Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sailing the Church Drua on the Winds of Change

Last week, a son, grandson and great-grandson of Methodist missionaries posted a very interesting reflection on the Induction Service of the President of the Methodist Church in Fiji on his facebook page.
The leadership of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma in
front of the Centenary Church last Sunday, September 1.
The author says the Methodist Church in Fiji is called to
be "kingdom of God-oriented"
He wrote: “The Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma came full circle yesterday (Sunday) when Reverend JosatekiKoroi laid hands on Tuikilakila Waqairatu and ordained him to head Fiji's largest Christian denomination.

Koroi - ousted as waves of ethno-nationalism surged through the country and the church in the wake of SitiveniRabuka's 1987 coup - returned after close to 25 years in exile.

With fellow moderate Reverend Dr IlaitiaSevati Tuwere he oversaw the transfer of the mantle of church leadership to the men they hope will chart a new course for close to 250,000 Methodists.

It was a hugely symbolic gesture. At the Methodist Conference in 1989 in Suva's Centenary Church, Koroi was shouted down by ministers and laity alike and driven into exile. Threatened with violence, his wife Nola humiliated by threats of sexual abuse, Koroi has lived most of his life since then on a farm at Pacific Harbour.

Yesterday the white-haired pastor returned to the building from which he was exiled to hand over leadership at an event which marked the beginning of the 2013 conference.

Despite the prolonged stand-off between the Methodist Church and the interim government, Waqairatu and General Secretary Tevita Banivanua are moderates in a largely conservative institution.

It is to these moderates that patriarchs Koroi and Tuwere placed the steering oar of the Methodist drua.

The gesture was a washing away of 25 years of bitterness, suffering and sorrow. It was symbolic of a fresh start, a rejection of past misdeeds and the close of a chapter best forgotten.

In the coming months, Waqairatu will wash the feet of his ministers as the church seeks forgiveness and healing. The ministers will wash the feet of the people and the action, it is hoped, will spread throughout the land.”

In the past week, the new media has covered perhaps more of a Methodist Annual Conference than they have in the past, and with good reason. The winds of change are blowing through the Methodsit Church in Fiji. But these are Spirit-filled winds. The Church’s President, Rev. Dr. Waqairatu has made it very clear throughout the conference of the changes the new leadership team hopes to effect.

In his opening address to the “Bose ko Viti”, Rev. Dr. Waqairatu highlighted the 12 Pillars that are to be the way forward for the drua (double-hulled canoe) of the Methodist Church in Fiji. These are:
1.      Salvation of people
2.      Family
3.      Education
4.      Youth ministry
5.      Constant nurturing of the peoples faith
6.      Renewal of worship and stewardship
7.      City missions and social services
8.      Training and  in-service training of our church workers
9.      Evangelism for the non-Christian segment of our society
10.  Inter-church and inter-faith relationship
11.  Finance and development of our church properties (land and building)
12.  Christian stewardship on other creations (Becoming  a Green Church)

Simply put, the Methodist Church in Fiji is called to be “Kingdom of God-oriented”.

The changes are not just in terms of a new Connexional Plan, review of the Church Constitution or the introduction of Remnant Giving, registration and utilisation of land given to the church and new more transparent accounting measures. Also highlighted last week, as part of the renewal of the church, was the emphasis on a return to the mission of personal and social holiness that is one of the hallmarks of Methodism.

The tradition of the Methodist movement begun by John Wesley, envisions social change as “social sanctification” In terms of social change, Wesley felt that it must come through the individual as a result of a spiritual change. Methodism as a “Social Religion” was a person living out the implications of their new faith as they circulated in the social order where they found themselves. He understood reform to consist in the spread of scriptural holiness.

As highlighted last week by local and regional news media, obstacles to this include excessive kava drinking, smoking and other practices that contribute towards unhealthy spiritual life and is manifested in lifestyle diseases and moral compromise.

Facebook reflection by the son and grandson of Methodist missionaries continues by saying:

“These will not be easy changes to bring about but Waqairatu and Bainivanua are intelligent, deeply prayerful men who have the fortitude and courage to make this work.

They inherit a church rich with tradition, financially challenged because of State-imposed restrictions, broken by the mistakes of the past.

For these men - both from Moala - the task will be to heal, rebuild and direct.

Perhaps it is fitting that they have been placed in charge of the new journey. When the Methodist Church in Fiji became independent of the Australasian Conference in 1964, its first president was Reverend SetarekiTuilovoni from the neighbouring island of Matuku.

Both islands are part of the YasayasaMoala Group, known for their strong sense of independence, a quality Waqairatu and Bainivanua will need on their journey.

It will be no easy task to convince the church - clergy and laity alike - to make the changes necessary in a rapidly developing world.

Waqairatu wants to see less church buildings constructed in a society in which places of worship symbolise wealth and devotion.

He has proposed tithing instead of annual gatherings to circumvent the difficulty of arranging national fundraising events and wants to evangelise to all people by feeding the poor through a network of soup kitchens. 

We can expect to see during his tenure an increased effort to involve the Indo-Fijian community and make them feel they are equal members of the church despite their dwindling numbers.

Traditionally the Methodists have been part of the three-legged stool concept central to the iTaukei psyche. Lotu (religion or the church), vanua (tradition and the land) and the matanitu (State) are the legs of the stool on which the iTaukei have sat quite comfortably.

Most Methodists saw the church as an extension of the State and the vanua. Indeed, the lines tended to become so blurred that they sometimes merged as one.

It was this which led dissidents in the church led by Rev ManasaLasaro to side with Rabuka in 1987 and push for a Christian state and a ban on Sunday activities.

When Rabuka stepped back from a total Sunday ban, Lasaro put the Methodists on the streets in an attempt to force the government to reconsider. Lasaro spent 30 days in prison, was pardoned by Rabuka and then sought revenge on Koroi.

Today the church - not of its own accord - appears to have severed links with the State.

Gradually it will move further away from political influence to the position it held in Fiji from 1835 – a voice of prophecy pointing out to the people the error of their ways, urging leaders to act justly and compassionately.

Waqairatu will need a firm hand to steer the Methodist drua through uncharted waters of change as the seas of State-imposed restrictions, doubt over past actions, impending elections and the rapid growth of new churches toss this massive vessel about.

The support of Banivanua will be valuable but Waqairatu will need the faith of his ministers – the crew – and the laity or passengers that he has the ability to lead through the tumult to safe harbour.”

The journey has been and will continue to be rough. But the leadership of the Methodist Church have recognised the challenges that this journey involves. The renewed logo symbolises the understanding of the new journey, “Na LakoYaniVou” and the conditions under which this journey will be taken.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”.

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