By Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
The Methodist Church in Fiji had a historic moment yesterday as they passed a revised constitution and a new code of conduct.
While the whole church and a number of working groups contributed to the constitution and the code, two unassuming Australians played an important role in compiling the final draft which was passed yesterday. Malcom and Marion Gledhill have become part of the story of the Methodist Church in Fiji’s New Exodus through their tireless efforts.
“It has been a great privilege to assist the Methodist Church in Fiji with the revision of its constitution and regulations, and the development of the code of conduct,” said Mr Gledhill, after the constitution and code of conduct were passed by an overwhelming majority of the representative session of conference.
“We serve in Fiji as volunteers from the Uniting Church in Australia, a partner church of the Methodist Church in Fiji. Uniting World is the agency of the Uniting Church National Assembly that sends volunteers to live and work alongside people in our overseas partner churches. When we work together, sharing knowledge and experience, we join with each other in the mission of God.”
Mrs Gledhill, who is a deacon in the Uniting Church in Australia said, volunteering was always a two-way process.
“Overseas partner churches value the experience and knowledge shared by the volunteers, and the volunteers (and the Uniting Church) gain from living and working with the partner church. Volunteers find richly rewarding experiences from new friendships, and new knowledge gained. This has certainly been our experience volunteering with the Methodist Church in Fiji!
“We have now made four previous visits as volunteers to the Methodist Church in Fiji, each of four weeks’ duration and we were looking forward to our fifth visit for the month of August 2015 and the 2015 Annual Conference.
“We have appreciated sharing ideas, food and laughter, as well as sad times, with our friends in the Methodist Church. The conference staff morning teas are always a highlight!
“We have enjoyed visits out of Suva, to a church institution, or a village, or another town — the beautiful flower arrangements in your churches — your amazing choir singing and your generous hospitality. The deep spirituality of your church life and the practices of Methodism have been a source of inspiration.”
Sadly, the couple arrived for their first visit in November 2013 on the day of the funeral of Reverend Solomoni Vakaliwaliwa, who had prepared the first draft of the revised church constitution for the 2013 Annual Conference. Mr Gledhill benefited from studying his work and with the invaluable assistance of church executive administrative officer, Patiliai Leqa, and the Constitution Review Committee was able to prepare the proposed revised Constitution which was approved at its first reading at the 2014 Annual Conference.
Mr Gledhill has also worked with the Constitution Review Committee on new regulations relating to ministers, deaconesses, and questions to be asked at church meetings, and other subjects. These new or amended regulations were also be presented to the 2015 Annual Conference for approval.
What are the main changes in the revised constitution?
- A new statement of the core beliefs and purposes of the Methodist Church.
- A chapter on ministry that brings together the two ordained ministries — ministers of the word, sacraments and pastoral care and deaconesses, and the two accredited lay ministries — lay pastors and lay preachers.
- A new paragraph recognising that classes in the local church are the foundations of the church structure.
- A more detailed statement of the authority of the annual conference.
- The list of official meetings of the church includes the monthly meeting of the local church (bose vakarau) — the circuit leaders’ meeting may agree that particular matters may be decided at the bose vakarau.
- A revised statement of the authority of the president to act if for whatever reason it is not practical for the Conference Standing Committee to meet; and
- Some changes to terms of office of conference officers and circumstances in which they will be eligible for re-election.
The development of the code of conduct was undertaken by a consultative group, working with Mrs Gledhill, with final drafts being presented to the standing committee of the conference. While codes of conduct and codes of ethics used in other denominations offered useful ideas, the final draft code of conduct for the Methodist Church in Fiji was developed to be relevant and appropriate for the Fijian context. Contributions from women members of the consultative group were particularly valuable.
“We stand in a long line of Christian people who have over the past 180 years travelled from Australia to Fiji and from Fiji to Australia to share in ministry and service. We honour the service of those who have gone before and trust that many will follow in future.
“We are thankful for the unique contributions that Fijian Methodists have made to the church in Australia and say ‘thank you!’ for the welcome, friendship, care and hospitality that you have given us in our visits to Fiji.”
The Methodist Church in Fiji owes a debt of gratitude to the Gledhills and their sending church, the Uniting Church in Australia, for continuing to journey with their brothers and sisters called Methodists in Fiji in their New Exodus.
Reverend James Bhagwan is the Secretary for Communication and Overseas Mission for the Methodist Church in Fiji.