Alsted told the United Methodist News Service that before standing for re-election, he carefully reflected and prayed to discern whether this was the right thing for him, his family and the church.
He was first elected in 2008 by 46 of 54 delegates in ballot 21. United Methodist clergy and laity from 13 nations form the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference, which spans 11 time zones. The terms of bishops in the central conference are eight years, with the possibility to be re-elected for a final four years.
Alsted serves as bishop for the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal area, which includes Denmark, Norway, Finland (two annual conferences), Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“The big difference from eight years ago is that I now have a much deeper knowledge of the area,” Alsted said. “I know what I go into. I know the challenges and the opportunities inherent in us and where the Holy Spirit is at work in the church.”
He added two other differences since he first became bishop: “The increased migration in Europe and the intensified division over human sexuality that ultimately could threaten the unity of The United Methodist Church.”
Alsted, like other bishops in Europe, has seen the increased migration as both an opportunity and challenge for ministry. Today, he said, his area has more multicultural congregations. At the same time, he said, the wider European society has seen “growth in xenophobia, Islamophobia and outright racism.”
“We must repeatedly lift up how Jesus related to the marginalized and the poor,” the bishop said. “These attitudes must characterize us as Methodists; it must be our mark.”
The denomination has long debated how it can best minister with LGBTQ individuals but divisions have deepened as more countries, including some in Europe, have legalized same-gender marriage. Now, United Methodist bishops from around the globe, including Alsted, are putting together a commission charged with reviewing church teachings related to homosexuality and looking for ways to maintain church unity.
While church leaders — particularly in the United States — talk about a possible future where The United Methodist Church is no longer united, Alsted urges United Methodists to remember they are part of a worldwide connection.
“Even if some sort of division becomes a reality in the United States, we are still here, and we can make the decision to remain united in Northern Europe and Eurasia,” he said.
He leads an area where views and laws related to homosexuality vary dramatically.
“For The United Methodist Church in Northern Europe and Eurasia, even with the diversity of positions on human sexuality present in some annual conferences and between annual conferences, I believe a separation would be devastating not only organizationally but even more spiritually,” he said. “I believe this to be true for the whole denomination.”
Strengthening the mission
Alsted resides in Copenhagen, Denmark. He is married to Elisabeth Flinck and has three children. Starting this year, he is chair of the Connectional Table, a denomination-wide body that coordinates ministry and resources. He also is a member of the Council of Bishops executive committee, co-chair of the European Methodist Council and a member of the World Methodist Council.
United Methodist churches are organized into increasingly larger groups: numerous districts, dozens of annual conferences and, outside the United States, seven central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe.
Bishop Patrick Streiff, who leads United Methodists in the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference, presided at Alsted’s re-election.
Alsted has been very active in strengthening awareness of the global church, Streiff said.
“He has consistently held forth our central mission as a church — forming disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Streiff said. “God works in the world, and we have a calling to participate in this work.”
The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, directs each bishop to “guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church” and to “lead all persons entrusted to their oversight in worship, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in their mission of witness and service in the world.” Bishops also are to be “prophetic voices and courageous leaders in the cause of justice for all people.”
Ellingsen is the head of communications for The United Methodist Church in Norway. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org