Saturday, November 22, 2014

Methodist Conference in Changing Times

The NZ Methodist Liberal Society is thinking through what its members saw of the 2014 national Conference just concluded. Some are uncomfortable with the ebullient presence of Pasifika members whose passion and commitment is so evident in the on-line photos. This, together with the failing mission and increasing age of the dwindling Papalagi congregations is radically changing the theological and ethnic balance of the Church’s makeup. 

This change is particularly reflected in the Conference, but it has not been so noticeable everywhere, of course. In the Far North where I have been for 23 years there are relatively few Pasifika people. The Methodist Church’s impact after 40 years of ecumenical administration has been only by way of over-bearing, insensitive and ill-considered decision-making. 

Naturally, the denomination is not what it was when some of us became involved. It is OK for us to feel a little nostalgic about that. But we should be grateful that we don’t have the endless debates where only a handful of persuasive speakers dominated the rostrum, that Maori have been given long-overdue recognition, that other ethnic groups and their vigorous church life are much better served, that social issues have resulted in practical outcomes over a sustained period, that sometimes business doesn’t totally dominate our national get-together.

We who feel the impact of a denomination with which we are no longer familiar might also be grateful that the old-timers who were scared stiff about what some of us young up-starts were doing with “their” church in the 1970s did not drag us all back into a past that they were more comfortable with.

However, at the end of the day, Conference is not really what the Church is about. A little note that used to be above my desk when I was Fieldworker in Ministry for the denomination in the 1980s, said: If the Church isn’t local, it isn’t real

I think that’s still the challenge to any Conference.

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