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Methodists dedicate church and mission center in Estonia

9/18/2000 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A photo is available for use with this story.

By United Methodist News Service

Methodists from around the world formally opened and dedicated the Baltic Mission Center in Estonia on Sept. 10 as a place of worship and teaching.

The day climaxed almost six years of construction of the Methodist Church in Tallinn and the Baltic Mission Center. The building serves as the home for the Estonian-speaking and Russian-speaking Methodist congregations in Tallinn and houses the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary, the Christian Education program, youth ministry, book store and a soup kitchen for the elderly and the poor. The center will eventually house the area's Korean-speaking Methodist congregation.

Methodists from around the world joined with "the people called Methodists" in Estonia in the 700-seat sanctuary to officially open the Eesti Metodisti Kiriku with the song "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing." Bishop Hans Vaxby of Northern Europe Central Conference, which includes Estonia, said the new church and center "provides a window to God and to the world."

Methodism came to Estonia in 1907 and endured hardship and oppression during the later communist occupation. A Soviet bombing raid destroyed the Methodist church in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, in 1944. During the occupation, the communist government confiscated all church property and imprisoned church superintendents. Nevertheless, the United Methodist Church survived, and the Tallinn congregation met for decades in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The congregation numbered more than 800 before and after the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Vaxby.

Under the leadership of the Rev. Olav Parnamets, district superintendent, United Methodists began dreaming of a new church home in 1989. Four years later, after the fall of communism, Estonia's new government gave the Methodist church the right to retrieve the property that had been confiscated by the communists.

The building process for the Baltic Mission Center began with a $1 million gift from the Kwang Lim Methodist Church of Seoul, South Korea. During the dedication service, Bishop Sundo Kim, pastor of the Kwang Lim Church, reminded the congregation that this is the church of Jesus Christ and called upon them to "spread the good news of Jesus."

The Rev. Eddie Fox, world director of evangelism for the World Methodist Council, called the new church and center "God's miracle." He reminded those present for the dedication of the faithful leaders of the Methodist movement in Estonia, which had suffered under an oppressive regime.

Pointing to the ship design of the new building, Fox challenged the Methodist people to "offer Christ." He told them "a ship's purpose cannot be fulfilled if it remains in the harbor. This church has raised the cross of Jesus Christ high above this beautiful city and now we must spread the gospel of Christ Jesus to bring wonderful news of healing, hope and salvation."

In addition to financial support from the Kwang Lim Church, churches, individuals and annual conferences in the United States gave money to build the first "home" for the Methodist family in Tallinn in more than 50 years.

The Holston Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church provided nearly $1 million and special benefactors of World Methodist Evangelism gave $700,000 to construct the new facility. More than $2 million was given though World Methodist Evangelism during the six years of construction, including support from the North and South Georgia, Oklahoma and Kentucky annual conferences.

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries contributed nearly $1 million from the Millennium Fund and the Advance, and other support came from the Mississippi Conference and "Friends of Estonia," a network of people from across the United States who sought the most effective ways to support the ministry and mission of the United Methodist Church in Estonia.

The Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary, with more than 50 students, is located in the center. The fully accredited seminary has one of the largest student bodies of any United Methodist seminary in Europe. Soundproof translation rooms enable students to attend class and participate in three languages simultaneously. Russian-speaking and Estonian-speaking students pray side by side as they prepare for the many facets of Christian ministry. One of the seminary graduates is serving as a missionary to Russian in the Siberian region. Many of the graduates are serving as pastors of new congregations in Estonia and Latvia.

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NOTE: The Rev. Eddie Fox, director of world evangelism for the World Methodist Council, provided much of the information for this story.

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