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Reconciliation theme for world Methodist gathering

A delegation of New Zealanders was among the nearly 3000 people from around the world who gathered at a 10 storey church in Seoul, South Korea in July for the 19th World Methodist Conference.

The gathering of the World Methodist and Wesleyan family takes place every five years. This year the Conference theme, ‘God in Christ, Reconciling’, was inspired in part by the Korean Methodist Church’s invitation to pray for peace and unification of the Korean peninsula.

Kiwis who attended the Conference were Methodist Church of NZ general secretary Rev Jill van de Geer, Rev Mary Caygill, Rev David Pratt, Rev Kepu Moa and wife Maaimoa Moa, Rev Nigel Hanscamp, and Rev Anne Stephenson.

The four days of Conference were filled with worship, Bible study, speakers, choirs, and reports of the Council’s nine standing committees. On the Sunday of Conference there was a prayer service in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea attended by 450 international delegates and 300 Koreans.

A major event of the conference was the signing of joint declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist Churches.

Nigel says the signing of the joint declaration was a momentous event. The document sets out a common understanding on justification.

“This is a major theological issue that has divided churches since the Reformation. Justification is the understanding that, in spite of all the things that separate us from God, people can be in a right relationship with God. It expresses that through the death of Jesus Christ redemption is available to all.

“Some of the things expressed in the document as common understandings between Catholics and Lutherans are; that justification is the work of God, it is not something we earn; that all people are called to be saved; and that the message of justification directs us to the witness of the New Testament to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”

Discussions on this topic have taken place between the Lutheran and Catholic Churches for 15 years. As a result of Methodist-Catholic dialogues around the world, including NZ, Methodists have now joined the agreement reached by these two churches.

All who attended World Methodist Conference agree on the high calibre of the speakers, who addressed the theme of reconciliation. Many spoke personally and movingly of their own experience in places such as Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.

Mary says the opening keynote speaker was widely respected Korean theologian Dr J C Park. Dr Park spoke on the theme ‘God in Christ Reconciling’ and he interwove his talk with poetry, dance, and music.

“Dr Park conveyed something of the meaning of the Conference logo – a four coloured cross representing the four corners of the earth. Wearing Korean traditional dress he danced the rhythm of the four colours,” Mary says.

“He explained God’s feast of life in the midst of death and violence as witnessed in the Korean peninsula and other parts of the world. And he spoke eloquently of the God embodied in the multicoloured cross of boundless hospitality.”

Mary was also impressed with the talk by general secretary of the All-Africa Council of Churches Bishop Mvume Dandala. She says Mvume spoke to the challenge at the heart of our Wesleyan heritage – the need to engage in both personal and social holiness. He highlighted the needs to link word and deed and for Methodist people to make global social justice the platform on which to build the future.

Similarly Kepu highlighted the Bible study led by Rev Trevor Howard of South Africa. Trevor focused on Romans 8:22-27 and spoke of the need to respond to the groans of the world with reconciliation. Rather than pray to go to heaven, we should pray to bring heaven to earth, as in the Lord’s Prayer – ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Another important development that took place during the Conference was a discussion between the leaders of the MCNZ and the Methodist Church of Korea Seoul South Conference to develop closer ties.

During the Conference the NZ delegation was hosted for a day by Korean minister Rev Paul Hwang who served as a pastor at Beach Haven in Auckland for four years. Paul gave the Kiwis a tour of Seoul. It included a look at the division between rich and poor in a country where most electricity comes from nuclear power but many farmers still use bullocks to plough.