Methodism in Northern Europe & Eurasia:
Methodist ministry in Scandinavia began in Stockholm as an outreach of British Methodism. In 1830-42, Scottish Methodist pastor George Scott ran a rather comprehensive operation which had a significant influence on the initiation of Free Church life in Sweden. George Scott's activities stopped due to opposition of a dramatic nature.
The Northern European Countries were experiencing a period of strife and immense change. The increased population could no longer be supported neither agriculturally nor be incorporated into the new industries of the growing cities. Health and welfare standards were low, and social needs were great. Radical changes in society created a longing to find better living conditions in America. Likewise, many people became occupied with the search for help in spiritual values.
The arrival of the Methodist Church to Northern Europe was linked to immigration across the Atlantic, particularly among seamen who sailed to America. In the 1830's and the following decades, all Protestant denominations in the United States were influenced by the Second Great Awakening. In the same period, immigration from the countries of Northern Europe to America began growing at a massive rate towards the turn of the century. In the 1830's and 40's the first Scandinavian speaking Methodist churches were established in the United States, and conferences were eventually organized, using the Scandinavian languages in worship services, newsletters, books and all matters of administration.
Bethel Ship John Wesley
At the initiative of a Swedish sailor, a seaman's church was established in New York in 1832 in order to serve the harbour’s sailors and to bring the gospel to the many emigrants there. The floating church – “Bethel Ship John Wesley" – became a significant instrument in bringing Methodism to the Nordic residents. Olaf Gustaf Hedström, of Sweden, led the mission in New York harbour for over 30 years, beginning in 1845. Many seamen and emigrants who had experienced conversion carried the Methodist revival with them to other parts of the United States, as well as to their home countries in Northern Europe.
In Norway, the story of Methodism began with seaman Ole Peter Petersen's preaching in 1849 and the years ahead. In 1851, O.P. Petersen established the Norwegian-Danish Methodist Church in America. In 1856, Danish-American Christian Willerup was sent to Scandinavia as a superintendent in order to lead the church, which had emerged spontaneously. The first Methodist church was founded during the same year, thereby making the establishment of the Methodist Church in Norway a reality. In 1876, the church in Norway received status as an Annual Conference. There were 29 pastors, 19 congregations and 2,798 members, and the conference got its own superintendent, Martin Hansen.
During a family visit to Copenhagen, Christian Willerup began public meetings. In 1856, when he was sent to Scandinavia as a superintendent, the work took shape and was launched. The first congregation was established in 1859, and in 1865 the church received official approval by the state, according to The Royal Constitution. It was first in 1911 that Methodism in Denmark had grown substantially enough to receive status as an Annual Conference. At the time there were 53 pastors, 27 congregations, 127 preaching stations and 3,634 members.
Various Methodist preachers operated in Sweden in the 1850's. This led to the establishment of the Methodist Church in Sweden in 1868. The work grew rapidly, and in 1876, the church was able to form as an independent Annual Conference with 55 pastors, 97 congregations, 249 preaching stations and 4,123 members. During the same year, the church received official approval by the state as an independent church. Victor Witting was appointed superintendent in Sweden.
In 2012, the Annual Conference in Sweden merged with the Baptist Church of Sweden and the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, thus creating a new denomination, Joint Future, which the General Conference in 2012 approved as an Affiliated United Church with the United Methodist Church.
Approximately 100 members including 12 clergy desiring to remain United Methodist joined the Finland Swedish provisional Annual Conference and formed a district in Sweden. The 2012 Central Conference decided to extend the border of the Finland Swedish Provisional Annual Conference to include Sweden.
Finland and Russia
On the Finnish side of the Bay of Bothnia, Methodist preaching began to be heard by 1859 and the subsequent years. Gustaf Lervik, a coxswain who had returned to his homeland, began to preach in his home country after being converted aboard the Bethel Ship in New York. Later, the Bärlund brothers joined in as preachers. In the 1880's impulses from Sweden led to a new start for Methodism in Finland, and the first congregation was established in 1881. Methodism in Finland fell in under the Swedish Annual Conference and had status as a district under the leadership of Superintendent B.A. Carlsen. In 1887 the first Finnish speaking congregations arose, and two years later B.A. Carlsen established a mission to Russia, with meetings held in St. Petersburg, leading shortly thereafter to congregational development. The Czar, who at the time ruled both Russia and Finland, gave official approval in 1892 to the Methodist Church in both states. In light of the situation the Swedish Annual Conference organized "The mission in Finland and St. Petersburg" during the same year.
In 1907, German-American Dr. George A. Simons (son of Frisian immigrants from Sylt in Schleswig) was appointed as superintendent in St. Petersburg. The link to Sweden weakened, and under his leadership the work developed rapidly with ramifications for Russia and Estonia. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 put a stop to all possibilities for church growth, yet, in spite of opposition, the work continued into the 1920's. The Methodist Church in Finland gathered for the first time as an independent Annual Conference in 1911. The church had 1,568 members. In keeping with the development in Finland after its independence, the work was separated in a Swedish-speaking and a Finnish-speaking conference in 1923. Finnish-speaking Methodism suffered greatly during World War II, since 60% of its members lived in regions that were incorporated into the Soviet Union.
