Highlights

19TH WORLD METHODIST CONFERENCE

Sep 2006    

METHODISTS from around the globe have been urged to be “agents of reconciliation and peace” in this fragmented world.

The clarion call came from world Methodist leaders at the 19th World Methodist Conference in Seoul from July 20 to 24, 2006 in the midst of heightened tension on the divided Korean peninsula and the unrest in the Middle East.

While about 2,500 conference participants from 132 countries were praying for reconciliation and peace, bombs and rockets were exploding in Israel and Lebanon. And the delegates had come from all parts of the world following North Korea’s recent missile tests.

The message that kept coming through at the conference, which was preceded by a two-day meeting of the World Methodist Council, was: First, be reconciled to God, and then to one another. The theme for the conference was

“God in Christ Reconciling”. It was particularly important to the 1.5 million Korean Methodists in the wake of their divided nation and longing for a unified country, which led Bishop Shin Kyung Ha, President of the Council of Bishops of the Korean Methodist Church, to tell the conference:

“It is my great hope that this World Methodist Conference in Seoul can extend its clear message of reconciliation to the world, especially on this Korean peninsula.

“During the last 61 years of division, the South and North have confronted each other as enemies, and the military threats have continued to this day. However, trusting God’s will, we have been praying diligently with hope for peace and reconciliation.

“I invite you to join us in our prayers. With our prayers together, I strongly believe that God will soon grant us true peace in this land.”

The conference theme was agreed upon as the Programme Committee, headed by Mrs Gillian Kingston from The Methodist Church in Ireland, prayed that the conference would honour God and strengthen the Church’s witness around the world. The theme was partly inspired by the Korean Methodist Church’s invitation to the Methodist family to come to Korea and join Korean Methodists in praying for peace and unification of the divided nation.

Strengthening the conference theme was a logo which embodies the four corners of the earth in the shape of the cross, symbolising the reconciliation that God offers all humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The attractive logo was designed by Mr Michael Tan Soo Guan, a member of Bedok Methodist Church.

The World Methodist Conference meets once every five years. Through the Methodist/Wesleyan family, 40 million church members are engaged in ministries which reach out to more than 75 million people.

Representing The Methodist Church in Singapore at the World Methodist Council meeting on July 18 and 19 was a four-man team led by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon. The other team members were the Rev Khoo Cheng Hoot, President of the Chinese Annual Conference; Mr Lim Soo Chin, General Conference Secretary; and Mr M. Geevananthan, Lay Leader of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference. The meeting was held at the historic Chung Dong First Methodist Church in downtown Seoul – the first Protestant church built in South Korea about 120 years ago.

Joining them at the 19th world conference were eight other delegates: The Rev Wee Boon Hup, President of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC); the Rev James Nagulan, President of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference; the Rev Dr Jonathan Seet, District Superintendent (East), TRAC; Mr Kim Seah, Lay Leader, TRAC; Mrs Patricia Khoo, Associate Lay Leader, TRAC; Mrs Laureen Ong, President of General Conference Women’s Society of Christian Service; Dr Lim Swee Hong, Lecturer in Worship, Liturgy and Music at Trinity Theological College; and Mr Peter Teo, Editor of Methodist Message.

The conference was held at the 12-storey Kum Nan Methodist Church, which has a sanctuary with high-tech audio-visual facilities and a seating capacity for several thousand worshippers.

The Rev Dr John Barrett from The Methodist Church in Britain, the newlyelected Chairman of the World Methodist
Council, chaired the opening session of the conference. A missionary partner of The Methodist Church in Singapore, he is the Principal of Anglo-Chinese School (International) in Singapore.

A procession of colourful banners by heads of the participating delegations signalled the start of the conference with words of welcome from Bishop Sunday Mbang, the outgoing council chairman, and Bishop Shin.

Holy Communion was celebrated with Bishop Walter Klaiber, from the Germany Central Conference of the United Methodist Church, as the celebrant. Bishop Mbang was the preacher.

The Mayor of Seoul, Mr Oh See Hoon, then brought greetings to the conference. After welcoming the delegates, he reminded them that “we want to be one country again, but challenges from within and outside the country keep us apart”.

“My hope is that this World Methodist Conference will contribute to bringing us together. I hope it will pave the way for peace and reconciliation for the entire Korean nation.”

The opening keynote address by Father Elias Chacour, who was recently elected Archbishop of Akka, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee in northern Istrael, was cancelled. He was unable to come to Seoul because of the fi ghting between Israel
and the Hezbollah faction in Lebanon.

He sent a message to the conference asking for prayer and forgiveness for failing to be present because of “the
precarious situation and of duty to stand by with my people”.

Replacing him, Dr J. C. Park, a seminary professor in Seoul, spoke on the theme “God in Christ Reconciling” from
the perspective of a Christian living in South Korea.

On July 21, the second day of the conference, Bishop Dr Solomon delivered his hour-long keynote address entitled
“Reconciliation Among the Nations”. He received a standing ovation and a string of compliments from the organising
committee and conference leaders.

One of the fi ve keynote speakers, he is the first Singaporean to have ever  given a keynote address at the World
Methodist Conference.

Earlier, in his report to the conference, the Rev Dr George Freeman, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, spoke of the need for Methodists to speak out amid the challenges facing the world. Challenging the delegates to be followers of Christ, he said: “If the Church doesn’t disciple the nations, the nations will disciple the
Church”.

Other major developments at the conference were:
❖ The World Methodist Council’s approval of several key resolutions, including those on the Middle East and the Nuclear Non- Proliferation besides the Korean peninsula; and

❖ The joint signing of a statement with the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in
agreement on the theological issue of justification.

Bishop Mbang chaired the closing session of the conference, which saw the Installation Service for the newly-elected
officers of the World Methodist Council.

The recession of banners brought the conference to a fitting close on July 24.

Peter Teo, a member of the Singapore delegation to the 19th World Methodist Conference, is the Editor of Methodist
Message.

STORY AND PICTURES BY PETER TEO IN SEOUL

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