Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Methodist Church in Fiji's Way Forward

As people bid farewell to the late President of the Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu, many questions were asked about the reforms begun in the past year under his leadership. Statements from the Church have affirmed the Church’s commitment to Na Lako Yani Vou, the New Journey. In his eulogy for the late president, the Church’s Deputy General Secretary, Rev. DR. Epineri Vakadewavosa echoed this affirmation.

One of the key tools of the Methodist Church in Fiji reformation is its new Connexional Plan.

The idea of a Connexional Plan for the Methodist Church in Fiji is not new, for the first attempt to create one took place in 1999. This first attempt was somehow not translatable to all levels of church Divisions, Circuits and churches and ownership of that document by the Methodist Church was in question.

The idea did not evaporate away after that first attempt for leadership after leadership tried to consolidate a unified position to take the church forward. Since 2006 when the Church and Fiji Government were at different positions on issues relating to church life and especially expressions of that in the stopping of church meetings from Conference, Standing Committee down to monthly leaders meetings; the urge to have a corporate/connexional plan grew even stronger.

In 2009 after the cancellation of the Rewa Conference of the Church the then President – Rev. Ame Tugaue with the help of the General Secretaries office produce a twelve points plan to move the church forward. It was then titled– “The Way Forward”. Years following that, the twelve (12) points plan “The Way Forward” were mentioned at most of the Secretariat meetings.

It was in 2012 when the usual two weeks Methodist Church Conference meeting was reduced to 36 hours that the Way Forward was put before Conference for adoption. Government had opened up all church meetings and therefore the plan to have a Secretariat Retreat at the Nataleira Eco-Lodge in Tailevu North was planned. The proposed “Way Forward” was then to form the pillars of the church Corporate/Connexional Plan. It is hoped that since the themes or Pillars that made up the connexional plan grew out of a suffering church at prayer that this connexional plan will be a source of direction and strength for years to come for the Methodist Church in Fiji .

Last year, the 213 Annual Conference endorsed the draft Connexional Plan and its 12 pillars.

This is the heart of our Christian calling; to lead people to Jesus Christ. The task must be distinctively emphasized in the family, church groups, congregations, circuits, divisions and Annual Conference. Standard books in the people’s languages to assist in the nurturing of the people’s faith in all the various stages of the members’ faith journey are vital to be confirmed and available to both the trainers and the trainees. The Annual Conference of 2002 had resolved that at the age of 12, our children through the nurturing of their faith received from their family, Sunday School, and congregational worship should have reached a level of spiritual maturity to convince them to give their lives to the Lord.

The place and importance of family life in our church and society cannot be ignored. Family finds its origin in the heart and purpose of God. (Gen 1: 26) “Let us create mankind in our own image, and let them rule”….over the world of creation. Strong church, vanua and state reflect strong and healthy families. This is sadly not the case. Pre-marital counseling sessions to our young people not less than 3 months prior to their wedding to know the Christian understanding of marriage and family life are vitally important. The fundamental values of family highlighted in both church and society justify the establishment of a special Ministry of its own (Family Life Ministry) to serve the demanding needs of the family and as well as co-ordinating all the programmes from other secretaries or Departments related to marriage and family life.

Since its arrival, the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma treated Education as an indispensible part of her Christian mission. Her schools are avenues whereby both the imparting and acquiring of secular knowledges as well as nursery for broadcasting and germinating the seeds of the Christian Gospel of the Kingdom of God should take place. Our children need to be well educated for education is both liberation and power. It is an investment which we cannot regret. However, the present position of the infrastructure of many of our church schools hitherto is an inevitable demand to tackle. They badly need repairs and improvement so that our schools maintain their attractiveness and a enabling environment for learning.

We are part of the global community whereby change is inevitable. The church must learn how to handle change thoughtfully and creatively. It deeply affects the life of the church as an institution as well as the lives of her members. Confusion, lost, frozen faith, exodus to other faiths and denominations and brain drain, are common negative features associated with change. This is why the continuing spiritual education of the congregation is a must. The relevancy of their Christian faith against the teeth of the contemporary issues of the context that challenge the people’s faith is worth listening to. Not all the burning issues of the context can be handled by the clergy; the professional skills and the expertise of the laity should be identified, developed and utilized as well.

