The following is an English translation by David W. Scott of the article "Respektvolle Gespräche trotz großer Unterschiede" by Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic/Baltic Episcopal Area. This article first appeared on the website of the Evangelische-methodistische Kirche (EmK), the name of the United Methodist Church in Germany.
Respectful Conversations Despite Great Differences
The European delegates met in preparation for the extraordinary General Conference. Concerns about lobbying and desire for unity.
The European and Eurasian delegates to the extraordinary General Conference met from January 11-13 in the Hessian city of Braunfels. General Conference, the highest governing body of the world-wide United Methodist Church, meets at the end of February in St. Louis in the US state of Missouri.
Community and Consultation
It is no secret that among the 40 European and Eurasian General Conference delegates there are different understandings of human sexuality. Following from that, there are also different views on what the best Way Forward for the United Methodist Church should look like. That was also clear at the meeting in Braunfels, where the delegates met for interchange, worship, prayer, and cultivating community.
The goal of this meeting was to offer the delegates from Europe and Eurasia an opportunity to meet one another and to prepare for the imminent extraordinary General Conference. Bishops Patrick Streiff, Harald Ruckert, Eduard Khegay, and Christian Alsted led the worship services and the plenary discussions. In small groups with people from each episcopal area, the delegates discussed both the report of the Commission on a Way Forward and also other proposals. In the conversations, the participants especially lifted up to what extent the various proposals were challenging or problematic. They also discussed possible improvements of the existing proposals. The One Church Plan and the Traditionalist Plan received the greatest attention. Beyond that, a quick glance was given at those proposals that were submitted in addition to the report of the Commission on a Way Forward.
Church Political Maneuvers Feared
An important topic of discussion was the question of what impacts the various packages of petitions could have on the individual Annual Conferences and also on the three European Central Conferences. The present delegates unanimously decided to introduce an amendment to the One Church Plan that prevented a legal vacuum between the extraordinary General Conference in 2019 and the first regularly occurring meetings of the Central Conferences in 2021.
The delegates deliberated how they could mutually support each other in the run-up to and during the meeting of the General Conference, which is especially important if the tensions should increase. In this context, a prayer-dependent attitude of "conviction in humility" was emphasized. But many also expressed their concerns about church politics maneuvers and lobbying before and during the General Conference. These behaviors are difficult to bring in harmony with how a church should proceed in its decision-making process.
Conviction, Respect, and Positive Regard
Culture, national legislation, and service in the 27 countries of Europe and Eurasian with a United Methodist presence - from Kazakhstan to Algeria and from Germany to Latvia - are very diverse. But it is a strong solidarity, formed from love, trust, community, and Methodist identity, that holds the churches together. The meeting showed that Methodists in Europe and Eurasia have strong convictions but are still able to stay in respectful conversation with one another, to listen attentively to one another, to try to understand one another, to hold one another in positive regard, and to avoid an approach to one another that creates winners and losers. The delegates uttered their anxiety in looking to the future of the United Methodist Church, while at the same time the atmosphere was characterized by hope. Several of those present stressed their great wish that it might be possible to remain united as a church. In the context of very different realities in Europe and Eurasia, the church should together live out its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.