Monday, 15 August 2011


It’s a wonderful opportunity to take my overseas visit so early in my Vice-Presidential year, and even more special to be going to the World Methodist Council and Conference in Durban. Great, too, that David is able to accompany me to share the experience.
So on Sunday evening, 31st July, we shared a meal with the delegates from the British and Irish Methodist Churches at the Blue Waters Hotel in Durban, and learnt something about the Council, at which we were observers.
Monday morning brought the sunrise over the Indian Ocean beaming into our bedroom - what could have been a better start to our time there? We set out as a ‘walking bus’ to register at the Central Methodist Church and be briefed on procedure. Then we set out to explore Durban, found a sandwich shop, and puzzled the locals by sitting on the grass in the park to eat our sandwiches! Returning for the opening session we took our places in the ‘peanut gallery’ as our newly found friends from the USA called the raised area for observers. (Later that week they brought us some peanuts!) As we didn’t have to be there for all the sessions we took the time to make friends with the delegates from the Nepal MC, caught up with Kenyan friends and generally had conversations with anyone who was willing. I’ll leave any comment on Council business to Leo.

Thursday was the morning that thousands of Methodists converged on the impressive International Convention Centre for the opening of the Conference. It was truly moving. In the opening worship we sang ‘O for a thousand tongues’ with verses in English, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, seSotho, and isiZulu. WOW! That alone was worth the journey. Thus began five tremendous days of worship, Bible study, inspirational addresses, reports, workshops, seminars, visits……. All in the spirit of UBUNTU which translates ‘I am because you are’.

When everything is inspiring, it is difficult to pick out highlights. But I can link some together: for example, being addressed by people who have been humiliated, tortured and imprisoned for what they believe, is truly humbling. That has been the experience of many who spoke to us. They spoke with dignity, and challenge. We wept. The theme Jesus Christ: for the healing of the nations resonated through all the addresses. Archbishop Elias Chacour from Galilee told the most astounding stories from the Jewish/Palestinian struggles. We wept… and laughed, for he had the wonderful ability to weave sorrow and joy into one pattern. An unforgettable experience.

Then, we were blessed with visits to churches in the area, and David and I went as part of a group to two services held in nearby townships. The hospitality was overwhelming, to say nothing of the singing, dancing and enthusiasm for the worship. These churches serve some areas of great poverty, and along with many of the churches in the area offer dedicated service in the community, not least to those suffering as a result of HIV/AIDS. We were again humbled, because they thought it was a great honour to receive visitors from all over the world.

It was a privilege also to take part with many from local churches, and Methodists from all over the world, in the Sunday afternoon parade of witness through the city centre. It was impossible not to think of other marches that were held during the times of struggle against apartheid, when those who walked faced police, guns and beatings. Now we were of many shades of skin colour marching together in witness to Jesus Christ: the healer of the nations. God is good.

The Conference ended on Monday 8th August; we had made many friends, and celebrated our faith in God and our Wesleyan heritage together. But the African trip will continue…..

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