The Baltic Countries
Methodism in the Baltic Countries can be traced back to the beginning of the 1900’s. From the north, Methodism travelled from St. Petersburg to Saaremaa (Ösel) and the Estonian mainland. From the south, the inspiration came from German Methodism, partly from the Methodist Church and partly from the Evangelical Association and The Christian Brethren Church. At the time of World War II the Evangelical Association and Brethren Church in Lithuania and Latvia were connected with Germany via the Königsberg District, while the Methodist Church’s ties were with the Nordic Countries.
In Estonia, Methodist preaching began in 1907, and the first congregation could be established in 1908. Vassili Täht and Karl Kuum, who were sent by the Methodists in St. Petersburg, were integral in starting up the Methodist congregation in Kuressaare, in Saaremaa. The Northwest German Conference appointed the first Methodist minister to service in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1905. In 1900, Pastor Heinrich Ramke of Königsberg had already preached in Kaunas, and during his stay discovered that a group in Kaunas, over several years, had been in contact with the Methodist Publishing House in Bremen. In 1911, the first church building was built in Kaunas, which was the first Methodist edifice built in the Baltics.
The Evangelical Association from the Königsberg District started evangelistic work in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in 1908, with the establishment of the first church in 1912. From this point, the work developed into the formation of congregations in Kuldiga and Liepaja. German Methodism started work in Riga with the appointment of George R. Durdis in 1910. This led to the establishment of the first Methodist church in Riga in 1912. In 1911, the Methodists came into contact with the Moravian Brethren missionary Alfred Freiberg, who had founded the congregation in Liepaja, which in turn became a Methodist church.
The three Baltic Countries attained independence after World War I, and the work developed rapidly, with American support. Riga became the centre for Methodism in the Baltics with the establishment of a theological seminary and residence for superintendent Dr. George A. Simons. In 1924, there were 47 Methodist pastors in the Baltics: 24 in Estonia, 15 in Latvia and 8 in Lithuania. The Baltic Annual Conference was organized in 1929, and each of the 3 countries received status as districts. The work in the Baltics grew, so that by 1939 there were around 3,000 registered members. During the same year, 13 Methodists pastors were registered serving 15 congregations in Estonia, 17 Methodists pastors serving 19 congregations in Latvia, and 7 Methodist pastors serving 7 congregations in Lithuania. At that time, the Evangelical Association had 3 pastors and 3 congregations in Latvia, as well as 7 pastors and 7 congregations in Lithuania. The Evangelical Association tallied around 1,000 members in Latvia and Lithuania.
The incorporation of the Baltic Countries into the Soviet Union after World War II was catastrophic for the Methodist Church. Systematic persecution of pastors and congregations, as well as confiscation of buildings destroyed a great deal of the work. Only Estonia was successful in maintaining the work of the church, due to notable national leaders such as Martin Prikask and Alexander Kuum.
The Baltic Countries re-established their independence in 1991. In Latvia, a small group of earlier Methodists remained, and in 1991 these contacts led to the resurrection of the United Methodist church of Latvia, while the district was formally re-established in 1992 with three congregations. In 1995, the Methodist church of Lithuania resumed in Kaunas and a year later in Siaulaiai. The United Methodist church in Lithuania was formally re-established in 1996.
The work in all three Baltic countries has been characterized by growth. New congregations have been founded, and the operations have spread from the indigenous languages and peoples to the Russian-speaking population. In Tallinn, there was already a Russian-language outreach in the 1950's, and in the 1980's, the Russian-language outreach likewise commenced in various places. The church in Estonia is an Annual conference. In Latvia and Lithuania, Methodism has status as District conferences within the Estonia Annual Conference, yet function by way of their registration as denominations within their respective countries and as annual conferences in praxis.
The Depression during the 1930's caused further weakening of the ties to the church in America. Methodism in Northern Europe belonged to the Methodist Episcopal Church, under the auspices of the General Board of Missions, but the Unity conference of 1939 gave Methodism in northern Europe an altered affiliation to the Mother church. Until that time, the work in the Northern European countries had been a branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church, similar to the work in other Central European countries. After World War I, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South had established extensive mission organizations in war torn Europe where no other Methodist churches were established: Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia (today’s Czech and Slovak Republics).
In addition to the two American Methodist churches, British Methodism, also called Wesleyan Methodism, had made inroads on the European continent with outreaches in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German speaking areas. Wesleyan Methodism was organized as part of the British Annual conference. Furthermore, the Methodist church tradition was represented in force by several small churches, which were all related to the United Brethren in Christ and The Evangelical Association. A series of church unions led to the uniting in church structure of the entire Methodist church family on the European continent, which organically is part of the larger United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is, by way of her membership in the Methodist church's World council, part of the massive cooperation between churches in the Methodist and Wesleyan traditions.
By the end of World War II, the European continent could organise two central conferences: The German and the Northern European. In addition, there were ten Annual conferences and two Missions conferences from the former German area organised under episcopal supervision of the southeast Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church in the United States.