Worship is a time of renewal in the lives of the worshippers. During the week, people engaged themselves in different walks of life. Some of their engagements are enjoyable, while some, are bitter, disastrous and hopeless. Worship therefore is a time to meet the contrasting and controversial worlds of the worshippers. A time to strengthen the weak, to give sight to the blind, to heal the broken-hearted, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4: 18ff).
Worship, therefore demands good preparation. Messages from the pulpit need to be relevant, inspirational and revelational in nature. In this regard, a church on Sunday is a therapeutic centre where the people congregated with their spiritual, emotional and psychological needs to be healed. From the teaching point of view, a congregation at worship is a difficult class to handle. The pulpit message must be able to reach all the different layers of age groups, cultural backgrounds, world views and experience of the worshippers. Worship and stewardship are just the two sides of the same coin. Strong and effective stewardship within a congregation is a direct reflection of the healthy state of its spirituality.

City and urban centres are the meeting points of people from all walks of life from both overseas and local, urban and rural. The attraction of urban cultures to young people with its disastrous impacts in their lives are inevitable realities. Churches in the cities and urban centres must be sensitive to the needs of their flock and after services that pertinent to their problems and needs. Life live ministry, counseling, soup kitchen and coffee booth ministries, street evangelism and home visitation, public seminar, etc. are a few examples of the types of Christian service that some of our urban Churches are currently offering. The Christian Citizen & Social Services department of our church is doing social services, studies and retreats to tackle the above noted problems and as well as preparing people to become social workers and facilitators of their congregations. Hospital and Prison chaplaincy, Dilkusha and Home and Veilomani Boys Home in Ba, are living witness of our compassionate and sympathetic care and some to the poor and needy in society.“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sign to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luk 4: 18f)

This is an important aspect of ministry; the consistency of in-service training of our workers in the field. Winds of change in our society and their impacts in the people’s culture in their spirituality, mind set, attitude and value system cannot and should and be undermine. Both clergy and Lay Christian workers must be provided with appropriate knowledge and skills to be able to address the contrasting world’s needs of our people relevantly.

This is an on-going programme amongst our clergy and the Scholarship Committee is instrumental in consulting overseas scholarship donors for the purpose. Post graduate studies on Masters and doctoral levels with specialized fields of studies are emphasized. Academic excellence and spiritual highness are vital and indispensable sides in a scholar’s life.

This is an important aspect of our Christian Mission yet very little had been in it. We must be reminded once again that the Christian Gospel is for the world, its inclusive and global. [Great Commission Matt 28: 18 – 20). Studying the people’s culture their religion and language are appropriate pre-requisites for the work. Our nation building needs to be founded on strong foundation. The dream for a better and safe future for our children and to build a strong, righteous, prosperous and peaceful Fiji inevitably need strong, unified and genuine spirituality, pure and not syncretized.

This is an important aspect of our Nation building. Our society is pluralistic in nature. Ignorance, misunderstanding or having a distorted version of your neighbour’s culture and religion are obstacles to healthy nation building. Cross-cultural and religious communication and studies of our neighbours culture and religion should help with our mutual love and trust to guide us along the road of our Nation Building.

The Methodist Church is the third largest Land owner in the country. Some of these lands were purchased while others were donated by the people. With the establishment of the Land Registration and Development, our hope is that Divisions and Circuits will run commercial farming in order to generate revenue to the church. The development of our church land in the rural should influence or unemployed youths in the urban to return to the rural and farm the land to earn their living. The other side of the page is that it will also stop the rural youths drifting to town for agriculture is a promising source of Living.

Mankind is part of the world we live in. the Human centeredness of our physical and economic developments have destroyed other creations and our physical environments. We are now reaping the catastrophic costs of our selfishness as shown on landslides, drowning of low lying Atolls and islands, soil erosion death of marine life and climate change.
As Christians, we are called to revisit God’s model of creation in Gen. 1: 26. That our rulership and dominionship over the world of creation can be handled responsibly and justly only when we mankind are able to conform to the image of God. The image of God is God’s law and wisdom in a person that transform him or her to become responsible to the world of creation.
Their well-being is his responsibility given by the creation at the time of creation to be the “Responsible Stewards of God’s creation.”

Already three of the Church’s 56 divisions, Suva, Tavua and Macuata, are part of a pilot project to implement the plan and other division such as the Indian Division are working to translate the Connexional Plan into programmes for their circuits and local churches.

The Connexional Plan and vision and mission for the next 50 years will be launched in October this year as part of the conclusion of the Church’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

The journey has begun and will continue as the Methodist Drua sails on its new exodus, Na Lako Yani Vou.

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