Concerns for Fijian Methodists escalate

There is growing concern for the religious freedom of Methodists in Fiji following news that the country's Government has forced the Church to cancel its annual Conference.

Methodists in Britain are praying for the people of Fiji after Methodists of the Pacific nation were forced to cancel their annual meeting, which was due to begin on Tuesday 23 August. The General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji is set to hold a press conference tomorrow morning in Suva to speak about the situation.

Earlier this month the Fijian Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama lifted the ban prohibiting Methodists in Fiji from holding their annual Conference until 2014, on the condition that business would take place over no more than three days. The revocation was warmly welcomed by the World Methodist Council meeting in Durban at the time. This week, however, Church leaders in Britain learned that the interim Government had withdrawn permission for the Conference because of charges pending against the President and General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji.

Michael King, World Church Relationships Team Leader for the Methodist Church in Britain, said: "We are concerned and very disappointed by what's happened because it seemed as though the situation had eased and relationships had improved. This is a massive setback in the relationship between the Church and state in Fiji. If the Conference had been allowed to go ahead, there would have been a normal and constitutional change in Church leadership and a sense of returning to normality. We are praying for the Church in Fiji and for the nation, and we continue to watch developments with concern."

Members of the Fiji Methodist Church Standing Committee were charged with attending an unauthorized meeting held in April 2009 and were held for questioning by police in July that year. In September last year, the Fijian Government dropped most of the charges against leaders of the Methodist Church in Fiji - a development that was welcomed by the Methodist Church in Britain.

The Methodist Church in Britain is calling for prayer, particularly for Methodist Church leaders the Revd Ame Tugaue (President), the Revd Tuikilakila Waqairatu (General Secretary), the Revd Tevita Banivanua (Deputy General Secretary) as well as for the country's Interim Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

The Methodist Church in Britain remembers Fiji on the 25th day of each month in its Prayer Handbook. Tomorrow Methodists will pray with these words:

We give thanks for the diversity of people in Fiji and pray that they may live together in unity.

We give thanks for the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma and pray that it can continue to bring a message of hope and spiritual transformation. 

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