The 2013 Friends of Estonia Gathering was graciously hosted by Dunwoody United Methodist Church in Dunwoody, Georgia. Dr. Wiley Stephens, pastor, made us feel most welcome and Joy Culbreth and the entire staff made us feel at home. It was a Spirit-filled time with 77 attendees including 8 Estonians and Bishop Christina Alsted who serves the Nordic and Baltic region.
Each morning was begun with devotional time, and three separate prayer times were set aside to focus on different areas of ministry in Estonia. Bishop Alsted kept everyone’ attention as he built on several themes. One of them was that “the small church is fully equipped to carry out God’s mission in the world. God changed the world through small churches.” There are five key areas we must commit to: We are a “disciple-making movement shaped for mission”, with a healthy self-perception, actively church planting, with clergy and lay leadership development, with financial stewardship.
Taavi Hollman, district superintendent for Estonia, reviewed many of the national statistics regarding Estonia’s lack of religious interest, population changes, births out of wedlock, and other cultural challenges. Methodist church giving has increased, but has a way to go before becoming self-sufficient. Several churches continue to develop new ministries and outreach, and mission efforts outside of Estonia continue to grow and bear fruit.
Irina Semjonova, pastor’s wife from Aseriv reviewed their location, ministries, involvement of children and youth, and the changing demographics of their town.
Priit Tamm, pastor in Tartu, discussed their current ministries and new ideas including the possibility of starting a new church across town where there is major new building development occuring.
Kaupo Kant, pastor in Voru, shared their many ministry activities, outreach to the community and their relationship with Brazillians who work alongside them and participate in evangelism and youth activities. He also gave an update on the remarkable progress on the new church building.
Artur Pold discussed the many camps and activities at Camp Gideon planned this year, the growth of the Johvi congregations, and progress at the Sunbeam Center for handicapped children.
Meeli Tankler, rector of the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary, said there are 12 graduating in this year’s class, currently with 77 students enrolled. The faculty has been challenged to integrate the educational material with meeting ministry needs in a practical manner. The BMTS represented by Meeli and Taavi are actively engaged in discussions with several seminaries about possible merging together in some capacity at the insistence of the educational accrediting bodies in Estonia. Each of these smaller seminaries is being encouraged to merge in some manner, with the key being how to maintain the unique character and spirit of a Methodist institution while working as part of a larger entity. The Estonian AC will review whatever proposal may come forth, after the BMTS board has made its recommendations.
Marjana Luist is transitioning into the main director’s role as Mall Tamm steps back to the board level for the Lighthouse Children’s ministries. She is well trained and experienced in a variety of work with young people and children. They presently serve around 25 children each day with 50 on their list of regulars. They track what happens to their children over time and there have been some remarkable success stories. The Lighthouse recently celebrated 12 years of serving at risk children in Tallinn.
Other youth and children’s activities and ministries were highlighted. There is a lot going on.
The 2013-2014 Executive Committee will be: Harry Turner, chair, Jack Harnish, Peter VanEys, J.D. Landis, Scott Layer, Sherry McAdams, Paige Martin, Rachel and Jim Davis, Marc Lyon and Carolyn Yoder in charge of communications, and Ex Officio members: DS Taavi Hollman, Bishop Christian Alsted, Eddie Fox of World Methodist Evangelism, and Ullas Tankler of GBGM.
Next year’s FOE will meet on April 4 and 5. We have three churches which have offered to host us, and are exploring a fourth option at this time. As soon as the location is decided upon, it will be posted.
A special request was made for each VIM team to have its leader provide all the names and planned time in the country for the team to Taavi Hollman’s office shortly before the VIM team’s visit. This is because the Methodist Church is considered responsible for all those in the country in the event of some serious injury or accident.
If you attended, I think you agree you were blessed. If you could not make it, we were uplifted by the prayers of many. Put the dates on your calendar now for 2014. We are enriched in sharing ministry together.
Harry Turner, Chair