Albania OKs United Methodist Church

Tirana, Albania - Albania, a former communist nation which is now majority Muslim, has officially recognized the United Methodist Church.

Methodist Bishop Patrick Streiff, leader of the denomination in Central and Southern Europe, signed papers Aug. 20 that formally authorized the church.

About 60 percent of Albanians are Muslim, with the rest of the population divided among Albanian-Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and a slowly expanding Protestant presence.

Methodist missionaries began working in the small Balkan nation in the 19th century, when Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire. After World War II, the nation came under communist control and repressed religion until the 1990s.

In 1997, the United Methodists opened an aid center in the mountain village of Bishnica. The next year, the first 25 people were baptized and became charter members of The United Methodist Church of Albania. The church now has about 150 members.

Nearly 8 million United Methodists are in the U.S., with another 3.5 million church members overseas.