Monday, 21 September 2009

World Methodist Council Executive Committee, Santiago

The Executive Committee of the World Methodist Council meets twice between the main Council and Conference that takes place every 5 years. It last met 2 years ago in Australia and this week is meeting in Santiago. I attended as an observer accompanying Anne who is a member of the Council.

George Freeman, the General Secretary of the WMC highlighted changes he was seeing in the Church around the world, including the “silencing of the Church”. Not only is the Church being increasingly ignored and marginalised, but also in parts of the world the willingness of the Church to be prophetic and articulate a vision for our world and society is not as clear as it ought to be.

Bishop Nafteli Aravena Bravo, of the Methodist Church in Chile, talked to the meeting about the Church in Chile. The Catholic Church is by far the majority tradition within the country whilst 15% of the population worship in one of many Pentecostal churches. The Methodist Church is very small in comparison although they have links with and a ministry to many thousands within the country. The Bishop talked about the importance of diversity within the church. To be a Protestant in Chile used to be regarded as being a second class citizen, but with a more confident democracy in the country there is now a greater understanding and acceptence of the various Protestant traditions, something we witnessed by the involvement of a number of faith traditions in a televised ecumenical service that was part of the weekend's 200th anniversary celebrations of independence.

He went on to highlight concerns about the potential for a huge gold mine in the country that would need the removal of a glacier that sits above it. To do so would remove the water supply for thousands of people that depend on it and the Church is raising concerns about the impact that multinational mining companies are having on these vulnerable communities. He also talked about the role that the Methodist Church had played in highlighting the importance of human rights in a country that has emerged from dictatorship.

He was accompanied by five of the district superintendents who spoke a little of the work taking place within their areas. One reflected concerns that the local Church had about the impact of a proposed hydro-electric scheme, another from the Punta Arenas District in the far south of Chile reflected concerns about global warming and the impact it was having not just on nearby Antarctica but also the area in which he lived and worked, and a third reflected on the difference in the churches within the district between the traditional and the more charismatic.

The WMC is working through a process of revision to it's governance and structure. As a body that only meets as an executive every 2 years and as a Council every 5 years it is understandable why this process of change is moving so slowly. A key area of this meetings agenda will be to discuss the current proposals for reform and that discussion started today.

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