By: Klaus Ulrich Ruof (Germany) and Urs Schweizer (Switzerland)
It was in 2012. The European Methodist Council had planned to organize a European Methodist Festival in Krakow (Poland). However, due to the fact that not enough people had registered for this event by a certain time, this Festival regretfully had to be cancelled. And the question was: In times of an increasing individualism and political segregation – would there ever again be such a European Methodist Festival?
There were skeptics in many parts of Europe, but then the weekend of Ascension 2018 was drawing closer – and what was about to happen at Dünenhof near Cuxhaven (Germany), right on the North Sea, put all the skeptics right. About 850 people of all generations, from many different countries all over Europe and also from the USA, powerfully proved that the connection among the Methodists in Europe is still alive indeed. This was the first reason to marvel, which is the English translation of the event name «STAUNEN».
In the past, «STAUNEN» was a festival of the North Germany Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, and the majority of steering committee members and volunteers still came from this area. But they were ready to make their festival more European, more international, more colorful, more diverse, and therefore people from other parts of Europe were included in the preparations, as well.
The plenary activities such as singing and faith sharing, evening programs, or worship services took place in a big tent. Bible studies focusing on the same Bible text but being offered in a variety of forms were held at different places – and so were about 30 afternoon workshops that covered a huge spread of issues: migrants, resilience, listening prayer, ministry with Roma, identity, discovery and preservation of creation, the Bible and homoerotic love, Poetry-Slam, natural science and faith, etc. In between, there were the so-called «STAUNEN-groups», where about a dozen of people each, all speaking the same language, met and had an opportunity to share their thoughts about the Bible studies they had heard in the morning or simply to share about themselves and their faith journey.
All these different program parts helped people to experience facets of the theme «You have set my feet in a broad place». And many people witnessed that their faith in God was renewed. But discovering the wonderful nature of this region on the North Sea, simply having time to pray, enjoying spontaneous encounters with old friends or with people one had never seen before, spending leisure time by singing or playing games were also very important. Many relationships across nations, languages, and cultures were strengthened or newly established.
One of the highlights was certainly the outdoor worship service right on the beach of the North Sea. Not only Methodists from many different countries thought about «getting out of the boat and daring to walk on the water». Residents, tourists, and people just relaxing on the beach curiously joined the huge Methodist family in order to find out what was going on there. And not only a few of them were touched by the authentic and encouraging message they heard.
In almost all European countries, the Methodist Church, United or autonomous, is a small minority church. Therefore, such events are invaluable. Sandra Vanevska and Branka Naskovski from Serbia loved the music and how the leaders had preparedthe worship services. «It is so touching to pray with one another and to worship Jesus together», they said. «We will take back home much joy – and the experience how we jointly celebrated Jesus in spite of different languages and cultures».
The Coptic Christians Emad Bhnan and Awatif Wesa, who originally came from Egypt and now live in Germany, underlined: «We feel very well here, and we enjoy the fellowship with so many Christians».
Bishop Sifredo Teixeira from Portugal is also convinced: «For our small Methodist Churches in Europe, such a festival is an important experience. We can see and feel that we are part of a much bigger family. We could never organize such an event by ourselves, but to participate in it is a wonderful experience for us». And he added: «To see and experience how people help each other and care for each other is truly a blessing».
Jeff Campbell from Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church in the USA was also inspired by the festival: «It is a great experience for me to have conversations with so many different people from all over Europe and to learn from the diversity of the various life situations». He said that one of his aims was to learn from Europeans Methodists, who, in many regions, live in a very secularized environment. «We can see in the USA that an increasing number of people has no experiences with church, either. I want to learn and look out for models and creative ideas how Methodist congregations in Europe serve their secularized neighbors».
In the meantime, the participants have returned to their respective home countries. They are encouraged to put love into action and to share the Good News with their neighbors. And, yes, they also hope that it won’t take another six years until they will meet again their European Brothers and Sisters.