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Letter to New Zealand from Methodism’s man in Rome

Dear Friends,

It is now well over a year since I left Auckland for the city of Rome to serve as a Methodist representative to the Vatican, an initiative sponsored by the British Conference and the European Methodist Council.

I can report that I have been most warmly welcomed, both by my opposite number from the Anglican communion, Bishop John Flack, the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative

Methodist representative to the Vatican Rev Dr Trevor Hoggard
to the Holy See, and by Monsignor Don Bolen who is responsible for the international dialogues with both the Anglican Communion and the World Methodist Council on behalf of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Despite the recent tensions caused by pronouncements about the Protestant churches, relationships face to face here are very cordial and open. Whilst the ecumenical path remains a long and arduous one at times, all parties remain committed to finding a way forward towards that oft stated, but elusive goal of ‘full visible unity’.

For now, let me give a general idea of what this role involves. Rome inevitably attracts important visitors from around the world, from political as well as religious contexts. Such visits often entail a large ecumenical gathering, or a more private dinner at one of the embassies in the city. Frequently on such occasions I am the only Methodist representative in attendance, but at least now, for whatever it is worth, the family of Methodist churches around the world is acknowledged, alongside various Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran or other church families.

I recall with particular gratitude being present for Cardinal Walter Kasper's celebration of his 50 years of ordained service and being introduced to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at the Unity Week service last January. Just before last Christmas, the Irish ambassador arranged for a small party of us to go down below St Peter's basilica and view the old buildings unearthed there from sub-apostolic times and gaze on what are believed to be the bones of St. Peter himself.

Among these important religious visitors have been some readers of Touchstone. I am delighted to have been able to see so many of you from New Zealand in this first year or so of my time here and I'm getting the guided tour bit off to a fine art.

As a permanent resident of New Zealand, I hope you will allow me to wear the mantle of an honorary Kiwi from time to time (though that has slipped slightly in the recent Rugby World Cup). So it was a great privilege to lead the Monte Cassino memorial service this last May and I was commended by the veterans present for acknowledging by name the various commonwealth countries and other allies present in that awful battle.

Beyond Rome, in August I attended the European Methodist gathering held in Bratislava, Slovakia. This event attracted 1100 Methodists from as far west as Portugal to Russia in the east, from Finland in the north to Macedonia in the south. Quite an impressive array, which brought to my attention both the variety there is across the global family of Methodism, but also the very real and deep family ties that continue to bind us together.

In September, I attended the Third European Ecumenical gathering at Sibiu in Romania. This event attracted 2500 delegates and many bishops, patriarchs, abbots and lay leaders, plus political power-brokers from the EU and from Romania. This event served in my mind to show just how far we still have to go before we begin to understand one another across the whole multicultured face of the Church.

It will be a greater task yet to come to agreement on some of the more pressing ethical issues. Indeed, it seems to me that increasingly it will be our various responses to ethical issues that will become the sticking point between us, rather than some of the theological technicalities that have been the focus of our disunity for so long.

The controversy over the communiqu? from the Sibiu meeting illustrates the point. Had we agreed that human life should be respected “from the beginning to its natural death”, or from “conception”? Just what are the ethical values that can be “read directly from Scripture”? I'm sure you can begin to fill in the blanks for yourselves.

Lastly, let me speak about a future event. On 3rd December we will be celebrating the 300th Anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley at St Paul's basilica (second only to St Peter's in size and site of St Paul's mortal remains). Messages will be given by Cardinal Kasper, Rev George Freeman (general secretary of the World Methodist Council in USA) and delivered by his local representative, also from archbishop Rowan Williams. A choir will attend from Georgia, USA, and Rev John Barrett, president of the World Methodist Council is flying in from Hong Kong to preach and various leaders of the International Methodist/RC Dialogue team will also be present.

This is one example of the co-operation between myself, Mons. Don Bolen and Bishop John Flack. The hymns of Charles Wesley are sung by all our communions and so we thought this anniversary occasion a wonderful opportunity to come together on shared ground. Please remember this in your prayers.

Yours with affectionate memories of New Zealand-Aotearoa,

Rev Dr Trevor Hoggard