By Bishop Patrick Streiff
Women have been influential in my faith journey, as have been men. I grew up under very mixed influences. On my mother’s side, we were Methodists, on my father’s side, Roman Catholic. My mother was more extrovert and emotional, my father more introvert and rational. My mother went to church every Sunday; my father stopped going to church when he left home. My mother had a deep, loving relationship to her Saviour; my father had a lot of critical questions towards all the Catholic tradition he inherited. He was thoroughly a scientist. My brother and I grew up in this mixed environment. We heard the Bible stories and went to children’s Sunday school. Once or twice a year, we had a lot of fun in larger children camps organized by the local Methodist church in the Swiss Alps. But it was not evident at all to grow in faith in adolescent years. It was in the aftermath of ‘68.
In children’s Sunday school, we had women and men teaching in a good mix. But the pastors were all men at that time. In my teenage years, I remember the appointment change in my local church. The new pastor was much younger and had better pedagogical skills for teaching catechism. We had good, lively discussions on God and the world. I do not remember details, but he caught my attention to seriously think about my own faith. Most persons who were role-models in my teenage and youth years in preaching, in teaching and in discussing faith-issues were men like him. But there was one exception.
I guess it was around age 15 or 16. I was much interested in questions of faith and I struggled to find meaningful answers to my questions. Would my initial, child-like love of Jesus, my Saviour, stand the test of reason, and add value and meaning in modern life? If so, it certainly had to be a liberating force. In the midst of this quest, a friend gave me a book which talked about Jesus. But it did so in different ways from what I had heard in Methodist circles. It presented a political Jesus, a Jesus who liberated those in captivity, and who was willing to pay the prize of his beliefs. I was fascinated in reading the book. I fully recognized the same Jesus whom I knew from children’s Sunday School, but with a new, larger, more wholistic dimension of his ministry. It convinced me that Jesus has not only come into this world for saving our souls, but also to transform lives and shape society.
Of course, other books were also influential, and input from other lay and clergy, pastors and bishops, Protestants and Catholics. They all helped me to discover and live myself into that reality which Paul describes that Christ has set us free for freedom, for a faith working through love (Galatians 5:1,6). Most other persons were men, but this one book was written by a woman theologian, Dorothee Sölle.
Bishop Patrick Ph. Streiff was elected bishop of the United Methodist Church in Central and Southern Europe in 2005. Besides his service in this very diverse Episcopal Area, Patrick Ph. Streiff is chairperson of the “Geneva Consultation” for theological education and leadership development in French-speaking Methodism (especially in Africa) and of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. In addition he is a member of the Connectional Table, of the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church, of the Task Force of Theological Education and Leadership Formation and of the Task Force “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action.”