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International conference on Christian education held in Estonia

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Bishop Oystein Olson
April 5, 2006

By United Methodist News Service

The first Northern European Conference on Christian Education drew 40 people from Norway, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Finland, Estonia and the United States to discuss the education, formation and recruitment of future church leaders in Christian education.

The conference, held at the Baltic United Methodist Mission Center in Tallinn, Estonia, March 24-26, centered on “Lifelong Christian Education Today.”

Thea Kant, conference coordinator and Christian education coordinator for Estonia, invited participants to claim the rich Methodist heritage of disciplined faith that has always valued education. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries sponsored the conference.

“Education ? especially of leaders in the church ? is one of the ministry focuses for the Central Conference this quadrennial,” said Bishop Oystein Olson, Nordic and Baltic Area.

“When the leadership is shaped through education and formation it will have a strong impact on the way we function and serve, and it will enhance the recruitment of youth and young people to be actively involved in the life of the church,” he said.

Barbara Bruce, keynote speaker and author of the book Start Here: Teaching and Learning with Adults, helped participants recognize the seven different intelligences by which people learn. Her book has been translated into Estonian.

Bruce demonstrated how to use a variety of teaching methods and styles that would allow people to become active learners. One participant from Lithuania said, “I never knew all of these ways of learning existed. It’s like opening a door for me.”

One session included time for sharing what each country is doing with Christian education.

  • Lithuania reported translating 37 books, plus 6 for Sunday school, representing a big step forward after having no materials 11 years ago.
  • Latvia has strong after school programs, as well as camping ministries. The biggest challenge is to have more systematic teaching with strong leaders. They are conducting seminars twice a year to train Sunday school teachers of children and adults.
  • In Finland, the Swedish United Methodist Church formed a Board of Discipleship and Church Growth five years ago that offers seminars, retreats and consultants who listen, analyze and provide feedback to local churches. Of 12 churches, only 2-3 have Sunday schools.
  • In Norway, the Natural Church Development Committee coaches churches on their purpose and mission. Alpha Courses, Walk to Emmaus and the Timothy Course provide training for leaders.
  • Each of the four annual conferences in Russia has unique teaching/learning ministries. They include a theological seminary and Bible school; training seminars for Disciple Bible Study; small groups for men, women and youth; district and international camps; student forums; Sunday schools and special projects like Youth Peace Prayer, Footsteps, Coconut Service and World Day of Prayer.
  • In Estonia, there are annual conference committees working on children’s, youth, and lay education. They have translated children’s and teachers books using a core curriculum written by Joy Carr and Shirley Wu. This is the same project in which Latvia and Lithuania are involved. Each of the countries puts their contextual stories in the curriculum. Currently, Essential Passages for Youth is being translated for youth leaders. Confirmation material has been written with 39 sessions using a CD.
  • The Russian church in Estonia has its own materials for five groupings in Sunday school. They have offered specialized classes in language, computer, cooking for orphaned and unchurched children, along with youth camps, Alpha Courses and weekly youth programs.
LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Corinne Van Buren

Participants exchange information at a resource display at the Northern European Conference on Christian Education, Tallinn, Estonia.

The United Methodist Christian Educators Fellowship was represented at the conference by Corinne Van Buren, director. She presented sessions on “Sunday School ? It’s for Life,” and Internet resources.

The fellowship is exploring ways that Christian educators in the United States can network and be in relationship with Christian education leaders in these countries, she said. Plans began to take shape as dialog continued during the conference.

In the closing session, strong hope was expressed that another conference on Christian education will be held again in two years.

*Information for this story was provided by Corrine Van Buren, director of the United Methodist Christian Educators Fellowship.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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