Bishop Patrick Streiff chose the Wesleyan theme “Offer them Christ!” for his episcopal address to the 2017 Central and Southern Europe Central Conference.
Streiff touched on a range of subjects, but emphasized the why and how of evangelism, as elaborated by Methodism founder John Wesley.
Wesley’s “Offer them Christ!” instruction challenges United Methodists, Streiff argued in his speech at the March 8-12 meeting in Zurich.
“It is an appeal to us both personally and as a church fellowship to be the people that make known the goodness of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light,” he said.
But Streiff warned against coercion in evangelism, and urged his audience to be peacemakers, including with other religious groups.
“It is particularly important — in the interests of all humanity — to promote initiatives of peace and cooperation between the two numerically largest world religions, Islam and Christianity,” he said.
The quadrennial gathering drew some 110 people to Zurich from more than 20 countries in Europe, North America and North Africa. The worship, discussion and other times of sharing revealed a rich variety of languages and faith experiences, but there was great unity in the overall theme “Christ Is Lord.”
Streiff’s episcopal address was his next-to-last, since he’ll be retiring in 2021. A new bishop will be elected then for the Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area.
After lengthy discussion, voting members decided on a transparent preparatory process for that election, as defined by the executive committee. The seven annual conferences will play a part in this process, but details still have to be worked out.
The Working Group on Liturgy took responsibility for shaping the worship services and moments of prayer. The group also offered a comprehensive report on its work over the last four years, and presented various motions.
Other actions included ratifying a covenant document for the Community of Methodist and Wesleyan Churches in Europe; highlighting upcoming events such as the 2018 European Methodist Festival; and receiving reports from the various countries represented within the conference.
Informative words of greetings came from the Nordic and Baltic Area, Eurasia, Great Britain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and the U.S. The reports shed light on the difficulties faced by local churches, and on their evangelistic opportunities.
A memorial service recognized the work of 10 men who had been involved in the conference’s work and who died within the last four years. The lives of Ferenc Javor, Daniel Husser and Bishop Franz W. Schäfer were highlighted.
Streiff, in his episcopal address, reported on continuing conflict in The United Methodist Church over homosexuality, and on the 2016 General Conference’s instructing the Council of Bishops to create the Commission on a Way Forward to try to overcome that conflict and unify a denomination threatened with schism.
“It is very uncertain whether the special commission appointed by the Council of Bishops in autumn 2016 can at least win over the broad center of the church at a future General Conference to stay together on the journey into the future,” Streiff acknowledged.
Streiff called on United Methodists to “seek answers from the heart of the gospel.”
“That is what must guide us on our continuing journey as church,” he said. “And that will allow us to find answers that diverge from those found among Christians so often labeled as `evangelical’ or `progressive,’” he said.
Streiff also spoke about the global Book of Discipline, a looming shortage of clergy in Western Europe, the church’s response to the refugee crisis across Europe, and Methodism’s connection to the Protestant Reformation.
The bishop, as he did with address four years ago, rooted his remarks in the theological perspective of Wesley.
“Centered on Christ and enthused by the transforming power of grace, for John Wesley the spotlight was on the love of God,” Streiff preached. “For him everything hinges on the growth of this personal relationship with God, because — understood correctly — this will not allow people to become sectarian or fanatical; it will rather transform them into the image of God, Jesus Christ.”
Schweizer is assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff. Sam Hodges of United Methodist News Service edited this article. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.