I promise this has nothing to do with the pros and cons of Brexit! I’m lucky to serve on the European Methodist Council, which provides a forum for the different branches of European Methodism to support each other in mission. During the pandemic all meetings have obviously been online, which means we have lost the important informal ‘side conversations’ over coffee (and during the meeting, don’t tell the chairs!). Instead there has been an almost monthly ‘zoom coffee’ to share experiences, challenges and strategies. Here’s a quick taster from our most recent meeting. The general picture is that Covid cases still exist but as the vaccination rate increases, the hospitalisation rate goes down
Denmark – has reached under 500 new cases per day, all restrictions are lifted and people are returning to worship in church buildings. Pastors received a day of training on media presentation skills from a TV company.
Estonia – schools are remaining open. The theological seminary in Tallinn is teaching classes in mixed-mode, with online students appearing on a large screen. In common with similar situations, keeping everyone equally engaged is a challenge for everyone.
Germany – the Tent Mission (Big top style) is considering if it needs to keep the large tents and therefore the large trucks needed to transport all the equipment, or if smaller resources are now needed. The Tent Mission has been well-used in Germany and beyond.
Ireland – is facing the challenges of one church across two administrations with differing guidelines/laws.
Portugal – the situation is improving slowly with outside mask wearing no longer mandated, but indoors is still compulsory. As in other places, some people are delaying their return to church because they find the masks uncomfortable for an extended period.
Sweden – has been trying to organise the next World Methodist Conference for about 6 years. It has been delayed again (to 2023 or 2024, as yet undecided). Their annual conference will be online only but the prospect of more opening up is imminent.
We also discussed attitudes to global & domestic travel – EMC has already agreed that members will travel to meetings via trains/boats even thought this is usually slower and most costly. Since that decision we haven’t been able to put that to the test due to the pandemic restrictions. The economic and ecological impact of all future travel needs to be assessed and perhaps travel needs to be reduced (eg fewer meetings, fewer representatives?). However, we all recognise that the strength of an annual gathering such as EMC is found as much in the relationships formed, which then enable shared mission, financial support, prayerful encouragement. This is less successful in online only meetings (I think, especially for new members) – the power of a shared meal should never be underestimated.