Evangelical Methodist Church in Italy
The Methodist Church in Italy came into being in the second half of the 19th century. Methodism was spread by returning emigrants and by British and American missionaries who were convinced that with the "political revolution" for the unification of Italy (Risorgimento) the time had come for the 16th century Reformation finally also to take root in Italy. Their aim was not to establish yet another Protestant denomination but to support the Italians in their own spiritual awakening. They saw it as a ministry of "creating small centres in order to stimulate an enquiring spirit, bringing people to read the gospel and live it", and "planting, preaching, praying and working for the future". In 1904-05 the Free Church, an independent Italian Protestant church which had been very involved in the Risorgimento, merged with the Methodist churches. The work met with great difficulties during the fascist period (1920-45). In 1946 the two branches of Italian Methodism joined together and the Evangelical Methodist Church was born. It was a district of the British conference until 1962, when it achieved full autonomy. Since 1975 the Italian Methodists have brought their spiritual heritage and theological sensitivity into the covenant with the Waldensian Church: one church with one synod, but the two parts maintaining their individual identities, ecumenical and international relationships, finance and administration, and special projects.
From the very beginning, Italian Methodists have been committed to the poor, the marginalized, and the powerless. Schools, orphanages, workshops, mutual benefit societies, were founded throughout the country. It was a response to the problems confronting the poor, and at the same time a Christian contribution to the formation of new citizens for a more free and democratic society. As the social situations have changed, many of these church "institutions" no longer exist but some are still active and others have been created since the second world war, e.g. Ecumene, near Rome, built with the cooperation of young volunteers from all over the world and from different Christian denominations, as a witness to the unity of the church of Jesus Christ and a reference point for all those who identify reconciliation, justice and peace as the witness that churches are called to give.
Today no less than in the past, the Italian Methodist churches are an "open space" where everyone can receive the message of the liberating grace of Jesus Christ and have the personal experience of the inner transformation that makes the human being a witness of the kingdom of God within the life of the society. The main new challenge is the issue of a multicultural and religiously pluralistic society. The immigrants coming from Africa and Asia need to be received and supported, and above all to be listened to, in order to make their culture and religious sensitivity a richness for the whole nation. The Methodist Church has encouraged the development of integrated congregations, and new specific initiatives have been undertaken in various places. Almost every local congregation is in some way involved in this mission. Through their preaching and their testimony within the society, the Methodist churches intend to give the Italians transparent signs of the coming kingdom of God and to share their commitment with all those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness".