Tuesday, November 3, 2015

“Praise Be”

Off the Wall 12/8/15

As the second term holidays approach, Suva City comes alive with multitudes arriving for not only the Hibiscus Festival, but also the Methodist Church’s Annual Conference, and Solevu and Choir Competition. With up to 788 choirs taking part in the week-long programme, the Choir Competition has been a prominent feature in the Fiji music scene for the last 50 years.

The history of a Methodist Choir competition in Fiji goes back to the inauguration of the Methodist Church in Fiji Conference in 1964, with the Conference Cup being awarded to the Raiwaqa Methodist Church Choir, conducted by Ratu Aca Dina Vunakece. Raiwaqa kept the Conference Cup for another 2 years before relinquishing it to Nasova/Nasese Church in 1967. In 1978, the cup changed to the Raiwalui Cup and was won by the Centenary Church Choir, conducted by Sir Josua Ralulu Rabukawaqa. Centenary also won the Methodist choir competition in 1981 when once again the cup was changed, this time to the Ratu Cakobau Trophy. The cup was to change names twice more, to the Koniferedi Cup in 1986, won that year by the Kadavu Choir and to the Ratu Aca Vunakece Cup in 2003, won again by Centenary Church. A separate cup, the Sir Josua Rabukawaqa Cup, for Category One Choirs (those with over 80 members singing) was launched in 1991.

This Friday the 2015 Methodist Church in Fiji’s Annual gathering will begin in Suva with children singing praises to God in Toorak’s Furnival Park. Out of the mouths of babes, the tone for the Methodist Church 2015 Solevu will be set. Yet for the first time, the Solevu will not be a choir competition but instead a festival of praising God through song, through music, and even in dance.

One may think that because there is no longer a trophy to sing for, the numbers of choirs participating this year would be low. However the desire to sing to the Lord, even a new song, and the fellowship at this annual gathering of the Methodist Community has proven very strong, with over 300 choirs registering for the festival of praise. It is also not only choirs that will take the stage.

This year, for the first time a special category of “Bhajan” or hymns in the Hindi language has been included in the programme. This will include both traditionally sung hymns, with traditional instruments being used, as well as hymns accompanied by modern instruments. This celebration of the diversity within the Methodist family also has traditional dances from a number of different cultures during the lunch hours.

The Solevu will be traditionally opened by the Methodist Fijian fellowships from the South Hemisphere, represented by New Zealand and Australia on the 15th of August and closed by the North Hemisphere fellowships, represented by the United States of America and Great Britain.

This celebration of faith in song, music and dance forms a prelude to the Annual Conference which will also have a number of significant moments.

The first of these will be the induction service of the President, Vice President, General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary and department heads who were elected at last year’s conference. While the programme for the service is still being finalised, it looks to build on the last induction service in 2013 to be a further celebration of the inclusive community that the Methodist Church hopes to become through its Lakoyani Vou or New Exodus.

In a first for Conference, the ordination service for those ministers who have completed six years of ministerial formation and practical experience, will not be held on the Sunday following the conclusion of the conference but will take place during the conference itself, on the evening of Wednesday the 26th of August. This change frames the ordination service as part of the conference, rather than an event at the end and provides the newly ordained ministers with the recognition of the full conference who will be present.

While the business of conference, its agenda, is set by the Church’s constitution, this year will see a revised constitution presented to the conference for adoption, marking the end of a three-year process which included consultations with and recommendations from the congregations via the divisional annual meeting. The new constitution will bring in some positive changes for the church and also ensure that regulations and issues that need to be constantly updated to keep up with the Church’s journey can be done so without impacting the foundational document of the Church. Along with the new constitution, the long-awaited Code of Conduct for ministry and lay leaders, which also has been developed over the past two years, will be presented to conference for adoption. This will provide clear guidelines to the behaviour expected of their ministers, deaconesses and leaders for effective ministry for the people of God and for the protection and wellbeing of those they serve.

These changes, and other issues to be discussed, ring in a new song for a New Exodus.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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