Various annual conference gatherings of The United Methodist Church throughout Europe were scheduled for the first half of 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic began, conferences were postponed until autumn in hopes the restrictions on travel and events would be lifted by then.
That time frame now seems unlikely in most countries — and the sometimes sharp increase in the number of cases and the associated travel warnings and quarantine regulations mean that not a single conference can be held as planned. Some are moving forward with virtual meetings or a combination of in-person and virtual attendance.
A year without an annual conference is a rare occurrence. The war in the Balkans in the 1990s, for example, made it impossible for United Methodists from the southern and northern parts of the former Yugoslavia to meet.
Although the conference in Bulgaria took place Sept. 25-26, Romanian United Methodists were not able to travel to the southern neighboring country and attended the gathering online. While in Bulgaria, Central and Southern Europe Area Bishop Patrick Streiff visited some local churches, too.
The annual conference meeting in Czechia (Czech Republic), which would have been combined with a celebration of the 100th anniversary of The United Methodist Church in that country, was initially planned in a shortened form, then canceled altogether.
Even for the participants from Czechia, it would have been difficult to travel to the meeting site, and the participation of members from Slovakia would have been impossible. There will now only be a closed session of the clergy members online and the anniversary celebrations have been postponed to 2021.
In Austria, a half-day online conference meeting will take place Oct. 10, though some elections and budget considerations have already been decided in writing by voting members. The online conference will include reports from the superintendent, treasurer, the commission on liturgical, theological and ethical questions and others. This will be supplemented by an exchange of views on the church experiences during the lockdown and after the opening — and the question of what insights can and must be gained from this with regard to the future.
The annual conference in Poland had to be canceled completely. However, a closed session of clergy members and a livestreamed service with ordination will take place in mid-October — the latter providing that Streiff will still be allowed to travel at that time.
The joint annual conference in Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania cannot take place, either. Instead, a closed session of clergy members is to be held online Oct. 24. In addition, district conferences are planned, where conference members will have an opportunity to share experiences and discuss important questions on a smaller scale — and to make decisions for their respective country.
A decision is still pending on the final form of the annual conference in Hungary, which is planned for the end of October. A closed session of the clergy members will take place prior to the gathering, and most of the participants will join online.
In the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area, the postponed Norway Annual Conference is scheduled to be held Nov. 20-22 in person with an online option for those who choose to participate from home.
All five annual conferences in the Eurasia Area elected to meet online rather than postpone. With the beginning of quarantine in Eurasia countries in mid-March and April due to the pandemic, it became clear that summer meetings would not be possible. The formats were reworked to allow the conferences to be held via Zoom with Eurasia Bishop Eduard Khegay delivering the sermon from Moscow.
In Germany, the North Germany Annual Conference originally scheduled for April was canceled. The executive committee for the conference met Sept. 4 to discuss and make decisions on necessary items. The South Germany Annual Conference was postponed from its scheduled June dates, but a scaled-down conference with ordination service was held Sept. 12. The East Germany Annual Conference scheduled for June will be held Oct. 9-11.
Schweizer is assistant to the bishop for the Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area in Zurich. Karl Anders Ellingsen head of communications for The United Methodist Church in Norway; Katya Kim, assistant to the Eurasia Area bishop, and Klaus Ulrich Ruof, communicator of The United Methodist church in Germany, contributed to this report.News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5469. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.