Begining this morning the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma will hold its first annual conference since 2008. Over the next three days new leadership will be chosen, about 26 probationary ministers (myself included) will seek the churches approval for ordination, and a number of candidates will seek entrance into the ministry. Important issues relating to the life and work of the Methodist Church will be discussed and decided upon.
While somewhat nervous about appearing in front of the leaders of the church for the final step in the six-year journey towards ordination, I am grateful for the journey itself. I am also encouraged about the future of the church in which standing with me will be a group fellow servants, who are not only diverse in background but also include six women (one of our sisters having passed away some years back).
It is the 48th year since the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma became an independent conference from the Methodist Church in Australasia. It is also the 268th year since the first Methodist Conference was held in London August 25th to 30th, 1744) comprising John and Charles Wesley, four other ordained ministers and four lay assistants.
According to the Wesley Centre Online, the key items on the agenda were:
1. What to teach.
2. How to teach.
3. How to regulate doctrine, discipline, and practice.
For two days they conversed on such vital doctrines as the Fall, the Work of Christ, Justification, Regeneration, Sanctification. The answer to the question "How to teach " was fourfold: 1. To invite. 2. To convince. 3. To offer Christ. 4. To build up. And to do this in some measure in every sermon.
In the light of later history the questions relating to the Church of England are of great interest. It was agreed to obey the bishops "in all things indifferent," and to observe the canons "so far as we can with a safe conscience." The charge of schism was anticipated thus:
"Q. 12. Do not you entail a schism on the Church that is, Is it not probable that your hearers after your death will be scattered into sects and parties Or, that they will form themselves into a distinct sect
"A. 1. We are persuaded the body of our hearers will even after our death remain in the Church, unless they be thrust out. 2. We believe, notwithstanding, either that they will be thrust out or that they will leaven the whole Church. 3. We do, and will do, all we can to prevent those consequences which are supposed likely to happen after our death. 4. But we cannot with good conscience neglect the present opportunity of saving souls, while we live, for fear of consequences which may possibly or probably happen after we are dead."
It was decided that lay assistants should be employed "only in cases of necessity." The rules of an assistant are terse: "Be diligent. Never be triflingly employed. Be serious....Speak evil of no one; else your word, especially, would eat as doth a canker."
It was decided that the best way to spread the Gospel was "to go a little and little farther from London, Bristol, St. Ives, Newcastle, or any other society. So a little leaven would spread with more effect and less noise, and help would always be at hand." It is evident that the towns here named were regarded as the centers of Methodism in that year. The belief was expressed that the design of God in raising up the preachers called Methodists was "to reform the nation, particularly the Church,': and "to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land." (Source: http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-xiii-in-conference-with-the-preachers/)
Two Sundays ago, I had the privilege of reading the Gospel lesson at the Centenary Church for the long-overdue induction of the current President, General-Secretary and Deputy General-Secretary along with some department heads who had been appointed in the last 3 years. The guest peacher at the service was the Bishop of the Nevada-California Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in the United States of America.
As Methodist ministers, deaconesses and lay leaders gather for the next three days to reflect on the past three year and envision the future of the Methodist Church, the words of Bishop Brown are food for thought.
Reminding his brother and sister Methodist of the call by Jesus to be salt of the earth and light to the world, the Rev. Dr. Brown made two important challenges to the congregation and to the church. The first was to align our will with God’s will and the second was to act out of love and bear witness of God’s unconditional love in all our actions.
These challenges are part of the Methodist tradition as John Wesley himself practiced what he preached in his constant work with the poor and the despised of the earth, and his involvement in the societal problems and controversies of his day.
Wesley did not entertain the illusion that we could bring the good news of God's limitless love to those deep in suffering without addressing that suffering. How can we expect anyone to understand (much less believe) the news that they are prized and welcomed by God when they are despised, disdained, abused and rendered nearly invisible by the human world on which they depend for identity and for survival - and when the bearer of God's invitation is content to leave them there?
For Wesley, the Christian declaration of the sacredness of human personality (the real reflection of 18th century individualism in his thought) could not be separated from addressing the realities, economic, political, social, and technical, which battered and suppressed that humanity and which wreaked such physical, moral and spiritual destruction among the poor.
Simply put, for Wesley, true Christianity meant doing good deeds for the benefit of their neighbours as a demonstration of God’s love and as a way of actualizing God’s kingdom.
For those of us who call ourselves Methodists, this is the tradition in which we are called to live and serve. It is this tradition in which the church’s leaders and members gathered at this year’s conference will be tasked with making their decisions.
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”