The time leading up to the Austrian annual conference as well as the conference itself was an intense time of preparation and deliberations. It was our last conference led by Bishop Patrick Streiff, we welcomed our new Bishop Stefan Zürcher.
This year’s annual conference took place at the church in Linz. Building upon the past 3-Year Theme Cycle, this year marked the start of the next cycle focussing on “Celebrating the love of God”. The theme for this years conference was: “We celebrate the love of God, therefore we encourage”.
Encouragement means to support people in making difficult decisions, to help them feel able and capable to take on new tasks or to engage into difficult conversations. Encouragement helps us to become braver. It is about preparing ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually to take on responsibility, accountability and make a change. I think this was reflected beautifully at this year’s conference.
Over the past years the focus was more in our past. Which was important. We cannot know where we want to go if we don’t know where we came from. However our needs have changed and it is time that we look forward.
This year’s conference was intense. We had important, fundamental work to do to be prepared for the next steps in our 3-year theme cycle.
In this regard I would like to highlight one aspect that occupied not only a lot of our time at the conference but has accompanied me on my personal journey for many years.
As I mentioned in my message the week before the conference, I was involved prior to the conference preparing a proposal regarding our environmental and social responsibility as a church with regard to climate change. This small group consisted of Superintendent Stefan, Maria Sonnleithner (youth delegate to the annual conference) and myself.
Our proposal was to form a team of a few individuals who feel passionately about climate change to help make sustainable changes in our lives more approachable for us as the UMC in Austria but more importantly for our congregations and us as individuals.
Often people do not have the time to collect and filter through resources or they don’t know where to start and are caught in cycles of frustration and helplessness. The aim of this group is to provide people with the resources they need to make sustainability a part of their everyday lives and also incorporate it in church and community activities.
This group is not responsible with the planning and organisation of events or actually making changes. They are responsible for connecting people and collecting, preparing and sharing resources such as guidelines or how-to regarding sustainable living and reducing our negative environmental impact.
I am very happy to announce that the proposal was unanimously accepted and I have the honour to kickstart this project.
It is not only our responsibility to our less affluent communities or younger generations who are and will be most affected by climate change but it is also our responsibility and calling as the caretakers of God’s creation to do what we can.
I would like us, ESUMC to take on this mission together.
Over the next few months I will organise a few events to share our experiences and needs in small groups, brainstorm and chat so that we can start with this important mission project. I believe we have many resources at our disposal. I hope that many of you feel called to share your experiences there and to help collect, prepare and share this knowledge in an accessible way for our congregation and the UMC in Austria.