A New Year Greeting

Even a New Covid-year is Special

There is something special about a new year – it offers a fresh start, new opportunities and hopes for the future. Some have jumped right into the new year with many hopes of good things they anticipate – others came crawling into the new year, barely finding the strength to carry on.

Despite almost two years of living under the impacts of a global pandemic, I still find an unquenchable faith and hope for the future among the Methodists in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Lockdowns and restrictions have been severe hindrances. At times, the many rules and regulations have been meaningful and necessary – at times they have been opaque and illogical hindrances to our ministry. Nevertheless, dedicated local churches, pastors, deacons, and leaders are doing extraordinary ministry in service to the community.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) – Is one of the encouraging greetings Paul shares with the church in Rome and with us. These words guided a conversation in the area cabinet, in which the district superintendents shared their experiences and thoughts about the coming six months.

This is a collection of some of their inspirational and aspirational thoughts:

“Our world and the church are facing several different crises, and the pandemic is one of them. During the pandemic we have lost many of our tools for ministry, however we still have the most important ones, the means of grace. Emphasizing and utilizing the means of grace will help us to sustain ourselves during the pandemic and to refocus and reinvigorate the church on the other side."

“Prayer is key. In my annual conference we pray, talk, and discuss, how we can best serve families in need, with the means we have available."

“This is a time for reflection – and many churches have engaged in discernment processes, looking for opportunities, mapping their strengths and mapping the needs of the community. I recently read that more than half of the churches in the UMC in the US have either expanded or started new ministries during the pandemic – I believe the same is true in my annual conference."

“A vision came to me in prayer. I saw a chess board - I know all the pieces and the rules of their movement, and often I expect to God to move within those strictly defined boundaries. In my vision, God turned the chess board around, and the pieces began to move in unprecedented ways towards Him."

“I see God changing the church during this time, encouraging, and challenging us to a commitment that takes us beyond our comfort zone. The most important question to ask is “God, what do you want from me?”

“Churches are reinventing themselves knowing that some people may not come back, and we will need to change."

“I serve as part time DS and in my local church, we are collecting money to buy snacks and fruit, and on a regular basis we bring a box of goodies to one of the wards at the hospital with a note of thank you and appreciation from the United Methodist Church – this has become our way of sharing the love of Jesus in a tangible way. The gifts and the greetings have been very well received at the hospital, and it has caught the attention of the organization “Project Life,” who wants to partner with us. “Project Life” is an NGO supporting children with severe illnesses – they are good at raising money, and they have suggested, we spread our initiative to other hospitals in the region."

“The Lord has hope and future for us - of this I am convinced. Reflecting on the Babylonian exile reminds us to keep living. Times of crisis and pain have often proved to be fruitful periods when God’s people have learned to put their trust in him and to operate in new ways. The future may be dim, but God is in the future, and he does his work."

My personal hope for the new year is that we will continue to encourage, support and speak well of each other, as we prayerfully work to find new footing, reorient ourselves and even rediscover the implications of taking part in God’s mission. This crisis has forced us to step out of our comfort zone, try new ways and to discover that church is more than we imagined, and Christ is still using us to further his love and salvation in the world.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Eph 3:20

And finally, please pray for the district superintendents and for me in our leadership role.

Christian Alsted