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New Methodist general secretary views Church’s path ahead

By Paul Titus

Along with handling the practical nuts and bolts of running the Methodist Church, in-coming general secretary Rev David Bush wants to help the Church become more relevant and effective in the 21st century.

David says the Church must focus on what it has and what it can do rather than bemoan its shortcomings.

"It is easy, as a Church or as congregations, to focus on the fact that we have fewer numbers and resources than we once did, and then to feel powerless. The challenge is to look at those in need in our communities and ask how the values of the Gospel intersect with those needs.

"The Church has always faced obstacles but if we look for opportunities we will be able to use the gifts, grace, and ability that we’ve got."

An example David points to is the preschools some Tongan Methodist congregations in Auckland have started in partnership with the Department of Education.

They saw a need for good quality preschool education in their communities, in some of the most difficult parts of Auckland. Starting the preschools has provided training and employment for a number of Tongan women.

"I strongly believe the message of the Gospel is still relevant and necessary in our society today. Our moral values and the sense of community the Church creates should be part of our social fabric. The Church must also be prophetic and challenge society when we become dehumanising.

David believes regional coordination will play an important role as the Church looks to create space for new things to happen.

"It may be that one or two churches in a city decide to promote new styles of contemporary worship, for example. Strategies created at the regional or synod level can sit alongside the initiatives of local congregations," he says.

"Small groups, such as Wesley’s class meetings, are the best way for lay and ordained people to support one another. Synods have the capacity to be that sort of grouping.

"Synods have a better capacity to dream and vision than unsupported individuals. They have the resources to be more courageous and risk taking than congregations can be."

David believes holding Methodist Conference every two years rather than every year would be a positive step. It requires much time and effort to prepare for Conference, and people must focus on that rather than community initiatives. And in the current annual cycle, does not provide enough time during the year to thoroughly consult on the major issues.

While some doubts have been expressed in recent years about the health of the ecumenical movement and the willingness of the parent churches to support Uniting Congregations, David says he does not see any diminishment in the Churches’ willingness to work together across denominational boundaries. Especially in rural areas the need for Christians to support one another will increase he says.

"As Methodists we want to see that our understanding of the Gospel and God’s relationship with us as one of generosity and openness is part of new ecumenical projects.

"The other contribution we bring as Methodists is our tradition of social and political activism. Methodists were involved in the earliest unions and in the anti-apartheid movement. Today this includes the movement to support social justice regarding human sexuality.

"Less than a generation ago, the vast majority of people held the view that anything other than heterosexuality was somehow wrong. Now science, medicine and more recently theology have shown us that this is not necessarily the case. Sexuality is a continuum and people are naturally at different places along that continuum.

"The Methodist Church of New Zealand has opted to order its life according to the Human Rights Act, which opposes discrimination on the basis sexuality among other things. Therefore sexual orientation should not be a ban or barrier to ordination," David says.

"As in every issue where there is a profound difference of opinion, we are committed to actively dialog and listen on this topic."

David says the key issue for the Church is to allow people to experience the transformational love of God and that means presenting the good news in ways younger generations can hear and relate to. That is something we as Methodists understand from our beginnings in the risky boundary breaking ministry of John and Charles Wesley.

"If I can help the church take risks in mission, then I will be well pleased," he concludes.