Looking ahead to the 2009 - 2012 triennium

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As we draw to the close of this triennium, I wish to share some ideas that constitute an MCCA vision for the period 2009 - 2012. Let me at the outset state that in this presentation, my every reference to "MCCA" means "the eight District Conferences". During these past years a major focus of our work as a Church has been Grow NOWW, namely Growth in Nurture, Outreach, Worship and Witness. However this emphasis has certainly not been exhausted. It veers towards worthwhile directions into which we as a Connexion still need to go. It will be fairly obvious therefore in highlighting the other themes that have been presenting themselves to me that a lot of what we propose doing for the next triennium will have implications for nurture, outreach, worship and witness. I invite the Commissions in their meetings to examine and discuss the relevant portions of the presentation. The ideas are as follows: 

A theologically sound Church

It is important for the MCCA to be theologically sound, a church in which its members are effectively nurtured in the Christian faith and adequately educated in its doctrines and duties. We will continue to support the work being done to develop Church School Curriculum Materials, a work that is geared towards producing texts that are Christian, Caribbean and relevant for use within the region. It is envisaged that this development will serve as a catalyst for a definite revival within the Church School system. Every congregation must have a Church School that contributes to the Christian nurture and upbringing of children.

A knowledgeable Church

For the new triennium the MCCA must continue its involvement in education and communication. The setting up of the Methodist Publishing House constitutes an incentive for our ministers and theologians, poets and hymn composers to produce. Having the facilities of printing and publishing more readily available will increase our ability to respond in a timely manner to some of the Faith and Order questions, the moral and ethical concerns and the very topical issues that will continue to surface on a regular basis. The recently re-launched website will assist in the dissemination of this knowledge. Given the learning environment envisaged, it will mean that while accepting offers such as those provided through the Methodist Church in Britain and the World Council of Churches, the MCCA must itself offer scholarships to promising young writers, theologians and musicians.

A Church interested in education

In keeping with the educational thrust, the MCCA will need to be enterprising and start schools where there are none. The future of our mission depends to a great extent on the influence we exert upon the younger members of every community. Within the region, primary and secondary education has been the MCCA contribution thus far. We need to explore the possibility of expanding into tertiary education, as for example the Excelsior Community College in the Jamaica District where students now read for degrees. The records will show that we lose so many of our members when we have not the academic institutions to help sustain them. In this vein, we ought also to pay attention to chaplaincies to tertiary institutions. More time, money and personnel must be invested in this sphere of work if continued credibility is to be attached to our Church 's interest in education.

A Church with a youth focus

Our interest in youth will not be limited to Church Schools, primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education. Attention will also be paid to organizations that offer service to children and youth within the local community.  At present there are too few surviving uniformed groups within Methodism. This must be corrected. Middle-aged and older male members of congregations testify to the invaluable contribution that was made towards their own discipline and personal development by the Boys Brigade movement. They suggest that had there been today more church organizations for youth, many of our young men would not channel their energies into gang warfare, domestic violence and other antisocial behaviour. Similar sentiments have been echoed by women who in the past came under the influence of Young Adventurers and Girls ' League companies.

A heavier focus upon youth will be our goal in the new triennium. At the last Youth Encuentro in 2006, plans were afoot for a formal MCCA Youth and Young Adults umbrella organization similar to that of MCCA Women. We must encourage this to get off the ground, side by side as we work towards the revival of youth groups that have been dormant. The good news is that the men of the MCCA are now well on the way to organizing themselves into a formal, recognizable, connexional entity which is in itself a stimulus for Youth and Young Adults to do likewise.

A Church that caters for several groupings

Much has been said by way of critique for the class meeting system. On a positive note, the system offers the possibility of creating workable units that can meet the needs of a variety of groups – children, youth, young adults, homemakers, single mothers, married couples, self-employed persons, men, women, professionals and retirees. In other words, the class meeting system is an ally in our efforts to minister to persons of all ages and stages of life. It can be so organized that the children who have been baptized are efficiently followed up and their parents and sponsors called to accountability. With a bit of creativity the class system, popularly described nowadays as the Methodist DNA, can work to the advantage of the church on mission. It will continue to be one of the most effective ways of ensuring that pastoral care is on offer for all.

