Although the Baltimore-Washington Conference and the Black Soil District are separated by 5,728 miles, with the Russian Initiative Partnership, the two places are now only a prayer apart.
In November 2008, Bishops John Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and Hans Växby of the Eurasia Area signed a covenant for "mutual learning, support and mission development."
The covenant links the 680 area American churches with the 17 churches of the Black Soil District, which lies 350 miles south of Moscow, spans 400 miles and represents what Växby calls "the heartland of Russian Methodism."
The Black Soil District is one of two large districts in the Southern Russia Conference. The district is the size of Texas and includes major cities like Voronezh, with 1.2 million residents, and Volgargrad, formerly Stalingrad.
This international partnership is the third for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, which is also linked in ministry with Zimbabwe and the Nambu South Conference in South Korea. "The relationships formed with these partnerships take us outside our walls and expand our discipleship in exciting and innovative ways," Schol said. "We learn a great deal from our partners."
The next step, the bishop said, is for local churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference to begin to create relationships and ministries with the churches of the Black Soil District.
Initially, these partnerships will include financial support. "It is almost impossible for a United Methodist congregation in Russia to thrive without outside financial support," said the Rev. Charles Harrell of Trinity UMC in Prince Frederick who co-chairs the Russia Partnership.
Harrell also envisions members of the two congregations praying for one another in significant ways. He imagines cultural exchanges and learning as relationships develop, and perhaps even sharing common ministries and mission.
For more information, contact Harrell at email@example.com