|United Methodist Church now official in Albania|
By United Methodist News Service*
Sept. 4, 2007
The United Methodist Church officially exists in Albania.
Formal papers were signed Aug. 20 in the capital city of Tirana by
Bishop Patrick Streiff, leader of the denomination in Central and
Bishop Patrick Streiff
The United Methodist Church in Albania has about 150 members and friends in a nation of 3.8 million people.
"We praise God that The United Methodist Church is now officially
recognized in Albania," said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of
the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to the German United Methodists and other
German Christians who developed the recent contacts there and continue
to provide spiritual support and material aid. We are deeply pleased
that the United Methodism in Albania is being developed in a spirit of
collaboration with churches already present in the country."
The small Balkan country has a highly diverse religious heritage
including Albanian-Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Muslims and now
a slowly expanding Protestant presence. About 60 percent of the people
are Muslim, but there is a high degree of religious tolerance.
Streiff sees United Methodists working in close collaboration with
other Christian groups and has made contacts with Orthodox, Catholic and
other Protestant leaders.
Through U.S. missionaries, Methodist work began in Albania in the
19th century when the nation was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.
The mission lasted only a few decades, however. After World War II, the
country fell under a rigid, anti-religious brand of communism until the
The transition from communism to a republic was not easy for Albania,
and poverty was acute in many areas. Methodism was reintroduced from
Germany in 1992, and Albanians began to show an interest in the Germans'
spiritual motivations. A United Methodist aid center was established in
1997 in the mountain village of Bishnica. By 1998, the first 25 people
were baptized and became charter members of The United Methodist Church
“As often in history, the mission began
with the initiative of devoted laypeople and their pastor. It is my joy
to see the fruit of their ministry and to build on it.”
–Bishop Patrick Streiff
In preparation for the church's formal organization, Streiff and his
predecessor, Bishop Heinrich Bolleter, and a delegation from Christian
Association for Humanitarian Aid in Wismar, Germany, visited the primate
of the Albanian-Orthodox Church, representatives of the Roman Catholic
Churches, the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, and other
religious and humanitarian groups.
Streiff acknowledged all of the mission work that brought the church to this point.
"The signature for establishing a foundation of the UMC in Albania is
not the first step as a church but the consequence of a presence of
German Methodists who brought help to suffering people in the mountains
of Albania since the 1990s," he said.
"As often in history, the mission began with the initiative of
devoted laypeople and their pastor. It is my joy to see the fruit of
their ministry and to build on it."
Challenges and opportunities
Because the Albanian economy is weak, a primary challenge is migration
from mountain and other rural areas into cities and emigration to other
countries to seek a better future. The bishop's office reports that the
migration factor has affected the congregation in Bishnica and created
many changes including new house groups in Pogradec and Tirana.
Albanians gather outside
following a United Methodist worship service. Bishop Patrick Streiff signed formal papers
Aug. 20 giving official status
to the denomination in the
small Balkan country. A UMNS photo by Urs Schweizer.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief is seeking to strengthen the
Albanian economy by helping to create jobs through agricultural
The United Methodist Church has registered as a not-for-profit
organization, and the registration is expected to be ratified by the
country's Supreme Court. According to church leaders, having a
not-for-profit status will make it easier for United Methodists to own
property, and the process also gives the church an opportunity to
identify itself to the Albanians.
Two young Albanians, Rigels Kasmollari and Englantin Lushka, have
graduated from the theological seminary in Waiern, Austria, and are
expected to return home in 2008 to provide indigenous leadership.
*Urs Schweizer, assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, provided the primary information for this story.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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