A Church that is mission minded

The MCCA will continue to be a mission oriented Church. Prior to 1967 we were the mission field of British Methodism. Now forty-two years on we must forge our own vision and mission statements, which will also be reflected in the changes that will be made to our Constitution and Discipline. We will remain committed to spreading scriptural holiness across these lands and reforming of the nations. We will be intentional about building up our membership. One suggestion that has been made is for every communicant member to have the target of helping to evangelize at least one person per year. "A small order", we may say. "Not much of a challenge!" But let us be realistic. The truth is that there are many who despite years of church attachment have never ever invited one single person to accompany them to worship. They can be helped to correct this by having an attainable challenge for the new triennium. Here one is not suggesting "sheep stealing" but honest efforts to reach the un-churched. Our call will be for each and every Methodist to take advantage of every opportunity to do mission and evangelism. Target every new housing area because usually among those taking up residence there are persons who have no church attachment. This could be the opportunity of a lifetime to win someone for Christ.

A Church that emphasizes Stewardship

We will continue placing the emphasis upon stewardship. We will challenge persons to be stewards of what God has given them - time, talents and treasure. None ought to say that he or she cannot give. We ought, for example, to be challenging mature men and women, especially men to offer leadership in teaching Sunday Schools. If persons are intentional about the stewardship of talents, then we ought not to have problems in finding animators and enablers for youth organizations. All must be practically involved with none sitting on the sidelines. Everyone must be challenged to make a definite contribution in the life of the church and the community. With respect to the stewardship of treasure, we encourage tithing but will not enforce it as the law of the Medes and the Persians. We leave it up to the individual to assess his or her personal situation and give as the Spirit directs. In fact, we ought not to consider that only one-tenth of what we have belongs to God. In actual fact everything belongs to God, hence whereas the tithe might serve a practical purpose, it should not cloud the theological reality that much more than ten percent is in reality due to God.

A Church that cares about its resources of property

During the new triennium we will expend much energy to develop the Nathaniel Gilbert Estate in Antigua. As a first step, we will refurbish the Ecumenical Centre building so that it offers conference facilities of a very high standard. We will involve as many groups, including MCCA Women and Men, to be active in the refurbishing process. Work will be in full swing during the year 2010, the 250th anniversary of Caribbean Methodism 's beginning on the same site. We have already begun to receive donations for this project. We would encourage others to continue the trend. The sixty odd acres of land will eventually be transformed through landscaping, availability of amenities for camping, trails for scouts and guides, comfortable dormitory facilities, archives etc. There is the Gilbert Agricultural and Rural Development Centre (GARDC) which is permitted to use part of the estate as a Demonstration Farm. Together we will design, develop and execute courses in eco-theology or theology as it relates to land and agriculture for the benefit of seminarians from the region and elsewhere.

The Nathaniel Gilbert Estate refurbishing process will undoubtedly serve as a catalyst for concerted efforts by District Conferences to restore old churches and other Connexional property in need of repairs. The buildings we own that are dedicated to the work of God must be those for which we will feel justly proud.

The MCCA Trust Corporation will continue to work towards ensuring that all properties acquired in the Districts are vested in the name of the Trust. In so doing we note the intricacies of establishing effective ownership in non-English speaking territories where complex legal regulations may apply. Issues affecting the ownership of property for the MCCA in the Bahamas/ Turks & Caicios Islands District will continue to receive the Trust 's attention.

A Church that evaluates its Ministry

In the new triennium the matter of alternative schemes for ministerial training will occupy our collective minds. The MCCA is committed to the United Theological College of the West Indies in Jamaica as its main venue for ministerial formation. At the same time we will assess the validity of suggestions that the first year of training should also be done in one of the other islands.

One of the concerns often voiced is that in their preparation for ministry diaconal candidates are trained to be presbyters more than deacons. There is an accompanying plea for greater involvement of deacons in the training process. This request will be given sympathetic consideration. In the new triennium we will be definitive in statements that pertain to the role and status of the diaconate within the MCCA.

