Friday 9 July 1999

METHODISTS DISCUSS ELECTION OF BISHOP by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service Will Russia's newly registered, nation-wide Methodist Church elect a native- born Russian citizen as its bishop?  Almost all of Keston's sources agree that the answer is 'Yes' - but perhaps not soon.  All but a handful of the denomination's Russian congregations already have Russian pastors; the Methodists' recent annual conference featured a lively discussion about their readiness to advance one of those pastors to the episcopate. A special session of the conference was dedicated to the procedures for the next election of a bishop. Pastor YERGEN TAARUP, a representative of the Central Conference of the Methodist Church, announced on the conference's behalf that in the year 2000 the Russian Church will receive a letter from a committee of bishops of the Central Conference, which will list candidates for the bishops' posts in Russia and Scandinavia.  The annual conference of the Russian Methodist Church will also discuss its own candidates, which it may propose for Scandinavia as well as Russia.  For example, the Russian Church may propose its own candidate for the post of bishop of Norway.   In March 2001 there will be a session of the Central Conference in Helsinki, to be attended by representatives of all the annual Conferences of the Churches of Northern Europe.  The Central Conference includes 60 persons, including 12 Russian delegates; thus the Russians will have 20% of the votes.   For a bishop to be elected, he must receive votes from no less than 60% of the participants, so the election of a Russian bishop will not depend solely on the Russian delegates.   Pastor Taarup said that it was not absolutely necessary for the Russian church's next bishop to be a Russian:  'When you think nationalistically, it is incorrect.  We are in need of a person who speaks Russian, understands Russian culture and can preach in a Russian context.  I will truly be glad when I meet the first Russian bishop.' The superintendent of the Moscow region, DMITRI LEE, proposed deferring the discussion until the conference in 2000.  The superintendent of the Voronezh region, VLADISLAV KIM, told the conference that Russians were still under the influence of a totalitarian consciousness.  In his opinion, it will take several decades for Russia to learn to live as a democratic society.  Kim also mentioned the shortage of ordinations in Russia and concluded that the Methodist Church in Russia still lacked people truly prepared to serve as bishops, because no one had the full spiritual experience of the Church.  'If [the Russian church] puts forward its own bishop, this may lead to a penetration of secular commercial views into the Church,' he said. The pastor of the congregation in Otradnoye, ANDREI KOVALENKO, presented an alternative to Pastor Kim's view - a nationalistic position unusual among Russia's Methodists.  He told the conference that one should respect those who endured persecution under the Soviet Union, rather than suggesting that they lack spiritual experience.  'We must love our country. We have worthy leaders and candidates,' he insisted. After the conference Keston interviewed the current bishop of Russian Methodists, RUEDIGER MINOR, whose office had just been so energetically discussed in his presence and indeed at his initiative.  The bishop told Keston that 'we must find a way to talk about this objectively.' If finally a candidate from Russia were put forth, he would welcome that, he said: 'there are now several people whom I see as potential candidates for the office of bishop.' According to several sources it is entirely possible that at the forthcoming elections the main candidate will be the current Bishop Minor, who has headed the Methodist Church in Russia since 1992.  He has the right to be elected for one more term and thus to serve until 2005.  (END)