In the days when Russia celebrates Orthodox Christmas and the word ushers in a New Year in Solnechnogorsk just outside of Moscow a five days of workshops, devotions, and quite reflective time, were held on the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church, including pastors and lay leaders of the Central Russia Conference, facilitated by Rev. Irina Margulis, District Superintendent of the Moscow District and organizer for Church and Society in Eurasia, Rev. Neal Christie and Rev. Clayton Childers of the General Board of Church and Society.
During one exercise on the Nurturing Community section of the Social Principles, a university student Victoria Kaldekova of St. Luke's UMC shared, "My uncle committed suicide. It was a tragedy because nobody could even think that such a thought could occur to him. But the most terrible was that after this his wife and children were persecuted by people. This is not uncommon in Russian society. As a result the family had to leave their native city for an unknown town. I have never told about it because in my childhood my father said me that the families of self-murderers were rejected by the society and by the church. When I was a teenager I was a witness of such a persecution at school".
Victoria shared, "A girl of seven found her father hanging in the bathroom. Psychological shock, humiliation by her classmates was the response. The children were cruel! Only few people supported her. She had to change schools. I never understood and accepted this point of view. To my mind such families need help and support. We don’t know real reasons why a person decides to commit suicide. We don’t have the right to blame people. So, what the Social Principles say about life and death and suicide mean more to me than people imagine--and I want to learn more."
While the Social Principles are "Not church law," they are the fruit of true prayer and meditation and will of the General Conference as it takes care to look at the real problems of people in our modern world. The Social Principles rely on solid biblical and theological bases that are present in the traditions of United Methodism. They are instruction in the best tradition of the prophetic spirit.
Lectures in the classic sense it almost certainly was not! Group discussion passed to the building of "concentric circles" and in turn to role play; lightning round quizzes to "brainstorming" projects carried out in an "aquarium" exercise as we call it in Russian and a "fishbowl" as you call it in English. For us this was similar to the Russian television program "What, where, when!" The perceptive debate added personal testimonies complemented the many charts, diagrams, colorful drawings and notes that illustrated the depth of our discussion.
Vladimir Ditmar shared, "Discussion on the personal and the social appealed to me most. It was really vivid and picturesque. The idea was shared that we all are moving to Christ, go side by side with someone else, our brother or sister. And while approaching Jesus, we can't help but getting closer to one another. And, on the contrary, the farther we move from our fellow-brothers, the more distant we find ourselves from God. During the seminar I got the response for healing my old wounds, psycho traumas, caused by family abuse. Moreover, I plan to get more information on this issue and share it with the people of similar experience."
Pastor Ditmer preached on the "Natural World" and I was moved when in his sermon he said, "We as Christians know that one way to learn about God is to read God's creation. God's really not far from each one of us. Each snowflake, each leaf, in every blade of grass and animals we see God's wisdom, work, love and incomprehensibility and infinity. Scripture says, "The heavens reflect the glory of God and the work of his handiwork firmament" (Ps.18: 1) so all things very wisely and logically are arranged in the world: for sowing should harvest, seasons succeed each other, the planets move in certain orbits and life on Earth is possible only thanks to the fine balance of temperature, humidity, air composition, the tilt of Earth's axis, and a certain distance from the Earth to the sun. Everything in creation testifies to the wisdom of our Creator, and we must then sustain in our personal actions, and in our social policies what God has first created."
The Social Community also led to much discussion. "The issues raised directly related to my life," Tatiana Kasalapova from Novokuibishevsk shared. "When I learned that my son is using drugs, I sought the help of the organization "Parents Against Drugs", which was in our city. There I received help. After some time I learned about the United Methodist Church's programas for drug addicts, alcoholics and their families. I began to attend the worship services, to read the Bible and pray. And soon, my son went to a rehabilitation center called "Hope". There he was baptized and received Christ into his heart. From the center, he returned four years later another person. All this time I prayed for my son and the other children of drug addicts whose parents were members of our church. Now, as the leader of the Church, I serve disabled children at the center called "Support." It was important for me to know how our church relates to the issue of dependence and other problems of our society. We must show mercy and walk alongside people as Jesus did."
Personally, I helped to organize the workshop sessions with some knowledge of the Social Principles, I expected to leave the book on my shelf! But at the start o a New Year, like the Bible, study and action is required for the story about the Social Principles to grow the church. Let our service and witness always be inspired!