The discussion on the ministry of the episcopate will continue. One District Conference has so far embraced the offer voted at the Thirty-Forth Triennial Conference that where meaningful a District may use the title "bishop" in preference to "president". The discussion will continue as to the type of "bishop" envisaged for the MCCA. Legislation in this regard will help to flesh out the nature of this episcopacy that the MCCA has begun to introduce into its system. When the process will have been completed, the MCCA will have what was the original intention namely a threefold ministry comprising deacon, presbyter and bishop.

The discussion on ministry will also include a careful examination of the various aspects of the local presbyterate, including age, educational and professional qualifications, system of exemption and credit, length of training, year of travel, etc.

A Church that is committed to Itinerancy

Concerted attempts will be made to encourage more young men and women to commit themselves to a lifetime within the itinerant ministry. Itinerancy is still very much the bedrock upon which the MCCA has built its foundation. As we continue to depend upon itinerant ministers, we will be even more mindful of the effects of itinerancy upon spouses and families. The advance towards a Caribbean Single Market and Economy contains much that will in theory make matters easier for careered women and men to be gainfully employed wherever their spouses may be stationed. In practice one is still subject to the vicissitudes of national politics because not every Caribbean nation state honours the wishes of the broader international community.

A Church committed to financing its Ministry

Financing the Ministry will continue to occupy a prominent place on our Agenda during the new triennium. Firm methods will be adopted so that persons do in fact honour their obligation to make a financial contribution towards the cost of their training. Every Congregation, Circuit and District will be constantly reminded that it is their responsibility, as part of the Connexion, to provide funds regularly for the training and upkeep of the Ministry. This will be quite separate from funding that goes towards payment of assessments and superannuation contributions. Every District Conference should use October, Ministries ' month, as an opportunity to receive from their members sufficient resources that will go towards the Ministerial Training Fund.

A culturally relevant Church

The need for the MCCA to be culturally relevant in our multicultural context must be ever kept in mind. In ministerial training some students have had an opportunity to spend their summer assignment in one of the Spanish speaking Districts. Further efforts will be made so that every minister graduating from UTCWI will be equipped to serve anywhere in the Connexional Conference area. The Conference letterhead is in three languages but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We are conscious that we need to produce more materials in languages other than English.

Cultural relevance will be reflected in worship. It could be through the accompaniment of singing in worship. Alongside the piano and organ, local musical instruments must feature. Some Methodist congregations now have their own steel orchestra. The new hymnbook will contain several of the musical genres that are indigenous to our region. There will be hymns in English as well as in other languages. Just as this hymnbook will be primarily for the Anglophone Districts, we envisage that in the future hymnbooks will also be published primarily with the Francophone and Spanish speaking Districts in mind. One visually challenged person in Antigua expressed the desire to have a Braille edition of the hymnal. Some have been suggesting an "on line" edition of the hymnbook. Granted that with computer technology many new projects will be considered, but given the complexities of copyrighting now being faced with the hard copy edition, there is no telling how much more complex an electronic edition would be. Another factor to be considered is that not all Methodist homes and churches have access to the computer.

Just as cultural relevance is related to the music of worship, so too is it a matter that pertains to liturgy. There should be more efforts made to incorporate art, movement, dance and drama so that being in God 's presence need not be "boring" but creatively interesting. Whereas it is to be affirmed that God is relevant to every given cultural context, so too is the truth that we are all part of a context hence global concerns especially through prayer will be part of the worship experience.

A Church with greater visibility on the world stage

From the experience of the last triennium, it is obvious that the MCCA needs to be more visible on the world stage. World Methodist events which secured the participation of people from members of the Wesleyan family across the world did not benefit from the presence of many from the MCCA. Participation at events organized by the World Methodist Evangelism Institute was fairly good. But at the last World Methodist Council (Seoul, Korea, 2006), only three MCCA persons namely Rev. Stacia Williams-Christmas, Mr Samuel Samuels and the Connexional President participated. Mr Samuels was in fact voted on to the Presidium. Only three other MCCA persons, apart from those named, attended the World Methodist Conference that followed after the Council meeting.