After World War II, there was an attempt to form a single European central conference. The attempt failed, and in 1954, a central conference for Central and Southern Europe was formed in addition to the other two central conferences, Germany and Northern Europe. The European Council of Central Conferences of the Methodist church was founded after negotiations under the Methodist world conference in Oslo in 1966. In 1980, the name was changed to the European council of the United Methodist Church. Plenary sessions with the British and Irish Methodist churches led to the 1993 formation of the new European Methodist Council, where all Methodist traditions in Europe were united for the first time within the same organization. Affiliates of the European Methodist Council included:
1. The consultative conference of the European Methodist churches, which commenced in 1957
2. The European Methodist Youth council, and
3. The World Federation of Methodist and Uniting church Women - Europe, and The World federation of Methodist and Uniting Women - Britain and Ireland.
After the dismantling of the Soviet Union, The General Board of Global Ministries initiated a contact with Russian Orthodox Church and Soviet/Russian Peach Fund to assist in the re-establish education and organize help sending. At the same time several individual initiatives lead to the formation of congregations in several areas within Russia and Ukraine, mostly as the result of new contacts to Methodism in the United States. The first new congregations were established in Moscow, Samary and Yekaterinburg. Methodism was formally re-established in this part of the world in 1992 under the name The United Methodist Mission in The Commonwealth of Independent States, 100 years after the Methodist-Episcopal Mission in Finland and St. Petersburg was organized.
In 1991, Rüdiger Minor, bishop of the former East Germany Central Conference, was assigned as episcopal coordinator of Methodism in Eurasia.
The General Conference decided in 1992 to make Eurasia a separate Episcopal Area. The General Conference authorized the Northern Europe Central Conference, which had had oversight over the Methodist ministry in the former Soviet countries, to elect a bishop to carry out the work in the new area. With representatives present from the Russian United Methodist churches, the Central Conference of 1993 elected Rüdiger Minor as Bishop of Eurasia, with residence in Moscow. The next step was taken in 1996 when Russia Provisional Annual Conference was formed, which was confirmed by the Central Conference in Pärnu in 1997. Pastoral education was established in Moscow in 1997.
In 2001 Eurasia became an Annual Conference with full rights. The new conference consisted of 70 clergy members and 81 local churches. In 2003 the United Methodist Church in Eurasia was divided into four conferences: The Central Russia Annual Conference consisted of 923 members, 39 clergies and 33 local churches. The Northwest Russia Provisional Annual Conference consisted of 453 members, 21 clergies and 20 local churches. The South Russia-Ukraine-Moldova Provisional Annual Conference consisted of 759 members, 30 clergies and 30 local churches. The East Russia-Kazakhstan Provisional Annual Conference consisted of 416 members, 19 clergies and 14 local churches.
The central conference was, for the first time, held in Moscow in 2005. Ukraine was now separated from the South Russia Provisional Annual Conference to form its own Ukraine and Moldova Provisional Annual Conference.
The Northern Europe and European Central Conference
World War I weakened the connection between Europe and America, thus a substantial independence of continental European Methodism from the Mother church in the United States became necessary. In 1920, the General Conference decided to divide Europe into several episcopal areas. The Northern Europe Episcopal Area, including Methodism in the Nordic countries, was established and put under the supervisions of the Danish Bishop, Anton Bast.
Though Methodism in the North European countries was tied together historically, the new structure meant that the church in this region, to an even greater extent, would forge closer ties and fellowship in order to facilitate their new and greater independence. In 1924, the North Europe Episcopal Area organized as a central conference, and the Baltic-Slavic Annual Conference became integrated. In 1924, pastoral education for Scandinavian language candidates, which until that time took place in their respective annual conferences, became consolidated at the Nordic Theological Seminary, Överås, in Gothenburg. This common Nordic seminary continued until 1971, when a theological seminary was established in Bergen for Norwegian candidates. In 2008 Sweden Annual Conference joined the interdenominational Stockholm Theological Seminary, THS, and the pastoral training for Methodist pastors moved from Överås to THS. Pastoral education for the Baltic Area was re-established in 1994, with the opening of the Baltic Methodist Theological seminary in Tallinn.
With the geographic expansion, beginning with the “Glasnost” period in Soviet Union, the name of the Central Conference has changed from Nordic to Northern Europe (1989), and to Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference (2009), which now consists of the two Episcopal Areas - Nordic and Baltic, and the Eurasia Area.
Since World War II, the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference has been led by bishops elected by the Central Conference itself: Theodor Arvidsson of Sweden (elected in 1946); Odd Hagen of Norway (elected 1953); Ole E. Borgen of Norway (elected 1970); Hans Växby of the Finland Swedish conference (elected 1989); Rüdiger Minor of the East Germany Central Conference (elected 1993); Øystein Olsen of Norway (elected 2001); Hans Växby of the Finland Swedish conference (elected 2005); Christian Alsted of Denmark (elected 2009) and Eduard Khegay of Central Russia Annual Conference (elected 2012).