By Elliott Wright*
KAUNAS, Lithuania — The Rev. Eduard Khegay, a pastor, teacher, and church executive, was elected on Oct. 19 as the new bishop of the Eurasia Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church, effective at the start of 2013. He succeeds Bishop Hans Växby, who is retiring, in the post based in Moscow, Russia.
Khegay, 42, was picked on the first ballot during the quadrennial meeting on Oct. 17-20 of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference of the denomination. He received 43 of the 62 valid votes cast. Born in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, he will be the first United Methodist bishop from the former Soviet Union.
Khegay says that his “mission is to inspire people to become Christ-like and [to] develop into full God-given potential to serve God and people.”
The new bishop has been the pastor of the Raduga United Methodist Church in Moscow and assistant to Växby since 2005. He has also held a wide range of positions within the Russian United Methodist Church over the past dozen years. He has continued an affiliation with mission and educational ministries in that area.
Methodism had existed in in the St. Petersburg area and in Siberia prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Suppressed there and in Soviet-dependent states for decades, it reemerged when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
At the time of the collapse, Khegay was a student in hydraulic engineering at Bauman Moscow State Technical University, graduating in 1993. That same year, he began to study at the Moscow United Methodist Theological Seminary. He would go on to receive a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta and a Doctor of Ministry degree in 2010 from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. He was ordained as a United Methodist elder in 2001.
The two previous bishops of the Eurasia Area were present at Khegay’s election. They are, Växby, who is retiring after tenure of eight years, and Bishop Rüdiger Minor, who presided from 1993 to 2005. Växby is a native of Sweden. Minor is a native of Germany.
The Eurasia Episcopal Area stretches across 11 time zones of Eastern Europe and the whole of Russia. In addition to Kazakhstan, the area includes Belarus Moldova, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.
Khegay returned to the country of his birth to serve as district superintendent from 2009 to 2011 and up to his election as bishop was director of international relations for the Center for Church Leadership in Central Asia.
He was a pastor and superintendent in St. Petersburg from 2003 to 2005. In 2006, he played a major role in the start and management of Mesto Vstrechi, the Russian edition of the world-renowned daily devotion guide known in English as The Upper Room.
He has also played an active role in the Russia Initiative, the first of what became an extensive series of recent church development efforts, collectively known as In Mission Together, of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The plan involves partnerships between Eurasia congregations and local churches and regional associations of churches in the United States and Western Europe.
Khegay is married to Victoria Nogay, and the couple has daughter, Liudmila, born in 2001.
As in the United States, local United Methodist churches around the world are organized into increasingly larger regional groups: numerous districts, dozens of annual conferences and seven central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe. Two active bishops now lead the 11 annual (regional) and provisional conferences that form the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference.
In the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference, a bishop is first elected for an eight-year term. After eight years, the bishop can be elected for an additional four-year term. If the bishop qualifies for retirement at the end of 12 years of service, the bishop retires and then is considered a “bishop for life.” If the bishop is too young to retire, the bishop returns to his or her annual (regional) conference as a pastor and surrenders the “episcopal status.”
The United Methodist Book of Discipline directs bishops to “guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church” and to “lead all persons entrusted to their oversight in worship, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in their mission of witness and service in the world.” Bishops also are to be “prophetic voices and courageous leaders in the cause of justice for all people.”
*Wright is a long-time reporter on United Methodist news. Heather Hahn of United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.