People from all over Europe have travelled through the town of Russe, on the Danube in northern Bulgaria. Many have stayed, and today Russe is home to Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians.
Rev. Daniel Topalski is the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Russe, and he is a delegate to the Assembly from the United Methodist Church Bulgaria.
Daniel says that Russe is unusual for Bulgaria. In Russe the ecumenical atmosphere is very good, but this is not always the case for the rest of the country. “Bulgarians have an eccentric attitude towards religion. Many want religion to be anonymous or private.”
Although there are no official Methodist-Orthodox relations at a national level in Bulgaria, at the local level in Russe things are much better. Daniel gives thanks particularly for a younger generation of Orthodox priests that he works with in several practical ways.
When asked to give an example of a practical project Daniel smiled and said “It’s a great achievement that we can stay in one room and talk to each other!” He went on to say that they participate in the World Day of Prayer at the beginning of March.
Daniel then explained the situation in Hutansa, a village in his circuit. Here there is excellent long-standing co-operation between the Methodist and Orthodox churches. During the Communist era, members of each church would look out for and support members of the other church, for instance if there was a crackdown on religion.
Today the village’s Orthodox congregation is mostly elderly, so their worship is supported by the choir from the Methodist church. The Orthodox church moved the time of its service earlier, so that people could go to both services.
Another example of the close fellowship the two congregations share is the restoration of their church buildings, both of which were in poor repair. The Methodists had the funds to be able to renovate their building, but that would have meant that their building would have been much nicer than the Orthodox church. So the United Methodist Church helped to fund the restoration of the Orthodox church as well.
Daniel’s reflections on the work of CEC and the Assembly offers a challenge to the ecumenical movement. “It is easy for churches to focus on global problems, but this only has limited results on the local environment. We also need to speak more about theological differences, such as the struggle around recognition of baptism.”
The theme of ‘Called to One Hope in Christ’ prompted Daniel to share his hope for the future of CEC. “I would like the organisation to provide help for church members, particularly to overcome the process of secularisation. What are the possible solutions? We must discuss this issue more”.
With the Assembly only just beginning, let’s hope this and many other issues can be considered in the future.
Co-opted staff, Writer (Methodist Church of Great Britain)