|European Methodist Festival unites cultures|
The Portuguese Methodist folk band Trevo Alegre serenades
participants at the 2007 European Methodist Festival in Bratislava,
UMNS photos by Kathleen LaCamera.
By Kathleen LaCamera*
Aug. 17, 2007 | BRATISLAVA, Slovak Republic (UMNS)
United Methodist Bishop Hans Vaxby of Moscow leads a
More than a thousand Methodists from across Europe gathered in August
in the capital city of Slovakia to celebrate Europe’s diverse and
vibrant Methodist tradition.
Speaking a wide range of languages and dialects, representatives from
25 countries converged on Bratislava in the heart of Europe for the
European Methodist Festival, held once every four years. The Aug. 1-5
event included workshops, worship, Bible study and fellowship.
United Methodist Bishop Patrick Streiff, episcopal leader for Central
and Southern Europe, opened worship by telling festival-goers to "make
the most" of opportunities to share in fellowship, despite the language
Teenagers from the London-based Ghanaian Methodist Fellowship choir,
who performed at the festival, expressed surprise at how easily they met
people from other countries. "You see that we have the same things in
common: worshipping God and celebrating Wesley," said Samuel Kwaku,
17, referring to Methodist hymn writer Charles Wesley.
Members of the Portuguese Methodist folk band Trevo Alegre serenaded
people each day as they waited in line for lunch. The band is led by the
Rev. Sifredo Teixeira, who also is bishop of the Portuguese Methodist
Church. "We just want to bring a little joy to people," said Teixeira.
"I didn’t know what to expect here, but I like it," said Nicole
Handschin, a nursing student from Switzerland. During a small group
session, Handschin talked with Methodists from Germany, Poland, Northern
Ireland, Austria and England about how she rejected the church as a
Young people sing praises
to God during a morning
"You have to trust you have sewn seeds (in children) and that they
will come back," she told a man whose 12-year-old daughter no longer
wants to go to church.
Participants explored a wide variety of issues including climate
change, immigration, family, mission, other faiths and spiritual growth.
Creative arts Bible study and workshops such as one called "Charles
Wesley Goes Country" encouraged people to express their Christian faith
in new ways. During one afternoon recreation session, 11-year-old
Michael Loughlin from England went head-to-head with Albania’s first
home-grown pastor, 23-year-old Rigels Kasmollari, in heated rounds of
soccer and ultimate Frisbee.
'Worldwide Methodist family'
"It’s good to meet the whole Methodist family in Europe," said the Rev. Bill Lovelace, an American pastor.
Originally from the Holston Conference, Lovelace is now district
superintendent for the Ukraine and Moldova Conference. He and his
Swedish United Methodist wife, Helen, are both under appointment as
missionaries through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
She is developing a specialist children’s ministry and found a British
Methodist workshop on human trafficking particularly thought-provoking.
"It leaves you wondering what we can do about trafficking in the Ukraine," Lovelace told United Methodist News Service.
"It’s important that we see that being Methodist means being part of a
worldwide Methodist family," said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of Germany,
who was delighted to see large delegations from places like Poland,
Lithuania, Macedonia and other Eastern European countries.
"It’s so helpful to listen and learn from each other," she said. "Our
sisters and brothers from former communist countries have many stories
and experiences to share."
A father and son listen to a worship translation.
She also was pleased to see some Americans at the festival and hopes
more U.S. United Methodists will make the effort to meet their European
"Personal relationships are really necessary," said Wenner. "We
receive e-mails from Americans saying 'I’m coming over for vacation,
where can I find and meet local Methodists?' We welcome this. Come and
The Rev. George Freeman, executive director of the World Methodist
Council, described the festival atmosphere as "joyful" and said he was
impressed to see people embracing what they have in common as well as
"For people here, the church is prominent," Freeman said. "Americans
need to be aware there are brothers and sisters in Europe who need our
prayers, support and encouragement and from whom we can learn a lot
about sharing the Gospel."
Host for the event
The Slovak United Methodist Church has been preparing for the 2007
festival for more than a year. While the European Methodist Council is
officially responsible for these events, the festival is a huge
undertaking for the host country’s church. With only eight churches,
five mission projects and 400 members in the entire country, Slovak
United Methodists regularly serve 2,000 people a week through worship,
outreach and social services activities.
It was an act of faith to undertake the additional responsibilities associated with a major festival, according to organizers.
Workshops included crafts such as making potato
"Hosting the festival itself is a privilege for us. We were afraid of
how we would manage it and almost said 'no,'" confessed the Rev. Robert
Zachar, district superintendent of the Slovakia District. "People
looked for ways to help despite being already stretched."
One local pastor, Kornelia Francisty, juggled regular pastoral duties
in her village with distributing room keys to festival participants,
organizing local transportation, serving as interpreter and setting up
"I’m tired," she said with a laugh, "but everyone is helping."
The German United Methodist Church’s tent ministry and volunteers
provided crucial equipment and set-up for the huge festival tents. Their
EMK events bus also provided a mobile café sanctuary serving coffee and
Bishop Hans Vaxby of Moscow led one of the daily Bible studies at the
festival. Wearing a T-shirt that read "I believe God talks to us every
day if we listen," Vaxby said he hoped that people, especially in
smaller churches, left the festival feeling a very real connection with
the European and global church.
"I hope people have a sense that there is a Methodist ethos.
Methodists are so cultural different, but there are still areas of
common ground," said Vaxby. "There is that basic trust in God. We don’t
need to be in control of everything because God’s grace is working in
people whoever they are, wherever they are on the journey. God works
overtime. The challenge for us is to respond."
*LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in England.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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