|Proposal for Latvia, Lithuania conference advances|
The Sanciai Church in Kaunas, Lithuania, opened its doors 10 years ago after the fall of Communism. A proposal for a new provisional conference for Latvia and Lithuania will be presented to the 2008 General Conference. A UMNS file photo courtesy of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
By Mary Quick*
May 7, 2007 | FARGO, N.D. (UMNS)
Bishop Oystein Olsen
A new provisional United Methodist conference for Latvia and Lithuania is expected to be considered by General Conference when the denomination's top legislative body meets in 2008.
Lithuanian United Methodists approved the proposal at their annual conference in April, and their counterparts in Latvia are expected to do the same in August, according to Bishop Oystein Olsen, who leads the church's Nordic and Baltic Area.
"A new indigenous era for United Methodism is being launched in the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania," he told a gathering of mission supporters of the Latvia-Lithuania initiative during an April 27-29 meeting at First United Methodist Church in Fargo.
The request for status as a provisional annual conference will first go to the Northern European Central Conference and, if approved, to the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, next April. Currently, the two countries are a mission of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and also districts within the Estonia Annual (regional) Conference.
A reborn church
United Methodism was reborn in the two countries following a half-century of Soviet occupation, with 14 churches in Latvia and 11 in Lithuania, according to the Rev. William K. Quick, a Board of Global Ministries coordinator for partner churches. Several Latvian churches are supported by World Methodist Evangelism's "Connecting Congregations" effort, he said.
The Rev. Gita Mednis
Olsen announced the coming appointment of two new district superintendents to lead a new initiative. On Aug. 1, the Rev. Gita Mednis will succeed the Rev. Arijs Viksna who, according to Olsen, "will historically be identified with the rebirth of Latvian Methodism."
Viksna, who has served in the dual capacity of pastor and superintendent since 1991, will continue to serve the Liepaja congregation, the second largest among all the United Methodist churches in the three Baltic nations. Mednis will establish new Latvia headquarters in Riga, where she will continue to serve as pastor of First United Methodist Church there.
The Rev. John H. Campbell will succeed the Rev. Terence Erbele as district superintendent in Lithuania in July. His wife, the Rev. Bonnie Campbell, will pastor two churches. The Campbells have been missionaries in the Alaska Missionary Conference, where both are pastors at Anchor Park and East Anchorage United Methodist churches.
Erbele has also served as the area financial executive for Latvia and Lithuania, a post he held in Russia from 1996 to 2005. Erbele and his wife, Evelyn, both missionaries with the Board of Global Ministries, will return to the United States in June.
Raising the profile
A report on activities of the Lithuanian churches was offered by the Rev. Ramondas Piecia of Birzai, the Rev. Remigijus Matulaitis of Kybartai and the Rev. Herbert Lange of Vilnius.
The denomination's major parish leadership ". . . now speaks the language, comprehends innuendos and understands the culture and customs. Pastors can counsel and discuss spiritual needs more capably now," the report said.
The Rev. Ramondas Piecia
The denomination has failed, however, to receive recognition by the Lithuania Ministry of Justice as an "official church," the pastors reported, and is still considered a "sect." An effort to change the image of the church and share its ministry and social outreach was launched by Lange, a native son, last summer.
A "Take and Read" project, for example, was used to distribute brochures and tracts about the United Methodist Church in every city of Lithuania during 2006-2007. Beginning in Vilnius, more than 65,000 brochures were distributed by hundreds of United Methodists who converged on the city and were sent to major street corners two-by-two.
Thirty-second television spots - with voices dubbed in the Lithuanian language - were seen for eight days on Lietuvos Television, the major TV station, in a supportive effort of United Methodist Communications.
A number of building projects are a part of the blueprint for the future with new or remodeled churches projected for Kybarti, Taurage, Siauliai, Birzai, Vilnius and Eiguliai. Partners in North Alabama, West Michigan and the Dakota Conferences and in Davidson and Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., Royal Oak, Mich., Huntsville, Ala., Fargo, N.D., and Geneva, Ill., support the efforts of Board of Global Ministries moving the plans forward.
Other major initiatives are Camp Wesley, a 30-acre retreat on the shore of the Baltic Sea, and Hope Center, which provides shelter for homeless and underage pregnant girls.
*Quick is a retired diaconal minister and administrative assistant to her husband, the Rev. William Quick.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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