ASIA PACIFIC CONSULTATION HAILED AS SUCCESS

Ground-breaking meeting brings together churches from across the region

Partner churches from the Asia Pacific Region met with representatives of the Methodist Church in Britain, including the President of Conference the Rev Will Morrey and the Vice President of Conference Deacon Myrtle Poxon, for a groundbreaking consultation in Hong Kong.

Christine Elliott, Asia Pacific Secretary in the British World Church Office, developed the consultation following on from the Wesley tercentenary celebration held in Llandudno 2003. She believes that this could have a significant impact on relationships within the region and provide a considerable impetus for greater co-operation and mutual accountability.

There are three major 'strands' in the Asia/Pacific region, Indian sub-continent, East Asia and the South Pacific. The region is diverse and the churches have very different roles to play within their own contexts. It ranges from Fiji, which has a significant Methodist presence and influence in government, through Singapore, which is a small but wealthy church with missionary outreach, to Bangladesh, which is a tiny united church working in a Muslim country. There is a fairly even mix of Methodist and united/non-denominational churches in the overall region and this creates a very distinctive flavour.

The consultation was jointly hosted by MCB and the Hong Kong Methodist Church and held at Methodist House WanChai. Speakers included Dr. Andreas D'Souza from India who spoke on Religious Extremism; Dr. Wong Wai Ching from Hong Kong who spoke about Globalisation; Dr. Lo Lung Kwong from Hong Kong who talked about Theological Education; Dr Scott Harris from China who gave a speech about HIV/AIDS; and Dr. Chalapan Kulwin from the Fiji/Papua New Guinea church who spoke about Climate Change. The five keynote seminars provoked stimulating discussion where representatives were able to discover common concerns as well as inspiring stories from other contexts. Each nation present made a presentation in which they were able to share aspirations, hopes, challenges and vision from their own perspective. The rich diversity of the area represented often emerged again in worship when the work of the consultation and the work of the church was offered and supported in prayer.

Chris Elliott said: "The opportunity to gather as people of God sharing a common Methodist heritage was wonderful. The chance to sit as equals sharing stories of our churches and the ministry of people in simple ways was inspiring. It was also practical. Leaders of churches who are neighbours finding that there were ways in which they could support each other for example, Korea with Japan for ministers and training; Hong Kong with Myanmar sharing experience of uniting two Methodist traditions for the benefit of Christian witness."

Chris added: "The range and size of churches is significant from the Church of South India with a membership of 3 million to the Methodist Church in Indonesia with a few thousand. Most of the churches in South and East Asia are working as minority churches within dominant (other) faith communities, while those in the South Pacific are very much majority churches working with accepted Christian understanding. By gathering together we gained so much insight into each other's reality, which enabled us to be more realistic about our own situations. We used four words to help us think carefully about what we were hearing, they were; inspiration, concern, warning, hope."

The consultation resulted in the agreement of the following statement:

"We, the representatives of the Methodist, United and Uniting Churches in the Asia & Pacific region and Britain, met in Hong Kong during Advent 2004. We praised God, celebrating our life and faith in Christ by hearing one another's stories and by sharing our loves, joys and concerns.

"In the context of growing globalisation with its impact on growing poverty, social exclusion, violence and injustice, and in response to the world in which we share, we have given deliberation, among other issues, to:

1.         Religious Extremism

2.         Climate Change

3.         Theological Education

4.         HIV/AIDS

5.         Hosting minority ethnic congregations in the Methodist family

"We are committed to upholding each other in prayer and responding actively to these issues in the Spirit of the Gospel of Christ.

"We will not work in isolation but through a co-ordinated response, impressing on our Churches the importance of these issues."

Four members of the consultation will provide key speakers for the World Mission Conference at Swanwick (3-5 June 2005). The group will then be used more widely in UK and Ireland (6-10 June), and visit the Irish Conference on 11 June.

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