By Bishop Mark J. Webb
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 1.3-6
The words of the Apostle Paul to the believers at the Church of Philippi represent my heart as I reflect upon my recent time with brothers and sisters of the Global Methodist Church in Slovakia and Bulgaria. It was an absolute joy and blessing to spend ten days with these passionate Christ followers who are seeking to be the church and live out our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly and witness boldly.”
The leaders and congregations of Bulgaria and Slovakia were some of the very first to join the movement of the Global Methodist Church as it launched on May 1, 2022. With conviction, faith, and courage they stepped into the future they believed God was calling them to. Currently there are 24 congregations and 19 pastors in Bulgaria, while Slovakia has 11 congregations and 12 pastors.
During my visit, I was treated with radical hospitality, experienced passionate worship, and witnessed a people who are serious about being the church and taking the gospel of Jesus Christ into the lives of those around them. With every visit of a local congregation and every conversation with clergy and laity I heard about the ways in which God is at work in, among and through them. But even more, I heard the dreams of what they believe is yet to be. Their commitment to the gospel, to being the body of Christ and the hope they have in what God has in store for them in the days ahead is inspiring.
One of the highlights for me was the opportunity to be a part of the ordination of three deacons in Slovakia and eight deacons in Bulgaria.
The leadership of Rev. Dr. Gabi Kopas, presiding elder of the Slovak Provisional District, and the Rev. Dr. Daniel Topalski, presiding elder of the Bulgaria Provisional Conference, is a blessing within the Global Methodist Church. Their commitment to the clergy and congregations with which they partner was evident, and the gifts they share will equip leaders and congregations well for the future as they seek to be the church of Jesus Christ in their respective countries.
In a Pew research article several years ago, it was noted that “roughly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Iron Curtain and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the Central and Eastern European countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism.”
In Slovakia, according to the latest census data, 69 percent of the population identify as Christian, with the majority related to the Roman Catholic Church, while in Bulgaria 65 percent of the population identify as Christian with the majority related to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Like most parts of the world, these numbers continue to decrease and there is a significant gap between identification and active involvement in the life of a faith community. The opportunity to invite people into a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ and a vibrant connection to the community of faith is rich.
The future of the Global Methodist Church in Bulgaria and Slovakia is filled with opportunity and potential, but also presents very real challenges. As these congregations and leaders live into the commitments of the Global Methodist Church that include transformational discipleship, a culture of multiplication and a zeal for evangelism, the work of leadership development (both clergy and lay), church planting and financial sustainability are vital areas of focus. Perhaps unknown to some is the fact that when our brothers and sisters in Bulgaria made the decision to leave the United Methodist Church, they did so knowing they were sacrificing 70 percent of their existing funding for pastoral support and ministry.
As the Global Methodist Church continues to grow and mature, our sisters and brothers in Bulgaria and Slovakia are demonstrating a boldness and commitment to the mission and purpose of the Church. They are providing leadership that is shaping our movement. I believe they have much to teach us about being the church. They yearn to be global partners in the mission we share.
A value of the Global Methodist Church movement is to see congregations, districts, and annual conferences within and outside the United States connected in true partnerships, sharing mission and ministry in relevant and practical ways. May we live out the truth that we can learn from one another and grow together. Local churches in the U.S. can be strengthened by what brothers and sisters in places like Bulgaria and Slovakia can offer them. The impact on churches in places like Bulgaria and Slovakia will be significant when brothers and sisters in the U.S. take seriously the truth that the “world is our parish.”
As the Global Methodist Church continues to form and build the necessary systems for maximum missional impact, my prayer is that we will truly live out our values and take seriously our commitment to be a global church. I pray we in the U.S. will back-up our words with actions. God is calling us as individuals and local congregations to be true partners with those in other parts of the world who are faithfully seeking to be the body of Christ and boldly offer Jesus to the world. I trust we will joyfully respond to that challenge.
I give thanks to God for the people of the Global Methodist Church in Slovakia and Bulgaria. I am blessed to call them brothers and sisters in Christ and partners in the work of the gospel. In just ten short days, they impacted my life and I know that God has great plans to give them “a future and a hope” and to use them to increase the kingdom of God.
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Bishop Mark J. Webb is an episcopal leader in the Global Methodist Church.