Italy’s Largest Methodist Church Copes With Severe Damages

Dec 11, 2002 08:07 AM EST

MILAN Italy – The November 26 storm severly damages the Methodist Church in Milan, leaving congregations a sanctuary filled with 20 feet of sewer water. The four story La Chiesa Evangelical Metodista di Milano church building, built in 1970, could not escape the fury of the torrential rains that created flooding and mudslides in six regions of northern Italy.

The church lost the entire contents of its sanctuary, including the organ, piano, furnishings and Bibles printed in three languages, according to the Rev. Harold W. "Bill" and Roberta Smith, missionaries assigned there by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Only the 1880 pulpit Bible, printed in Italian, was salvaged. The wood-panel sanctuary must also be disinfected and cleaned.

Until the sanctuary is restored, all services and activities have been moved to take place in the fellowship hall and a conference room on the building's first floor. The Italian-speaking congregation, led by the Rev. Giovanni Anziani, and the English-speaking congregation, led by the Rev. Smith, had previously held bilingual services once a month, but since the flood they have met together each Sunday. A Korean Presbyterian congregation also worships at the Milan facility.

The flood offers the congregation "a new challenge to explore more deeply the ideal of worshipping together," the Rev. Smith said.

More than 120 people filled the social hall the first two Sundays following the flood, he reported.

The Smiths, from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, have been assigned to the Milan church's intercultural 150 member English ministry. The ministry, providing programs for Italy’s growing “guest worker” immigrant population, includes citizens of the United States, the Philippines, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Pakistan and several European countries.

The Milan church, rooting back to both the American and British Methodist mission movements of the 1870s, is the largest Methodist congregation in Italy. The current facility was built as a model for urban ministry, with commercial and rental space in addition to the sanctuary and public meeting areas.

By Pauline J.