New Hope United Methodist Churchworships with church in Bulgaria
From The Greenbay Press Gazette
By Scott Williams
Members of a small church celebrated Christmas earlier than usual Friday with an organized gesture of international brotherhood.
New Hope United Methodist Church joined a partner congregation in Bulgaria with a synchronized Christmas Eve worship service linked via the Internet.
The exercise was scheduled so that both congregations would observe the same traditions at the same moment — and could watch each other through the telephone video service known as Skype.
Although the technological link proved less than perfect, New Hope members still felt a special holiday connection with a church full of strangers halfway around the world.
"It's hard to believe that it's all happening," said Lonna Calder of Green Bay, who attended the service with her husband, David.
The service was held at 9 a.m. to accommodate the time difference in Bulgaria, which is eight hours ahead of Green Bay.
Located just north of Greece, Bulgaria is a former communist nation where religious freedom was virtually nonexistent until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.
New Hope, which formed about four years ago, has forged a partnership and exchanged missionary outreaches with Russe Evangelical Methodist Church, in a Bulgarian community about the same size as Green Bay.
About 30 worshippers gathered inside New Hope, 1950 Dickinson Road, for the unusual Christmas Eve service.
"It's so important for all people to come together at Christmas time," said the Rev. Greg Jewison, who led the service.
An overhead screen showed an image of the small white Bulgarian church. Sporadic images of the congregation inside flickered on and off. Amid the holiday flowers and decorations at New Hope, a small camera was aimed at the congregation to broadcast images over to Bulgaria.
Worshippers sang holiday songs and prayed, and Jewison read a translated version of the sermon being delivered at Russe Evangelical.
Despite the technological failings, Jewison told those in attendance that the experiment was a noteworthy achievement.
"Peace has come between our countries," he said. "And we celebrate that."
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