Monday, 31 May 2010

MCCA Connexional Conference (part 2)

Those who think our visit to this lovely island in the Caribbean may be a holiday will hopefully think again as your President and Vice-President, along with all the other visitors from Britain, did not let the midnight return to our hotel put us off joining the 8 am Sunday morning procession of witness through the streets of St John’s. A large group processed to Ebenezer Methodist Church and joined a packed congregation for a celebratory service.

The service lasted 4 ½ hours and as soon as the Antigua Circuit Combined Choir sang the introit, the first of 4 anthems, we knew we were going to be part of a very special service. The singing of both the choir and congregation throughout the service, including a final rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus that many in the congregation joined in with, was wonderfully uplifting.

Children from the circuit and the Youth representatives of the Conference also took part.

David presented Revd Dr George Mulrain, MCCA Connexional President, with an original copy of John Wesley’s “An Appeal to Men of Reason”, which was the book Nathaniel Gilbert’s daughter had given him accidentally whilst he was recovering from illness in 1756. He was so struck by Wesley’s writing that the following year he travelled back to Britain in order to meet him. Wesley’s journal records how he preached in Gilbert’s house in London in 1758 which led not only to the conversion of Gilbert but also three slaves who had travelled with him, Sophia Campbell, Mary Alley and Bessie, women who were to keep the flame of Methodism alive after Gilbert’s death.

David reflected that he felt St Paul’s words had come alive on the steps of Gilbert’s plantation house, that there was no longer black nor white, slave nor free, male or female, but all were one in Christ Jesus, and that they all had a part to play in the founding of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.

In his address George Mulrain they had been looking back in order to surge ahead in their mission. They were right to place their hope in God. He stressed the importance of working with young people and embracing the music of the Caribbean as they developed their mission in the future.

The love of the traditional pattern of worship in Methodist Churches in the Caribbean is both a great strength and weakness. This morning’s service demonstrated how inspiring such worship can be, but the Church is also aware that many young adults are no longer attending such services and later in the afternoon we a call from the Connexional President not to allow the MCCA to become a dead sect, and he introduced ways they were taking this issue seriously. “Growing in Fullness” is a major piece of work that is developing resources to support children and youth work within MCCA. Being produced in 4 languages and intended for use for the under 5s right through to teenagers, it is hoped that the style of the materials will encourage children to see Sunday School teaching as more contemporary and relevant.

“Voices in Praise” is the new hymnal that it is hoped will replace the Methodist Hymn Book that is still used across the MCCA. Again it will reflect the diversity of language across the Caribbean and will include over 250 new hymns and songs, many of which will have been written by Caribbean authors. It was clear after singing some of the new hymns how much our own new music resource would be enriched by some of these new hymns. As we sung one in Haitian Creole we were reminded how the singing of such songs had been clearly heard after the earthquake in January, and how they gave hope to a people that had lost so much.

We closed the evening and the Conference by watching a film which had been produced to record the “Chapters of Methodism”. It again retold the now familiar story of the many people involved in helping establish MCCA over the last 250th years. We were reminded how revolutionary the act of preaching on the steps of Gilbert’s plantation steps had been, a slave master who he now called his slaves his brothers and sisters and preaching that God was for all. We were also reminded that it was the enthusiasm and commitment of lay people that was the main reason Methodism had spread so quickly across the Caribbean and that once again we should learn from our history if we are to move forward in mission in the future.

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