The 94th Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church in Austria met at Linz United Methodist Church from May 18-21, 2023.
The theme of this year's Annual Conference was "Celebrating God's Love: Giving Courage!" This theme was creatively and variously implemented in the devotions, worship services and also in the conversations, which gave courage to all participants.
For Bishop Patrick Streiff, it was the last Annual Conference meeting he led in Austria, and at the end of the last day of the sessions, he handed over the responsibility to his successor, Bishop Stefan Zürcher. The delegates expressed their heartfelt thanks to Bishop Streiff for his 18 years of service in leading and accompanying the UMC in Austria. Bishop Stefan Zürcher was warmly welcomed with a beautiful welcome party.
The Annual Conference mandated the establishment of a "Climate" working group to coordinate and support the sustainability work of the local churches. In this context, the Annual Conference also adopted a resolution to the Austrian Federal Government expressing concern about the increasingly visible consequences of the climate crisis and calling for sustainable, just legislation.
Furthermore, the Annual Conference dealt with the topic "Mission as an invitation to Christian community in being on the way," on which a thesis paper was presented. This sparked a lively discussion. A summary of the thesis paper will be discussed in the congregations. An evaluation team was set up to develop a concept for a "Commission for Christian Community in Being on the Way." The goal is to encourage and enable local churches to reach out to people and invite them to a joint journey.
During the Annual Conference meeting, the members of the UMC in Austria made a clear commitment to unity within the worldwide United Methodist Church and the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe. Divisions within the Central Conference were perceived with regret. Referring to a decision of the 2022 Central Conference to make internal arrangements with regard to questions of inclusion, the Annual Conference made the following decision: The aspect of pastoral care with regard to the desire for a church wedding or blessing celebration is to be prioritized. The decision as to whether a church wedding can take place lies with the pastors in accordance with the church order. All marriages performed in a civil ceremony according to Austrian law are to be treated equally in this sense.
The Annual Conference meeting ended with a colorful, joyful and encouraging service. In his sermon, Bishop Zürcher transferred the image of the "sinking Peter" (Matthew 14:22-33) to our church. The decisive thing in this Gospel, he said, is being held by Jesus. Thus, it can and may encourage us to know that we as a Church are held in the love of Jesus Christ even in the face of storms and waves.
Pastor Sven Büchmeier, delegate of the Annual Conference, Switzerland-France-North Africa
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