David Hill writes in the latest Touchstone
New Zealand Methodists are amazed by the size and diversity of world Methodism after attending the World Methodist Conference (WMC). Vice President Bella Ngaha led a delegation to WMC that included a number of MCNZ leaders, including Rev David Bush, Rev Dr Trevor Hoggard, Rev Dr Susan Thompson, Mataiva Robertson and Rev Tony Franklin-Ross.
It took place at the beginning of last month and involved more than 1000 delegates. Bella and Susan also joined other Kiwi Methodist women at the 800-strong Assembly of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women (WFM&UCW), and Susan attended another gathering of 400 women clergy.
“The experience brought home to me that world Methodism is far bigger and more diverse than I had ever realised. There are Methodists in Cuba, Germany, the Congo, Brazil, Denmark and Russia… all over the world,” Susan says. She says there was incredible preaching and Bible studies led by several US Methodists, as well as Kenyan, Brazilian and British preachers.
“They came from a variety of perspectives but all focussed on the power of love. They asked challenging questions like: What does your love look like? What happens when love crosses the street? And when was the last time love created disruption in your church?”
Bella says Rev Grace Imatiu, a Kenyan preacher now living in the US, presented Bible Studies at both conferences. “In the first she discussed the well-known parable of ‘The Prodigal Son’ turning things upside down and inside out. Her second study was on the story of the woman of Samaria who Jesus met at the well and ‘shared conversation together’. “The manner in which Grace addressed the scriptures is enthralling and she brings insights that clearly show her deep scholarship, but she also uses stories from her own Kenyan upbringing to illustrate her discussions. She is a truly memorable preacher.”
She says the WCM and WFM&UCW overlapped for a couple of days, which she felt was not helpful. “It meant that choices had to be made between competing interests, however, there were some very interesting sessions in both conferences that I attended. “A workshop on theological colleges gave people opportunities to highlight their successes. Some people expressed concerns that the Methodist Church was moving too far away from our Wesleyan roots. That was really, I felt, code for ‘becoming too liberal’.”
Both Bella and Susan found the WMC opening worship, led by an astrophysicist and a theologian using Psalm 8 to talk about the stars and the universe, particularly fascinating. “Each came from slightly different perspectives but made connections,” Susan says.
Susan says she enjoyed a session led by a Methodist historian, Ted Campbell, who challenged us to think about the acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the church His talk prompted Susan and David Bush to attend his subsequent workshop where David spoke about how the New Zealand Methodist Church has handled the issue of sexuality. Read more in Touchstone