Features, Highlights

Sawubona! South Africa brings hope and God’s love to all

20th World Methodist Conference in Durban

THE 20TH WORLD METHODIST CONFERENCE opened in Durban, South Africa on Aug 4, 2011 with inspiring, worshipful singing accompanied by the vibrant African beat and a kaleidoscope of colours from the participants’ national costumes and their church banners.

Out of the International
Convention Centre in Durban rang strong melodious voices of the versatile African University Choir from Zimbabwe. The choristers’ singing, together with their infectious spontaneous swaying and dancing, led to a joyous start to the Grand Official Opening of the conference.

Other choirs which rendered equally inspiring songs in native languages and English included the Bishop Clarence Carr Mass Choir of Georgia and the Durban Metro Young Men’s Guild Choir. is was to become a daily treat for the senses, and without exception, every choir brought joy, hope and God’s love to all present.

Africa and Music. ey are twins. You cannot separate the two. This is Afrika! Sawubona! (Hello!).

The Rev Dr John Barrett, Chairman of the World Methodist Council (WMC), thanked South Africa for its hospitality as he welcomed some 1,850 Methodists from 58 countries throughout the world.

Stating that he was delighted that the conference had provided an opportunity for more Methodists from Africa to attend, he added that he was pleased to be in South Africa which is “symbolic of the fact that as our Methodist family grows, the centre of gravity of Methodism is moving south”.

Bishop Mike Voster of the KwaZulu Natal District, of which Durban is a part, described the conference as the “World Cup of Methodism”, to applause from the delegates. “Can you feel it?”, he asked rhetorically, referring to the mood of the gathering. “Feel it!”

The theme for the conference, held once in five years, was “Jesus Christ: For the Healing of the Nations”.

A visual history of the World Methodist Conference from its inaugural event in London in 1881 to the last meeting in Seoul in 2006 was shown on two large screens at the front of the conference hall.

Then came the procession of colourful banners of the participating World Methodist Council member churches to the tune of “We are Marching”, a South African composition sung in great style and precision by the African University Choir.

Dr Stanley Ling, a member of the General Conference of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) and a leader from the Chinese Annual Conference, carried the MCS banner with the Rev Dr Wee Boon Hup, head of the 11-member Singapore delegation, processing in beside him.

The Rev Dr Wee, who is the President of Trinity Annual Conference, stood in for Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, who could not be at the conference.

Besides him and Dr Ling, the other members of the Singapore team were the Rev Dr Chong Chin Chung, President of the Chinese Annual Conference; the Rev James Nagulan, President of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference; Mr Kim Seah Teck Kim, Mr Lim Soo Chin, the Rev Khoo Kay Huat, the Rev Dr Kow Shih Ming, Mr Edmund E, Mr Bertrand Tan and Mr Peter Teo.

In his Welcome Address, the Premier of KwaZulu Province, Sheikh Walid El Saadi, said it was a great honour and privilege for him to address the conference as Methodism’s founder John Wesley was “not only a great preacher but had also fought against slavery”.

The Premier, who is the General Secretary of the African Muslim League, added: “For me, that is very touching because Christians in this part of the world have actively participated in the fight against apartheid.

“Christians here have been involved in the fight against apartheid because they are fighting for equality. is is inspiring – the Church is continuing to fight for a just society; it is continuing to fight against poverty; it is reaching out to all who are suffering, the oppressed, the orphans, the widows, in all countries.”

Highlights of the conference included:

 The election of Bishop Paulo Lockmann of the Methodist Church of Brazil as the new Chairman of the WMC, succeeding the Rev Dr John Barrett of the British Methodist Church;

 The election of Bishop Ivan Abrahams, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, as the new General Secretary, succeeding the Rev Dr George Freeman of the United Methodist Church;

 A report on the Joint Commission for Dialogue between the WMC and the Roman Catholic Church presented by Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, the Methodist Co-chairman, which disclosed that work is continuing on “specified themes” and on producing a report on them to be entitled “Encountering Christ the Saviour: Church and Sacraments”. Dr Wainwright’s report contains six resolutions, one of which reads: “ The WMC endorses ‘full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life’ as the declared goal for relations between Methodists and Catholics.”

In addition to the worship and Bible study sessions, workshops and seminars, the conference organised other activities, including Sunday worship services in churches in eight communities, visits to historical sites, packing of food for 100,000 school children, distribution of stationery to children, and a historic Street Parade and Rally.

Women and youth leaders hold separate meetings

The conference was preceded by a three-day meeting of the World Methodist Council from Aug 1 to 3. Among other actions, it adopted a revised Constitution, elected new officers, and accepted three new members – the Methodist Church of Nepal, the Methodist Church of Tanzania and the Methodist Church of e Gambia.

Prior to this council meeting, about 70 youths attended a four-day International Methodist Young Leaders Seminar from July 28 to 31.

The series of meetings of the world Methodist family ended with the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women holding its conference in Johannesburg from Aug 10 to 15. Ms Dorothy Lim, President of the General Conference Women’s Society of Christian Service, led a nine-member team there.

Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message.

Story and pictures by Peter Teo in Durban