|Church growth continues in former Soviet Union|
Youth members carry altar items at the dedication services for
First United Methodist Church of Ekaterinburg, Russia, in 2001. United
Methodist Bishop Hans Vaxby began his summer tour of Eurasian annual
conference churches in Ekaterinburg and reports that the denomination is
growing across the region. A UMNS file photo courtesy of James
Sept. 4, 2007 | MOSCOW (UMNS)
United Methodist congregations continue to spread across the vast expanses of what was once the Soviet Union.
In the Sept. 3 issue of his Method-EAST newsletter,
United Methodist Bishop Hans Vaxby offered details of the most recent
church growth. Vaxby, based in Moscow, leads the United Methodist Church
His tour of the Eurasian annual conferences began in May in
Ekaterinburg, the third largest city in Russia, and home to First United
Methodist Church, which he called "one of mother churches in modern
United Methodism in Eurasia." Olga Kotsuba, part of the leadership team
in 1991, is now the church's senior pastor as well as superintendent of
the Ural District.
Bishop Hans Vaxby
Five new church groups were registered during the East Russian and
Central Asia Annual Conference meeting at First Church. They included
new church plants in the Urals, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, a local
church that reopened in Vladivostok and an independent congregation that
applied to become part of the denomination.
Vaxby likened the atmosphere to that of pioneer America. "Due to the
vast distances (five time zones), many of the pastors and lay delegates
have not seen each other since last year," he explained. "Organizational
finesses like written reports are not always available. But testimonies
about Jesus and the urgency of the mission is there. The church is on
The South Russia Provisional Annual Conference meets annually at Camp
Voronezh, also known as Camp Crystal, a church-owned retreat center 20
miles outside Voronezh. The center already has been put to good use,
according to the bishop, but needs some improvements in order to attract
outside groups and become financially self-sufficient. Financial
support and Volunteers In Mission visits are needed for the foreseeable
future, he said.
Celebrating new status
In June, the Central Russia Annual Conference met at the
denomination's theological seminary in Moscow. The chapel there serves
as the sanctuary for three United Methodist congregations on weekends -
Kimgansan Church on Saturdays; Moscow, or Central Church, another of the
mother churches in Russia, on Sunday mornings; and Raduga Ministry on
During the week, the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary
also provides an office for the bishop, area communicator,
administrative director of education and the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries' area finance executive.
The new legal status of the Central Russia Annual Conference was
celebrated during the meeting. Previously, it had been part of the
Russia Annual Conference, which has been divided into four other
separate conferences. Vaxby noted that the annual conference in the
Ukraine is already registered and the legal process continues for the
three other annual conferences in Russia.
Excited about growth
Participants in the Ukraine and Moldova Provisional Annual Conference
discussed the results of leadership training led by the Rev. Adam
Hamilton and members of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City,
Mo., last March.
Members of various churches shared the purpose statements and strategic
goals they had created. "Everyone was excited to learn of the progress
and growth of the fellow churches in the conference as the concepts
learned at the seminar were implemented at the local level," Vaxby
The Central Russia Annual Conference met in June at the United
Methodist theological seminary in Moscow. A UMNS file photo courtesy of
the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
One of the conference's newest congregations is the Great Commission
United Methodist Church in Kishinev, Moldova. Pastor Leonard Chorny said
the congregation intends to plant other United Methodist churches
throughout Moldova, a country that borders Ukraine to the south.
In early July, the Northwest Russia Provisional Annual Conference met
at a resort center on the Finnish Gulf, in the St. Petersburg District.
Highlights included the wedding of one of the pastors, Zemfira
Abramova, the ordination of an elder and the commissioning of six new
'Great hopes' for year
Delegates from all five conferences attended the denomination's
Eurasia Conference in July, which opened with an evangelism festival.
Six finalists of a competition aimed at creating the most relevant
evangelism project in the Eurasian context presented their original
The most important business item, according to Vaxby, was the
development of an extensive policy on church property. The policy
includes "a teaching part, a legal part, and, attached, a number of
forms and informational documents," he said.
Discussions continue over a revised pension plan, and whether to have one common or five separate boards of ordained ministry.
"The new church year starts with great hopes towards the
comprehensive plans for lay leaders and for pastors' continuing
education," Vaxby concluded. "Everything is fixed in plans on paper, now
the challenge is to put it into practice on the district level with the
help of teaching teams and supporters from our supporting congregations
and educational institutions and organizations."
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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