Saturday, December 6, 2014

Embracing Ecumenism – A Methodist Church in Fiji Perspective

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall on Wednesday 3rd December, 2014

The Wesleyan / Methodist Tradition
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement described religious liberty as the “liberty to choose one’s one religion, to worship God according to one’s own conscience.” He insisted that every person living had a right to do this. 

   Wesley’s Essay, The Character of a Methodist, attempted to speak for all Methodists, as well as himself: “…from real Christians of whatsoever denomination they be,” he wrote, “we earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all… Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough. I give the right hand of fellowship.”
Wesley also believed in religious liberty for Roman Catholics and was an ardent campaigner against all forms of straightforward persecution. He included the hymns of Roman Catholic priest John Austin and the dissenter Isaac Watts in the Methodist Hymnbook. His ecumenically celebrated, Letter to a Roman Catholic, was written in 1749 in Dublin. In it Wesley admits that bitterness exists on both sides set out to clarify what “a true Protestant” believed and what he though both groups were agreed on, those essentials which correspond with “primitive Christianity.” Hel pleaded that they “love alike,” even if they could not “as yet think alike in all things.”
Ted Runyon writes that in the context of the challenges facing the ecumenical movement today, “John Wesley emerges from the eighteenth century as a surprisingly ecumenical figure.” Wesley has, therefore, an important contribution to make to the current ecumenical challenges.
Wesley’s ecumenism was limited to a broadminded definition of the Church as, “the catholic to church is, all persons in the universe whom God hath so called out of the world as to entitle them to the preceding character,” referring the biblical concepts of having one body, one Spirit, one hope in Jesus, one baptism and one God living in his people. Wesley was willing to learn from the theology of other traditions, accepting what he agreed with and rejecting what he disagreed with. In this regard Wesley was supportive of recognising the visible unity and engagement in dialogue that the current ecumenical movement seeks.
The Methodist Church in Fiji and Ecumenism
The Methodist Church in Fiji has historically been an ecumenical church, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Pacific Theological College (the Pacific’s first regional Protestant theological institute) and the Pacific Conference of Churches. It is a member of the World Council of Churches and of both the Fiji Council of Churches and Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji. Ecumenical matters also have a place with the agenda of the church’s annual conference, although in the recent past this has been ignored as much of the focus has been internal.

This year, the 50th year of being an independent conference, the Methodist Church embarked on a reflective and revisioning process for finding a way forward. Part of this process included the recognition of the Methodist heritage of ecumenism within the Fijian context. This means celebrating the traditional Fijian values of relationship, community, mutuality and reciprocity which are also hallmarks of the Ecclesia Primitiva; while at the same time opening eyes, ears and hearts to embrace the wider community of faith.

This embrace of the wider community of faith is part of the new ecumenical paradigm. The challenge of embracing ecumenism more fully so that the spirit of kononia permeates all of Fijian society is a necessary challenge. But it is an encounter with other members of the body of Christ who are also seeking to manifest just peace in their communities. Such engagement is not only a reminder that we are not alone, but also an opportunity to struggle together, from the global to the local level for God’s shalom.

Last year’s 10th World Council of Churches General Assembly in Busan, South Korea, had for its theme the cry, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace!” This echoed the ecumenical call at the 2010 International Ecumenical Peace Convocation for just peace in the community, with the earth, in the marketplace and among people. From a Methodist perspective, the unconditional love of God and for God’s people, if expressed truthfully by the community of faith, should lead to a just peace in society – social holiness
The process of developing new Connexional or strategic plan for the Methodist Church has seen ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue being included as one of the 12 pillars for the Methodist Church in Fiji:
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 Connexional Plan’s Key Strategic Area #5 has the component of this pillar as Healing of the nation through strengthening relationship intra / inter church and inter religion (as well as civil society and government). The Intent of this Key Strategic Area is as follows:
·         That the Church encourages its members to have greater understanding and fellowship with other communities.
·         Acknowledgement of God’s Presence in Advocating Solidarity through the Whole Nation by ensuring democratic governance.
·         Encourage healing and reconciliation in Fiji beginning with members of the Church
·         That a more down to earth process of healing and reconciliation be implemented to foster better understanding, spirit of goodwill, mutual respect and tolerance

This Sunday, 7th December, leaders and members of the Christian community in Fiji are expected to gather at Centenary Methodist Church for a special ecumenical worship service to celebrate the contributions of the late Archbishop Jabez Bryce,Archbishop Emeritus Petero Mataca and the late Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu to the Ecumenical Movement in their ministries.

In an interesting twist, to celebrate the close relationship of the churches, speakers from the Methodist, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Churches will each pay tribute to a leader who is not from their own community of faith.

Religious, political and community leaders have also been invited to the service which begins at 3pm.

Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity

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