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Conferences sign partnership for mutual support

  Bishop John Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference signs a covenant partnership with Bishop Hans Vaxby of the Eurasia Area on Nov. 8. The Rev. Edward Paup (left), the Rev. Rod Miller (center back) and the Rev. Charles Harrell look on. UMNS photos by Linda Green.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

Nov. 24, 2008 | ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (UMNS)

United Methodists on two continents have entered into a partnership to work toward “changing the spiritual situation” in Russia.

Bishop Hans Vaxby of the Eurasia Area and Bishop John Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference signed a covenant partnership agreement Nov. 8 for “mutual learning, support and mission development” while attending the Council of Bishops meeting at historic Epworth By the Sea.

The conference and the Black Soil District of the Southern Russia Provisional Annual Conference entered an agreement to promote awareness of and prayer for each other’s ministries, as well as encouraging partnerships.

The Black Soil District is 350 miles south of Moscow, spans 400 miles and represents the “heartland” of Russian Methodism, according to Vaxby. However, its vastness makes communication between the ten organized churches and the three recognized Bible groups difficult.

 “We are grateful to you for making this friendship with us,” wrote the Rev. Igor A. Volovodov, pastor of St. Peter & Paul United Methodist Church, Voronezh, Russia, in a letter to Schol. The agreement includes plans for shared ministry, spiritual support, mission support and projects related to HIV/AIDs ministry, education and camp ministries.

Camp Voronezh, a 12-acre camp, is a former tourist center now being refurbished by volunteer in mission teams into a retreat and conference facility for the Russia United Methodist Church. The camp is also an Advance program of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Vaxby and Schol exchange the
signed agreement.

“This is an example of faithfulness and humbleness in ministry,” said Vaxby. “I am grateful that we signed this paper. This is a milestone but it does not start with this and does not finish with this. The most important thing is the strength of our relationship.”

According to the Rev. Rod Miller, director of connectional ministries for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, working with the camp is an answer the conference’s search for ways to create disciples through camping.  “It is an opportunity for us to exchange and undergird what is going on and develop relationships,” he added.

This partnership is the third for Baltimore-Washington, which also has relationships with the church in Zimbabwe and the South Conference of the Korean Methodist Church.

Other annual conferences already collaborate with Russia through the nearly 18-year old Russia Initiative, a program of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, to develop the region. The Russia Initiative, which also includes the Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, allowing Methodism, which had existed in Russia before the Communist revolution, to re-emerge. Several countries in Central Asia are also a part of the denomination's Eurasia Area but are in a separate mission program.

The church in Eurasia depends heavily for financial support upon U.S. and Western European mission partners, especially "supportive congregations" that pay or supplement pastors' salaries or other essentials. Help in the building of church structures, in camp repair, and other capital projects comes from United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.

The Rev. Ed Paup, top executive of the Board of Global Ministries, said the partnership between the two annual conferences is an example of taking seriously “witnessing to the ends of the earth.”

“We believe that our partnership will create new plans and new ideas and that the Lord will meet any needs of His people,” said Volovodo, who is also the district superintendent of the Central Black Soil District.

As a beginning, the two conferences will establish a joint task force to plan and monitor the progress of ministries under the covenant agreement. The task force, meeting once every two years in Russia or the United States, will advance the meaning of what it means to be the church today, according to the agreement.

“Russia is a strategic country in terms of a global church,” said the Rev. Charles Harrell, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, Frederick, Md., and coordinator of the agreement.

Harrell, who has long had an interest in Russia, said the Black Soil District and Camp Voronezh is a setting where relationships are important. “We have a tremendous opportunity to build relationships with disciples in other parts of the world,” he said. “This focuses on church to church support.”

According to Schol, the partnership is critical for the Baltimore-Washington conference because it allows us “to be outside ourselves,” offering opportunities to make disciples of Jesus Christ. “We learn much from these partnerships as well as receive much through the partnerships,” he added.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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