Yesterday was a day of contrasts at the Extended Cabinets meeting of the European Methodist churches here in Braunfels, Germany (pictured above).
We three Brits presented our Fresh Expressions material, which generated a remarkable number of conversations over meals and in snatched conversations. In truth, we’d been talking to people since we arrived on Sunday because the level of curiosity is really high about how to answer decline in inherited church. But of course the position in a number of countries is so different to Britain (more on that later).
In the afternoon I got my first bit of fresh air in more than 48 hours as most of us walked into Braunfels, the small town where the German Methodist church owns the retreat centre we are staying in. The chapel in the centre is also the town’s Methodist Church so we were juggling our use with a youth group last night.
- Pictured: a Fresh Expression of outreach? Fresh Expressions missioner Stephen Lindridge in the stock at Schloss Braunfels
The walk was another chance to talk to people about their life as pastors. In many ways we share the same dreams: to see a confident Methodism reaching out as a Discipleship Movement Shaped for Mission.
But, for example, it’s a lonely business enthusing the saints for the work of ministry when you are a minister in Finland, your nearest colleague is 160km away and you only meet other Methodist leaders twice a year. At the same time you harbour dreams of spending half your year working as a Fresh Expression missioner to Hells Angels/Bandidos and the thousands of other Harley riders in Finland, but have no way of seeing where the money is coming from.
Nonetheless, the enthusiasm for new ways of being church is plain to see and the common understanding of being connected not just by our faith in Christ but also be the worldwide family of Methodism is so strong.
Within moments of arriving here on Sunday I was being thanked for the financial support that the Methodist Church in Britain had given leaders in Siberia and other parts of the former Soviet Union to visit Oxford. I had nothing to do with it, but I represented a church that had enabled these pastors to learn.
In return, I have been humbled by hearing how people with virtually no money or other resources are so passionate about sharing Jesus with their communities. It’s not without it hardships.
While we heard about the birth of a new Methodist church in Romania, with liturgies in their own language written just this year, we also heard about the Methodist Church in Hungary’s struggle to be recognised by the government. It is now the only member of the Council of European Churches that isn’t recognised in its own country.
It used to be but, following the collapse of Communism, the new government decided to “rationalise” the number of official churches – a euphemism for reduce – and cut the number to a level which excluded the Methodists, who are now just an association. There’s a chink of light that when the law comes into force in January they may be able to get a reversal of the ruling but not huge confidence.
Celebrations in some places, struggles in others … and all the time wrestling with how to be faithful followers of Jesus.