Importance of our connectionalism shines through issues
METHODIST connectionalism – that important link which is inherent in our tradition – was pushed to the forefront in the last few months by several international conferences held in Singapore and the region.
There was plenty of sharing of ideas and experiences and a time of close fellowship at each of these conferences, beginning with the Asian Christian Women’s Leadership Training and Dialogue held here from July 27 to Aug 3, which was attended by some 80 participants from the region and the United States.
The event was hosted by the General Conference-Women’s Society of Christian Service and co-sponsored by the Singapore women, the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church in the US, and the Global Women’s Leadership Centre-Korea.
The women were taught leadership skills and discussed a wide range of subjects, including societal issues and the role of Christian women in missions today.
The focus shifted to the region when the Annual Meeting of The Methodist Mission in Cambodia was held in Phnom Penh on Sept 7 and 8.
A high point of that meeting was the ordination of 10 local pastors – one as an Elder and nine as Deacons. The ordination was conducted by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, Bishop Roy I. Sano of The United Methodist Church, and Bishop Han Chung Suk of Korea Methodist Church.
Then came the Regular Meeting of the Fellowship of Asian Methodist Bishops (FAMB) in Manila on Sept 10, followed immediately the next day by the Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Asian Methodist Council (AMC), also held in the Philippines capital.
At the FAMB meeting, the challenge of providing proper care to Filipino workers abroad was discussed at length.
In a report to the FAMB, The United Methodist Church, Philippines Central Conference College of Bishops disclosed that some 3,000 Filipinos were leaving the country for jobs abroad every day.
Consequently, Filipino pastors based in South Korea, Japan, Singapore and the Middle East have been asked to provide spiritual needs to the Filipinos working in those countries.
The Philippines Bishops have also appealed to their brother bishops in the region to “help look after” the Filipinos working in their respective countries.
“The economic nuances of corporate globalisation and the war on terror are also affecting our people,” they said.
In his country report on Singapore, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon mentioned the Singapore Government’s emphasis on strengthening inter-racial and inter-religious harmony within the community in order to minimise tension should a terrorist incident occur.
Dialogue and engagement with people of other faiths were encouraged through community programmes where the various communities could meet and interact to build confidence, friendship and trust with each other.
He said: “The Methodist Church in Singapore supports the need for religious harmony. Together with the National Council of Churches of Singapore, we have been educating Christians on how they should conduct themselves and maintain their Christian values in inter-religious relations.”
Homosexuality incompatible with Christian teachings: Asian Bishops
One of the outcomes of the FAMB and AMC meetings was the issuance of a statement on the issue of homosexuality. The Asian Bishops unanimously decided to send a letter to the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church (UMC) stating that:
“Our Asian Methodist Churches and communities have held, and continue to hold to the teachings of Scripture and our historic Christian faith on the issues of marriage and sexuality.
“Sexual relationships outside marriage are against the teachings of Scripture. The marital relationship is also between a man and a woman.
“We have also held that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings. We expect our clergy and lay to abide by these teachings and standards.
“We appreciate that the United Methodist Church has taken a position similar to that of the Asian Methodist churches and pray that the UMC will continue to make a clear stand.
“The unity of the global Methodist family will be seriously affected if any member of this family moves away from the biblical and historical position on the issues of marriage and sexuality.
“We therefore pray that together, we will be committed to maintain the teaching of Scripture and the historical and unanimous tradition of our global Methodist, and wider Christian, family.”
The letter was sent in the light of the UMC’s upcoming General Conference in April next year at which the homosexuality issue is expected to be raised again.
Following the FAMB and AMC meetings, about 200 leaders from all over the world converged in Sydney from Sept 15 to 20 for the World Methodist Council (WMC) Executive Committee meeting.
It was decided that the next World Methodist Conference will be held in Durban, South Africa in 2011. It is expected to be held from Aug 2 to 9.
It was also decided that the next WMC Executive Committee meeting will be held in Santiago, Chile in 2009.
The World Methodist Conference meets once in five years. The last conference was held in Seoul from July 20 to 24, 2006 amidst heightened tension on the divided Korean peninsula and the unrest in the Middle East.
Durban was a runner-up to Seoul when the location of the 2006 World Methodist Conference was selected. With more than 3 million residents, it is South Africa’s second largest city.
The Rev Dr George Freeman, General Secretary of the WMC, said that South African Methodists wanted their global counterparts to meet in Durban “so they could experience the changes that have taken place in southern Africa since apartheid ended”.
The Sydney meeting centred on strategic planning of the WMC and the proposed changes to the WMC Constitution.
Reports on subjects such as Family Life, Theological Education, Worship and Liturgy, Ecumenics and Dialogue, and Evangelism were also tabled by the various committees for discussion.
The Ecumenics and Dialogue Committee reported that the dialogue between the WMC and the Roman Catholic Church was continuing with an emphasis on “the Sacramental Nature of the Church.” The dialogue with the Salvation Army will continue with an emphasis on “Mission and Evangelism”.
A recommendation from the Division of World Evangelism that member churches of the WMC dedicate the first Sunday in Advent as a “Day of Prayer for Peace” was enthusiastically approved.
The WMC has also sent word to The Methodist Church of Lower Myanmar and The Methodist Church of Upper Myanmar reminding them of the prayers of the WMC family for their country and for the witness of their Church during the current political crisis.
Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message.