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United Methodist Church now official in Albania

By United Methodist News Service*
Sept. 4, 2007

The United Methodist Church officially exists in Albania.


Bishop Patrick Streiff

Formal papers were signed Aug. 20 in the capital city of Tirana by Bishop Patrick Streiff, leader of the denomination in Central and Southern Europe.

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.

Looking back

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 1990s.

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 of Albania.

“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


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.

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.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is seeking to strengthen the Albanian economy by helping to create jobs through agricultural productivity.

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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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