Russian United Methodists Extend Work to Other Countries

Jan 07, 2003 12:34 PM EST

The United Methodist work that began in the Russian Federation a decade ago has spread to four neighboring countries.

Under the Russia United Methodist Church, congregations have been established in Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Moldova, Bishop Ruediger Minor said in his 2002 Christmas report.

"In Kazakhstan, Ukraine and several areas of Russia, new churches have joined the conference, adding some new spots on the vast map of the area that reaches from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Northern White Sea to the Central Asian desert in the south," he wrote.

"This is almost half of Europe and a considerable part of Northern Asia. Therefore, following the custom of the region, we prefer to use the name of 'Euro-Asia' as we are looking at the complete area."

Today the Russian church has about 5,000 members and preparatory members, and almost 2,000 Sunday school students of all ages, Minor said at a consultation for the denomination's Russia Initiative in Dallas last November.

Churches in the Ukraine have applied for registration with the government, and the Kazakhstan congregations are expected to do the same. In his Christmas report, the bishop explained that government recognition provides some status and security, and it protects the congregations in countries where laws forbid unregistered religious activity.

A recent decision to group the Russia United Methodist Church into four annual (regional) conferences and 11 districts helps provide both a more manageable structure and better effectiveness in mission. "New regional centers are emerging, and cooperation of pastors and churches gives new impulses and strength in ministry," Minor added.

As part of the 10th anniversary celebration of United Methodist ministry in Russia, the bishop visited a number of established and new churches, many of which have outreach programs with families, former prison inmates and persons suffering from addiction. "Almost all of our churches are involved in such ministries and cooperate and support each other," he said. Churches in Western countries have given support as well to those programs, he noted.

Other highlights for the Russian church during 2002 included:

- Working on joint projects with Methodists from other countries, such as Great Britain and Germany.

- Improving ministries with children through the use of summer camps and other programs.

- Continuing work on the seminary building in Moscow, expected to be completed this year.

- Encouraging cooperation with other Protestant denominations in Russia, with plans for an April faith conference in Moscow involving Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans and Pentecostals.

By Albert H. Lee
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