By Walter B. Fenton
“We notified Bishop [Patrick] Streiff about our intentions to leave The United Methodist Church; we sent him the text of our motion in advance,” said the Rev. Dr. Daniel Topalski, a former pastor and district superintendent in the Bulgaria and Romania Annual Conference of the UM Church. “There were no hard words and no personal attacks. We did our best to leave as peacefully as possible. We were part of the UM Church for many years, and we are very grateful for all the support and relationships built through the years.”
Topalski, now the presiding elder for the Bulgaria Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church, was explaining how, earlier this year, clergy and lay delegates voted unanimously to dissolve their relationship with the UM Church. The entire annual conference, consisting of 24 local churches in Bulgaria and three in Romania, supported the decision.
The Transitional Leadership Council, a 17-member body providing oversight of the Global Methodist Church prior to its convening General Conference, received the 24 Bulgarian local churches into the new denomination on May 1, 2022, making them among the first congregations to join the GM Church. The members also elected Topalski to join the Council as of May 2, 2022. The three churches in Romania have indicated they plan join the new Church later this year.
The Methodist movement in Bulgaria has had more than its share of challenges. Methodist from the U.S. established a mission in the region in 1856 when the country was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The country gained a degree of independence and territorial integrity in 1878 at the end of the Russo-Turkish War. In the final months of World War II, the Soviet Union invaded, and the country was ruled by a communist regime until 1989. During these years the Methodist Church was almost destroyed. The restoration of the Church was made possible through the organizational and financial support of the UM Church’s Central and Southern Europe Central Conference and partner local UM churches in the U.S. Bulgaria is now a member the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“While we are very grateful for the relationships we had with our United Methodists neighbors here in Europe and around the world, we became increasingly uncomfortable with denominational leaders and clergy – mostly from the U.S. – who constantly promoted a progressive agenda clearly at odds with the theological and ethical teachings of the UM Church,” said Topalski. “UM leaders here in Europe and the U.S. would talk about a ‘roundtable’ or a ‘big tent,’ but those metaphors struck us Bulgarians and Romanians as vague at best, and as a cover for others to blatantly defy the UM Church’s teachings at worst. When the Commission on the General Conference decided to postpone the 2020 General Conference for a third time, we all agreed to act as soon as possible to join the Global Methodist Church.”
Having completed a Master of Laws degree at St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Topalski initially served the UM Church as a legal adviser and a lay preacher. Sensing a call to fulltime ministry he returned to St. Cyril and St. Methodius University to complete a master’s degree in theology and a then a doctorate in theology as well. He was approved as a probationary member in 2008, ordained an elder in 2011, and that same year the bishop appointed him to serve as a district superintendent.
“We’re facing all the challenges Christian churches are contending with here in south-eastern Europe,” said Topalski. “Over 300,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled to Bulgaria, a looming energy crisis hangs over us, and inflation continues to rise. But despite these very difficult circumstances the pastors and laypeople in our local Global Methodist churches are doing all they can to be Christ’s ambassadors as they share the good news through their words and their deeds. They are truly ministering to people who are suffering and who feel lost. Their dedication and their faithfulness inspire me and remind me of the sure hope we have in Jesus Christ. I am honored to serve alongside my Bulgarian brothers and sisters at such a crucial time in the life of our church and our country.”
In addition to his role as the presiding elder for the Bulgaria Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church, Topalski serves local churches in the cities of Varna and Dobrich. He and his wife Nina live with their 17 year old daughter Anna.
“We are a small conference, but we know this is a crucial time for the future of Methodism,” said Topalski. “We have good friends here in Europe, in Africa, the Philippines, and in the U.S. who share our love of the Christian faith that our ancestors handed down to us. We decided we want to be part of this global church rooted in our rich Methodist traditions and dedicated to making disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly!”
You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.
The Rev. Walter Fenton is Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.