From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
United Methodist Work In Russia
25 Feb 1998 16:56:39
CONTACT: Linda Bloom
New York (212) 870-3803 Feb. 25, 1998
NOTE: This story has a sidebar, UMNS #109, and a box, UMNS #110.
Russia mission work still
popular among United Methodists
by United Methodist News Service
When the Rev. R. Bruce Weaver was hired in 1992 to coordinate a
plan for United Methodist ministries in the former Soviet Union, he was
expecting a short-term assignment.
But interest in that region created a high level of participation in
activities coordinated through the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries -- a level that has never significantly declined, he said.
The debate over a new Russian law that has the potential of restricting
religious freedom has only reinforced the mission work.
An "electrifying" conference of people from the United States,
Russia and the Ukraine in St. Louis showed a deep level of commitment to
continuing ministries in the former Soviet Union, Weaver said. The Feb.
19-21 conference drew more than 260 people.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism, many U.S.
citizens were eager to visit what had been an enemy state for so long.
"There was just that hunger to know what's back there (behind the
wall)," Weaver explained.
But the Board of Global Ministries' Russia Initiative is unique
for the opportunities it offers for hands-on ministries, he said. The
program provided a way for individuals, work teams and congregational
delegations to travel safely to the region, establish partnerships with
groups from cities and towns, and then continue to nurture those
"People have had good experiences, and word's gotten around," he
During this decade, 35 new Russian United Methodist
congregations have been organized under the leadership of Bishop
Ruediger Minor, along with Bible study groups and informal fellowships.
In addition, partnerships have been established with the Russian
Orthodox Church, Russian Peace Foundation, Ukraine Peace Foundation,
Belarus Peace Foundation and Association for Protection of Disabled.
The United Methodist Church, once non-existent in Russia, has grown to
about 15,000 members there since the early 1990s.
Besides the Board of Global Ministries, a number of United Methodist
agencies and related institutions participate in the Russia Initiative.
U.S. churches -- individually or in clusters -- can be linked as
"supportive congregations" with existing churches in Russia and the
Ukraine; as "partner churches" with a city or region that currently has
no United Methodist presence; and as sponsors of Volunteers-In-Mission
work teams assigned to a specific project.
Weaver's office links supportive congregations together for friendship,
shared ministry, exchange visits and financial assistance. For the
latter, contributions of $3,360 for salary and $2,400 for program are
The Supportive Congregations Program is drawing widespread
participation. The churches involved -- both individually and in
clusters -- represent a host of states: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana,
Colorado, North Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Florida, Connecticut, New
Jersey, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee, New York,
Mississippi, California, Minnesota, Maryland, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania
To enter the partner church program, a congregation must commit
to at least two years and four visits to develop relationships and
ministries. Those ministries can include personnel exchanges,
humanitarian aid projects and cultural experiences. Assistance also is
offered to local groups wanting to form a United Methodist congregation.
Following a lull in new activity around mid-1995, interest in
the Russia Initiative increased again until publicity last summer about
a proposed new Russian law that could severely restrict the religious
freedom of non-Orthodox groups. At that point, Weaver said, "there was a
psychological withdrawal from the work in Russia."
But Russian United Methodists soon made it clear they would let no such
law deter them.
Their message was heard. Since November, Weaver has had a considerable
increase in inquires about the initiative.
"This has been a spiritually enriching and soul-stretching
experience," he said. "We welcome anyone who would like to come and join
# # #
United Methodist News Service
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