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Presidents's Address

The Following Sermon was preached by the Incoming President Rev Norman West on Saturday 2nd November 2002.

PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS

CONFERENCE 2002

Kia ora tautou

As I take up this task, I am conscious today of the many people who have shaped who I am. Family and extended family, tutors and mentors, people in parishes and friends have all contributed. Both those who have agreed with me and those who have not. I am conscious too of the process by which the Conference selected it’s President last year, and of people who were hurt at the time and since. I’ve been given encouragement and am grateful. At times I’ve wished this task had not been given to me. Then I decided to do it as well as I can. I will need your support and prayers.

What’s been happening to our Church?

In a sense we’re too close to provide a worthwhile historical perspective. While it might be said we’re part of the problem and too involved, so it’s difficult for us to provide useful historical evaluation, we dare not overlook the information available to us.

Our concerns in 1983 were about power sharing as we entered into a new partnership relationship. Some of the experiences during this journey were painful, hard to face, and yet essential if those who held more than their share of power in our Church were going to come to grips with what they were doing to those who had little or no power.

We’ve spent years talking and writing, negotiating and re-negotiating the structures of our Church. Did it all begin with the Stationing Process, and include consideration about how to “be Church” and result in the establishment of the Council of Conference? The role of Synods and Boards servicing local congregations and the functions of leadership were on the agenda. Perhaps we imagined the Church would be saved through restructuring, until one day we realized, many of us had responsibilities for the restructuring.

We’ve faced the issue of human sexuality and inclusiveness with passion and pain, with diversity of viewpoint and division in relationships, as if it was the only gospel issue that mattered when, in fact, it was one of many gospel issues. We did not seem to notice the world was away ahead of us.

As a consequence we became deeply divided and the focus was turned to what it meant to be evangelical. We did not seem to recognise or accept diversity of viewpoint and as a consequence we failed to deal with the theological issues that lay in behind our divisions. Too little time has been given to careful listening. It would have helped us find creative ways to live with difference.

While we know a great deal about processes we’ve not always been open and creative together. At times we’ve pushed each other around and we’ve wanted other people to jump through our hoops.

I suggest the time has come to move on.

But before we consider how to move on I want you to know I am committed to the partnership between Te Taha Maori and Tauiwi, as I believe our Church is committed. Council of Conference has been talking about sensitive use of language. Tauiwi are working at how to share power within their multicultural partnerships. While some people have difficulty with the words Tauiwi and Pakeha I find these words affirming and empowering.

Let me remind you of “The Mission Statement” printed in the Conference Agenda. Please read it to see the distinction between the Gospel and partnership commitment.

Now I offer some suggestions about how we might move on. For not to move on will have serious consequences for our Methodist movement.

We might ask why? In a sense we deserve to die. If we go on doing what we have been doing to each other we deserve to die!

George Goodman in his sermon as President in 1964 took the words of Jesus about the grain of wheat that must fall into the ground and die if it is to live. He applied Jesus’ teaching to our Church commitment to Church Union at that time and suggested we be willing to die in favour of new life in a united Church. George was talking about a Church that would die in order to live. What he said at the time made sense and seemed to be right for our Church.

But we’ve moved on from Church Union negotiations. At present there are no indicators we will go back to them, in spite of where this leaves Union Parishes and Co-operative Ventures. Something quite different is happening to us now. I believe we are living to die. What we’re doing deserves death, and we’re all responsible for it!

We are living to die, when need to be living to live! We need to talk openly, listen and learn to trust each other, welcome rich diversity of gospel living and hear what we are saying to each other.

We still need to face up to power sharing. Recently I was at a meeting of Methodists in Auckland where power sharing was mentioned, and immediately the subject was changed! I believe our Church can set about living to live again if one of the issues we face up to is power sharing, especially within our Tauiwi partnership, and within the partnership between Te Taha Maori and Tauiwi.

We live in a new age in Aotearoa New Zealand, in a country with many new cultures. There is a challenge for our nation established on the basis of a special Treaty, developing at considerable speed now into a complex multicultural society.

As we think about how we will move on I offer you insights from “The Isaiah Vision” by Raymond Fung. A book appropriately subtitled “An ecumenical Strategy for Congregational Evangelism.” I see his work as a strategy for being Church. The text for the Vision comes from Isaiah 65:20-53.

“No more shall there be?an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person that does not live out a lifetime?They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyard and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit, they shall not plant and another eat?.My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity?”

I offer you his summary of the vision. God wants a community in which:

• children do not die

• old people live in dignity

• people who build houses live in them

• those who plant vineyards eat the fruit

Raymond Fung went on to say of the vision:

• it makes universal sense

• it communicates well

• it is easy to relate to our own context

• it helps us to asses human behaviour, actions and policies

He says, “The vision is about partnership. Local congregations who see themselves as partners in the community. Partners are equal, know their limitations, know what they have to share and expect others to give their fair share. Partners have their own favourite agenda, but do not impose it on other partners.

Raymond Fung also knows we need to worship together if we are to address the Isaiah vision, so we celebrate the great love of God and are reminded we do not labour alone, rather in a community of support for each other.

As well, the vision provides an invitation to a discipleship, which affects behaviour, attitudes and values, indeed one’s very identity. There’s a personal invitation, and by name, ‘You are invited to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.’

If we become involved in a strategy for the vision we will know with clarity the Church is not the building, or the clergy or the organisation. The work of the Church is the work of the people, involved where they are, in their homes, suburb or neighbourhood, market place, community organisation, trade union, cooperative, chamber of commerce, political party?in fact their whole life and all their activities.”

