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August 2010

British Methodists host gathering to rethink mission

By Paul Titus

How can the world’s Methodist Churches work together to transform a world beset by inequality, war and ecological destruction?

This was one question the Methodist Church in Britain (MCB) posed to a gathering of 200 representatives of Wesleyan/Methodist Churches from 60 countries. The consultation was held in London, June 21-24 as was part of the MCB’s celebration of the centenary of the 1910 Edinburgh conference on mission.

Methodist Church of NZ president Rev Alan Upson was one of those who attended the consultation. He says it was an impressive event that underscored how interconnected the world’s people are in the 21st century.

The gathering concluded that by combining their people, financial and intellectual resources, the world’s Methodist Churches can support one another and address global problems.

The title of the consultation was ‘Reimagining Future Mission’ and it focused on four key themes in the Methodist heritage: evangelism, economics and power, migration and hospitality, and government and Church.

Participants were asked to speak about their experiences in their churches and to take part in structured discussions.

“The British Methodist Church and the British Missionary Society made a substantial investment to bring us together,” Alan says. “It was an amazing gathering. All those present were from Churches with on-going ties to the British Conference.

“This included churches in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, Asia, the Pacific and even Eastern Europe. The grand opening in the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster included a small orchestra that played 'The Heavens Resound' from Haydn's oratorio The Creation and a Ghanaian choir who really lifted the event and made it a celebration.

“In typical Methodist fashion, the brilliantly played orchestral recessional music was a bit lost in the noise of conversation, and it is perhaps best not to remember the title in light of the event – Walton's 'Crown Imperial' march.

“Not only were we racially mixed, we came from a range of theological backgrounds. Nevertheless we had the spirit of Christ in common and we celebrated that in prayer, Bible readings, and lots of singing.”

Alan says the consultation revealed how far we have moved from our colonial past in the last century.

“In essence the British Church was saying ‘Come and help us. We don’t have all the answers’. It was as if the parents gathered their teenagers around and said ‘Tell us what life is about’. It was exciting.

“Mission used to be from North to South and from West to East. In the 21st century, it is from everywhere to everywhere. We have even moved beyond partnerships, which are based on one-to-one relationships. Now we are all interconnected in so many ways.”

Alan says the consultation focused on big picture issues and practical ways to achieve God’s mission by working together, though it did not get specific about particular projects. One suggestion that was well supported was that Methodist Churches could combine their financial resources to create a kind of world Methodist bank.

“The event showed me that New Zealand Methodist should take heart. We are coming to terms with our colonial history and we have much to share with the world. This includes financial resources but also the way we share power in the Church.”

In its summary of the event the MCB says God’s spirit is calling Methodists to

1) Enrich relationships between churches by valuing one another’s gifts and theological perspectives and by working together on global issues such as justice, migration and climate change.

2) Exchange people between churches and support people by training and scholarships.

3) Use financial resources responsively and responsibly through investment and loans as well as developing self sustainability. This also includes better use of communication technology; encouraging fair-trade; and developing a code of good practice for using money transparently and accountably.