living under the umbrella of
God.” A UMNS photo by Kathleen LaCamera. Photo number 03-274,
Accompanies UMNS #396, 8/12/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
Rev. Thomas Lessmann of Germany, wife Beate, and sons, Jonathan, 9, and
Sabastian, 5, relax at the European Methodist Festival. More than 900
Methodists from around the continent participated in the festival, held
July 30-Aug. 3 in Potsdam, Germany. A UMNS photo by Kathleen LaCamera.
Photo number 03-268 Accompanies UMNS story #396, 8/8/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
POTSDAM, Germany (UMNS) - At first glance, it may
be hard to imagine that European Methodists have met together in large
numbers only twice: once during the Cold War and then again this summer.
But considering everything that has conspired to keep them apart -
differences in language, history, culture, church structure and
geography, and even politically fraught visa application processes - one
begins to appreciate what an achievement the July 30-Aug. 3 European
Methodist Festival really is.
Undaunted by these traditional
barriers, more than 900 Methodists from Kazakhstan to Ireland, Sweden to
Italy, Bulgaria to Portugal gathered outside Berlin to meet one
another, worship, and discuss how better to live out their common
Wesleyan heritage and mission in the world together.
Liz and John
Marriott spent four days on their motorbikes traveling from their home
in Loughborough, England, to Berlin. The conference is their vacation
and the couple said the trip is "a gift from God." The Marriotts camped
at the conference site next to a Swede, a Dane and an Austrian.
who is "testing the waters" of a call to ordained ministry, admitted he
was both surprised and encouraged to find such a wide age range and
diversity of participants. Liz, who works for 3M Co., said she was
pleased to have the chance to try out her French and German language
skills in the small, traditional, Wesley "class" groups that were a
daily feature of the festival.
them to come give a Gospel Choir concert in Varna," Valchev said,
pointing wistfully at the workshop tent. "That would be great mission
While many festivalgoers said they were delighted to have
the chance to exchange ideas during workshops, meals and late-night
chats, others found encouragement for some of their deepest faith
struggles. Leading a daily Bible study, the Rev. Elena Stepanova talked
about the painful and difficult challenges of prison ministry in the
Russian town of Ekaterinburg. She recounted the deep disappointments she
and her colleagues felt when some inmates, upon release, lied to,
abused and stole from church workers, eventually landing back in prison.
"The dilemma is not whether to help or not," Stepanova
explained. "The issue is not whether to proclaim love to our neighbors,
but how to do it - how to love."
After the Bible study, British
Methodist Edward Adams and his wife from Nottingham, England, said
Stepanova's words resonated with them. "Our son is in prison for the
third time," he said. "You can see why what Elena said means so much to
"Communications is so important in the global church," said
the Rev. Randy Day, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries. "Nothing surpasses face-to-face meetings. â€¦
Americans don't appreciate how difficult it can be to get visas to
attend these events, and for everyone who is here, there will be more
disappointed people back home who couldn't get visas. â€¦ I was really
touched by the fact that the Russian delegation spent 40 hours on a bus
Day recalled that the first time he heard the
festival discussed was at a meeting in Moscow on Sept. 11, 2001. In the
aftermath of the terrorist attacks that day, Day said he and the board
have appreciated how European Methodists have consistently demonstrated
that one can take a strong stand against war without being
Bishop Walter Klaiber, whose Central European
United Methodist Conference played a major role organizing the festival,
believes European Methodists have a contribution to make to world
Methodism and to an increasingly secular Europe.
"We are in a
political social movement because of a uniting Europe," he said. "We
must grow together. ... The church can establish new borders and try to
make the fabric of new Europe more human and something not defined only
by economic bureaucrats."
The European Union consists of 15
member states, and agreements are in place to allow another 10 members
to join, including Estonia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.
However, countries like Bulgaria and Romania will still be left outside
the union, facing all the disadvantages that their outsider status
brings for trade, industry, social development and mobility within
"We're in a very difficult mission field," Klaiber
observed. "We can't just take other mission models and expect they will
The festival itself was an example of new models of
European cooperation. For the first time ever, British and Irish
Methodists participated in large numbers - 300 - in a European Methodist
event. Swedish Methodists, Dutch Methodists and others from Spain,
Portugal and Italy all came to Potsdam. Festival participants spoke in
20 different mother tongues.
The gathering defied traditional
divisions between United Methodism, present in countries such as
Germany, Russia and Bulgaria, and other strands of Methodism. Britain,
with 340,000 members, and Germany, with 64,000 members, are the largest
two European Methodist churches, while others, such as the Swedish
Methodist Church with 3,000 members, are much smaller. Europe has about
90,000 United Methodists.
British European Secretary Colin Ride,
whose office also played a key organizational role in the festival, said
he hadn't anticipated people's sheer delight at the discovery of their
unity and common purpose.
"We took a huge risk getting together
this lot of people," he said. "I think it will change the church. â€¦
This event will leave its mark."
The Rev. Thomas Lessmann of
Germany brought his family to the festival. He plans to preach about
what he experienced, talk about the event in meetings at his church and
write up the stories he heard. He said he hopes the event will lead to
more exchanges among individuals, seminaries and other groups.
who did a year's pastoral exchange with a United Methodist church in
Madison, Tenn., is adamant. "You've not done your job if you don't pass
on what you've experienced here to your local church."
doubt, the stories that Lessmann and other festivalgoers pass on will
include those that show how small-church memberships and limited
resources do not stop mission and outreach.
are doing amazing things," reported Moira Sleight, editor of the weekly
British Methodist Recorder newspaper. "The Macedonian church is
supporting an entire refugee camp of Romany people (indigenous European
gypsies) with (medical) drugs and watermelons. They are a tiny church."
people have discovered is - shock, horror - even if you are small, you
can still be salt, you can still be yeast," said Rachel Lampard, a
fellow British Methodist and the church's secretary for parliamentary
and political affairs.
Steve Braudt, an artist and youth pastor
from Iowa, was among the handful of Americans at the festival. "I'll
take away a renewed sense of oneness with the world," he said. "The
European churches' challenges include huge and vast areas with few
resources to do their work. But the church here sees it as an
opportunity." # # # *LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.