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Smooth sailing for Methodist Conference 2004

The City of Sails put on fine weather and mostly smooth water for Methodist Church of NZ Conference 2004. As it tried out a new a new format, Conference put the final seal on some major decisions and referred some issues for further consultation and deliberation.

On the first day of the Conference (Friday Nov 5th), the Treaty partners – Te Taha Maori and Tauiwi – met in separate caucuses. On Saturday Ron Malpass and Rev Kenneth Smith were inducted as president and vice president (pictured) at Pitt Street Methodist Church in downtown Auckland.

On Sunday Conference again gathered at Pitt Street to celebrate the ordinations of Margaret Donald, Motekiai Fakatou, Viliami Finau, and Setaita Veikune in a service that featured vibrant singing by the Otara Tongan choir. Monday was the first of three days during which Conference received reports from working groups and made decisions.

Ron and Te Taha Maori tumuaki Rev Diana Tana agree the business end of Conference went well and the new format was effective. Though some delegates say the absence of committees of detail took away an opportunity for lay people to contribute, Ron believes it made space for input from outside Conference.

“The four life stories we heard – from Methodist Women’s Fellowship, the police, futurechurch, and Bonnie Hebenton – were very good. We couldn’t have had them if the time was taken up with a whole lot of business,” Ron says.

Diana echoes this and says it may take some time for people to get used to the new format. “It is important that people take the time to participate at the local level and in district synods to do the work that was done by committees of detail.”

Among the contentious issues that arose at Conference was the future of the church’s deacons. The Faith and Order committee had been asked to report on the advisability of bringing deacons into full Connexion. They recommended that the church do so but Conference referred the matter to the Council of Conference for further consideration and asked it to report to Conference 2005.

“The question whether to accept deacons into full Connexion is only one of the issues facing the diaconate,” Ron says. “The deacons are aging and their numbers have been dropping in recent years.

“There is a question whether it should continue to exist at all but in other churches around the world the community facing work of deacons is becoming more important. The future of the deacons is a critical issue and I think people appreciated deferring a decision until next year.”

Conference also decided not to seek damages from the breakaway members of the Otahuhu Tongan Church who sought ownership in the courts of the Methodist Church property they had occupied. The court awarded the MCNZ more than $190,000 in costs but the Church decided not to pursue payment in the hope this would lead to reconciliation.

Another move that will have some impact on the Church’s Tongan members was the decision to end the practice of accepting ministers on secondment from Methodist Churches overseas.

Ron says the decision applies to all groups though in recent years the practice has been restricted to ministers from Tonga. As an increasing number of men and women with roots in Tonga are trained in this country, Conference believes secondments are no longer necessary.

Another important step Conference in the president’s view was the formal acceptance of the memorandum of understanding that enables the Methodist Church of NZ to ordain people of all sexual orientations.

“Last year’s president Lynne Frith and those who took part in drafting the memorandum presented it to me, and I asked Conference to stand and formally mark its acceptance. Now it is up to each of us to make it work.

“It has created a point of difference for Methodists. It is really important for those who agree and disagree over the issue respect each other’s feelings without denying them.”

Conference selected Rev Dr John Salmon president-elect and Mary West vice president–elect. They will be inducted into their positions at Conference 2005.

In addition to its four new ordinands, this year’s Conference received into full Connexion Prince Devanandan, Jo Durrant, Sione Fatai, Rob Ferguson, Taufa Filiai, Andre Le Roux, Alan K Webster, and Gillian Woodward.