Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bishop Patrick Streiff: Why I am a United Methodist today

In my teenage years, a pastor who had been appointed to another church a year ago, came to visit us and asked me “Pat, have you ever thought of becoming a pastor?” Not at all! But his voice continued to work in my spirit. Two years later, in a time of prayer and searching for direction about my future studies, I felt a calling from God becoming stronger and stronger. My father, a secular scientist, was surprisingly tolerant and supportive. My mother, a faithful, life-long United Methodist, was afraid whether I could ever make a living from the low salary of a UM pastor. I shared my calling with a pastor, but told him also that I see my gifts rather in teaching than in being a pastor. He answered that the UMC in Switzerland has no specialized ministries and everyone begins as an ordained elder in local churches, but additionally uses his or her specialized gifts on a conference level. He added that this combination is very stimulating in his own experience. I was willing to try. I could not imagine to change to the well established, wealthy Protestant church, even if it offered more diverse possibilities. I wanted to serve the church which had nurtured my faith. And I had been fascinated by the Wesley brothers and by the international scope of the United Methodist Church.

I was grateful that the Board of Ordained Ministry extended my candidacy time to add and complete a Ph.D. before being appointed to a pastoral ministry, a new, courageous step at that time. All appointments as a pastor which followed, led me and my family to places of ministry, which I would never have chosen myself. But I trusted that the cabinet is led by God’s Spirit and that the risen Christ will go before us and meet us even in surprisingly different locations from those I would have chosen. Beyond imagination, my life and the life of my spouse have been enriched and deepened by these experiences. And the same is true for my ministry as a bishop. I have not searched for it. I would never had made campaign for it. I inwardly even resisted it, but together with my spouse we said to each other: “The Lord has blessed us so far and I do not dare say no if others call me to this ministry.” And so the journey goes on, not on a road I would have chosen, but – amidst tough challenges - fulfilling beyond my imagination because of the transforming presence of Jesus, the Christ.

The episcopal area of Central and Southern Europe is the most diverse in the United Methodist Church. For those who only count professing members it is one of the smallest. But it is made up of 7 Annual Conferences, 16 countries, ministry in more than 20 languages. The UMC as a small minority church is in mission either in a secular Western or a strongly Catholic or a predominantly Eastern Orthodox or an almost exclusively Muslim context or a mix of all of them. There is no outward reason for such a strange conglomerate of situations within one episcopal area than a common Methodist identity lived in a network of connectional relationships. This connectional solidarity builds up the church and through its ministry transforms people’s lives. The diverse cultures in the episcopal area are like a microcosm of what we experience as a world wide church: challenging, fascinating and enriching if we see each other as called together into one body by him, the head of the Church.



Bishop Streiff serves on the Connectional Table as the Chair of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters and as Central Conference member of Central and Southern Europe