The next World Methodist Council and Conference will take place at the International Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa, 2nd – 9th August 2011. The Chair of the Programme Committee is the Connexional President. It is hoped that District Conferences will offer to sponsor at least one person to attend.

At the last Oxford Institute (August 2007) there were three MCCA participants, namely Rev. Dr Wycherley Gumbs, Rev. Dr Joan Meade and the Connexional President. We will encourage other MCCA scholars to attend the 2012 Institute.

On the broader ecumenical scene, the Rev. Glenna Spencer is an elected member of the World Council of Churches ' Continuation Committee. Concerning our commitment to the ecumenical movement, it must be said that we have enthusiastically supported the work of the Caribbean Conference of Churches. At present we are concerned about the lack of firm ecumenical commitment in the region and the real danger that the work of the CCC could be threatened with closure.

A Church that cherishes partnership with others

In the new triennium we will make a concerted effort to establish new partnerships while at the same time consolidating existing ones. The MCCA cherishes its links with the Methodist Church in Britain. Our British sisters and brothers have continued to appoint mission partners to serve among us, to offer scholarships and to financially support Nationals in Mission programmes. The United Methodist Church with which we have a Concordat agreement continues to offer assistance through the General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Commission On Relief and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. We salute also the United Church of Canada and are grateful that in spite of the financial challenges they face, they continue to be one of our faithful partners ever willing to assist in any aspect of mission that may be requested of them.

The Spanish speaking Methodist Churches, notably through CIEMAL, have been developing closer links with us. The Caribbean Leadership Forum involves our eight Districts working together with Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. The last forum took place in Jamaica in December 2006. We are grateful for the assistance received from the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Methodist Church 's General Board of Global Ministries and the United Church of Canada for getting this movement off the ground. It is up to us in the new triennium to build upon this foundation and to create, not simply a forum for discussion, but a structure whereby we might be more practically involved in each other 's mission efforts.

The UMC also organized talks with MCCA & CIEMAL in Panama (March 2007). At the CIEMAL 9th Assembly held in Panama in March 2008 the Connexional President delivered the message at the opening worship service. As we build on these partnerships, we will consider partnerships with Methodist Churches in Africa such as Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria with whom we have already had sharing of ministerial personnel. We will also work towards the rekindling of partnerships with churches in Asia and the Pacific.

A church that is financially prepared

During the last two or three triennia District Conferences were supposed to be paying particular attention to developing projects that would generate income. Unfortunately not all Methodist Conferences have devoted quality time to it. Is it still assumed that the MCCA has access to hidden sources of funds even in the present economic reality where donor agencies in the North are themselves facing financial problems? During the present triennium, the Connexional Council took the decision, as a cost cutting exercise, to hold only one council meeting per year instead of two. We have since been maximizing the use of the available technology to conduct business. Even as we will continue to seek ways and means of cutting expenditure, we will insist on being proactive in so far as acquiring funds for the work of mission.

Part of our connexional duty is the management of the Superannuation Fund which in the present scheme of things includes finding viable solutions to address a shortfall. There is another practical way whereby we will take seriously our obligations to supernumerary ministers. It will involve the consideration of a scheme whereby the Church owns a few houses that can be earmarked as retirement homes for clergy. A Church that cares about its ministry ought to be interested in them not only when they candidate, when they receive training and they are in active service but also when they are ill as well as when they face retirement.

Becoming financially prepared is equally critical given the proneness of the region to disaster including volcanic activity, fire, hurricanes and floods. In practice we will, as a Church, set up a Disaster Relief Fund and also explore the possibility of owning and operating disaster relief centres. The Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) of the British Conference and the United Methodist Commission on Relief (UMCOR) have much to teach us in this regard.

A Church that serves a risen Saviour

If in the new triennium, we can work towards achieving the various aspects of this vision we could with justification claim to be a Church that is serving the risen Christ. The successful candidate in the last United States Presidential Election encouraged the electorate to say "Oh, yes! We can!" Let us all as Methodists take a leaf out of his book and as we work together hand in hand to be of service to the present age, our cry will be: "With God 's help, we will!"

 

George Mulrain
Connexional President
May 2009.