Yesterday, this ruling became official and the news is now public. Being fully recognized by the government is something that that has been in process for years and brings with it many benefits for the church here.
Before the church became recognized...
- Many Austrians saw evangelicalism as a "cult", rather than a legitimate faith
- Evangelicals pastors who worked on Sundays were technically breaking the law because of labor laws in Austria (though the law was never enforced)
- Religious worker visas were not available for missionaries or church workers coming here from other countries, as they are for other official religions (which is why we endured our complicated visa process)
- When Austrians are born and registered for the government and their parents wanted to mark their religion on official documents (which is standard here), evangelicals had to check the box "other" on the form
- Financially, evangelical churches functioned as "clubs" here, required to follow some regulations that really didn't apply to them (for example, having regular leadership meetings that had to follow format and voting rules)
- It will be considered a true, rather than half-way recognized, faith by many Austrians! It joins a group of 16 other state-recognized religions (to which Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, already belonged)
- It will have easy access to missionary/ministry worker visas!
- Austrian evangelical churches will get the same tax benefits as other churches in Austria
- The news has gone public and talking about this new reality can open up new opportunities to share with Austrians about the evangelical church, what we're all about, and what distinguishes us from other religious faiths in Austria
- The free church now has the right to teach religious education in public schools here in Austria. (I'm not sure of all the nuances of this, but I know it will open up new doors! But it will require the church to provide teachers, so we need to start recruiting.)
To read more, you can see an article here. Use google translate to read, if you can't speak German, of course!