I remind you again of Raymond Fung’s summary of the Isaiah Vision teaching. God wants a community in which:

• children do not die

• old people live in dignity

• people who build houses live in them

• those who plant vineyards eat the fruit

There are many ways to do the Isaiah Vision, as there are many ways to do the Jesus vision.

I want to mention the game theory by John Nash who became notable in New Zealand this year with the showing of the film “A beautiful mind.” Brian Easton referred to the game theory which concludes that if prisoners compete against one another the outcome is worse than if they co-operate. If we compete against one another the outcome is worse than if we co-operate. To compete will bring death. The question is, can we learn how to co-operate?

A paper prepared for The Central Committee of World Council of Churches meetings this year says, “The Churches take on a ‘prophetic role’ when they truthfully describe and react to situations in the world precisely in the light of the gospel. ?..A prophetic voice can never be divorced from the pastoral role, which includes building up, encouraging and comforting” and, “The pastoral and prophetic task stand together.”

Yes, indeed the pastoral and prophetic need to stand together!

The paper reminds us that, “dialogue on social and ethical matters presuppose we are not content simply to “agree to disagree” on moral teachings, but are willing to confront honestly our differences by exploring them in the light of doctrine, liturgical life, and Holy Scripture.”

Konrad Kraiser said to the Central Committee, “peace and justice are inseparably related, and apply as much to our life as the world.” He went on during this “Decade to Overcome Violence” with a call to face up to our violence with each other, rather than get into the vicious circle of violence and counter violence.

A few months ago David Bromell wrote a critical analysis about violence and said “violence is a relational failure.” He asked “how can we make contact with one another, and contain our disturbances, our dark impulses, as distinct from ignoring them, compensating for them, or otherwise pretending they don’t exist?” If we are to address violence, we will need to begin with reflection about our own violence, if our Church is to be free of violence.

A World Council of Churches paper speaks about “principles for dialogue.” These principles will help our Church set about living to live! I offer you an edited selection from the principles:

Dialogue is a process of mutual empowerment, not a negotiation between parties who have conflicting interests and claims.

In dialogue we affirm hope. Dialogue is not an end in itself. It is a means of building bridges of respect and understanding. It is joyful affirmation of life for all.

In dialogue we grow in faith. Dialogue drives all communities to self criticism and to rethinking the ways in which they have interpreted their faith traditions

In dialogue we nurture relationships. Building bonds of relationships with those considered “the other” is the ultimate goal of all dialogues.

In dialogue we must be informed by the context. Dialogue takes place in a concrete setting. Awareness of such realities as historical experience, economic background and political ideologies is essential. Further, differences in culture, gender, generation, race, and ethnicity also have an important impact on the nature and style of interaction.

In dialogue we strive toward mutual respect. Dialogue partners are responsible for hearing and listening to the self understanding of each other’s faith.

In dialogue it is important to respect the integrity of religious traditions

Dialogue is a co-operative and collaborative activity. All partners need to be included in the planning process from the very beginning.

In dialogue we strive to be inclusive, since dialogue can easily become an elitist activity and be confined to a certain strata of society.

So I dream of a Church living to live. Yet I wonder if we want to set about living to live?

President, Mary Caygill challenged us to be a more graceful Church, dealing with each other graciously. Sadly I do not see many signs that we’ve have chosen to do so. I believe it means living in relationship with each other, so when we disagree vigorously we give affirmation to each others being.

I believe in a careful Church. A Church full of care. But not a Church so careful we take no risks. A careful Church - a Church full of care!

I am left wondering if we will have the determination to become a Church living to live?

At this Conference we will give time to share stories with a Community Focus. A number of people or groups will tell their stories. We hope you will go home with at least one germ of an idea for your parish to explore. As I’ve already said, we need to get beyond some of the issues which have taken so much of our attention and energy to keep us turned inward.

Church Union discussions did not let the world set our agenda.

Church restructuring focused on management and internal functions.

Our discussions about human sexuality had a narrow Church focus, while there was a need to support people damaged by harsh judgmental attitudes toward their being.

Evangelical discussion became structurally focused, to do with how we cope with each other, rather than working through theological issues.

“Breaking The Cycle” gives us some Mission and Parish good-news stories. Yet the majority of parishes have yet to catch the vision of community involvement and empowerment.

I believe there is a need to see things differently, in order to do things differently.

The Fire Officer who’d been at ground zero with his team on the days following September 11th was asked, “how it has it affected you?” He’d been there to help take out the body of the Fire Chief and other firemen from the rubble. He knew about the only person, a woman, who got out alive a day or so after September 11th. The Fire Officer said, “I now see things differently. I see the world differently!”

I believe this is a critical question for us to consider:

At this time in our history, do we now see things differently?

And if so, do we want to do things differently, with a determination to work at community involvement and empowerment, in the name of a loving God?

I hope so!

Amen

Norman West

Rev Norman West is Presbyter of the Takapuna Methodist Parish and President of the Church for the 2002 - 2003 Connexional year.

President’s Sermon Methodist Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

The Rev. George Goodman -1964

The Isaiah Vision – An Ecumenical Strategy for Congregational Evangelism

Raymond Fung Published by the World Council of Churches

A Beautify Theory – But its only a game

Brian Easton Listener - July 13 2002

Report on Orthodox participation in the World Council of Churches

The Central Committee - August/September 2002

Report to the World Council of Churches Central Committee

Konrad Kraiser (General Secretary) - August 2002

Reflecting on Violence

The Rev’d David Bromell

Keynote Address – North & South Canterbury District Synod - August 2002

Report on Orthodox participation in the World Council of Churches

The Central Committee - August/September 2002

Guidelines for dialogue and relations with people of other religions

Report for World Council of Churches meeting of The Central Committee - August 2002

President’s Sermon Methodist Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

Rev’d Dr. Mary Caygill - 2000