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2017 Serbia-Macedonia Annual Conference

The Serbia-Macedonia Conference of The United Methodist Church met from April 6-9, 2017, at Murtino United Methodist Church in Murtino, Macedonia.

The church near the borders of Bulgaria and Greece had enlarged its facilities to accommodate the 58 conference members and guests from the two districts Serbia and Macedonia, as well as from the mission area Albania and the two guests from Germany and Switzerland.

Wilfried Nausner, superintendent in Albania and Macedonia, reported that it is a challenging time for the church.

“This report is written in a difficult time for Macedonia. Tensions and fears have rekindled. People are worried – and the members and friends of the UMC are affected, as well,” he said, adding that attempts from inside and outside the country to cope with this crisis have not been successful up to now.

“The tone is increasingly harsh, and the willingness to compromise, which had not been highly developed anyway, seems to be completely lacking,” Nausner said. “Macedonia needs men and women taking a stand for peace, and prayers are also needed in this difficult time.”

The former Yugoslav republic has been in a political crisis for two years, complicated by a difficult economic situation — including high unemployment and poverty rates —and ethnic tensions.

Both Serbia and Macedonia have also faced a refugee crisis, and while the number trying to reach Western Europe through the «Balkan Route» has considerably decreased, Serbia, for instance, is still challenge with the fact that more than 7,000 migrants are living in the country.
Superintendent Ana Palik-Kunčak from Serbia was also rather pessimistic about the current situation.

“Adverse circumstances in Serbia lead to the fact that young people leave the country, which reduces the number of people attending the worship services. In addition, our members are increasingly old and ill. This situation is very painful, particularly for the smallest congregation, which is already challenged by questions of survival,” she said.

However, in spite of the many big challenges the church and the people are faced with, she said there is an amazing commitment, awakening and development, encouragement and mutual support and assistance of the worldwide family. She said there is also vitality and hope:

Some examples:

  • The kindergarten KORAB in Pivnice, Serbia, is challenged by the emigration of whole families. However, it nevertheless remains a part of the church with a very good reputation far beyond The United Methodist Church, not the least because of a good media presence.
  • In Šid, Serbia, the ministry with migrants resulted in very good contacts to Christian families from Iran; about 15 to 20 people occasionally visit the worship services of The United Methodist Church.
  • Thanks to a good cooperation with a Slovakian cultural organization in Kisač, Serbia, there are a number of possibilities to reach out to people not belonging to The United Methodist Church. Particularly on church holidays, it is even possible to celebrate worship services in the Slovakian National House.
  • The Miss Stone Center in Strumica, Macedonia, is continuously expanding its ministries: in addition to the 160 beneficiaries of the Meals on Wheels program, another 45 people in Radoviš, about 30km from Strumica, regularly receive a hot soup.
  • An educational project with Roma children in Ohrid, Macedonia, aims to improve the desolate situation of the Roma and to open up hopeful perspectives.
  • After many years of preparation, The United Methodist Church in Macedonia finally succeeded in publishing a new hymnal.

Music and hymns also played an important role in the evening worship services and particularly in the musical evening on April 8. There was a congregational singing as well as songs of a youth group, of the choirs from Murtino and Strumica, and of the united Yugoslavia choir (consisting of people that regularly met during youth gatherings decades ago).  The music was an invitation to praise God and a colorful expression of the history and culture of the Balkan countries.

In the closing worship service, the Rev. Vladimir Fazekaš of Serbia was ordained elder.

 Stefan Ilg, Adliswil / Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich