General Secretary's Address to Conference 2011

GENERAL SECRETARY’S REPORT: CONFERENCE 2011

1. INTRODUCTION


It is Mark Conner who reminds us that The Church is a living organism, (a spiritual entity), and yet it also has organisational aspects. These two different but related aspects of church governance need to be held in delicate tension.

The Church is very much alive and continues to fulfil its God-given mission, yet it also requires a structure and processes that facilitate and sustain its very life.  

This report is an attempt to tell a story of such a living organism , in brush strokes, as well as capture some of the governance aspects that hold the whole together.

The first part is a reflection of some of the significant events which took place during the period under review.  The second part talks to some of the governance issues and the last part is explores some of the new developments and emerging challenges.

2. REFLECTION

2.1 Pan African Methodist Leaders Consultation

As a precursor to the World Methodist Conference the MCSA initiated and hosted a Pan-African Methodist Leaders Consultation in Durban from 30 November to 2 December 2010.

The meeting drew 25 Methodist leaders from 12 African countries in a bid to review previous Pan-African Methodist initiatives, concretise and reassess co-operation amongst the Methodists in the African continent.

The purpose of the consultation was, inter alia, to:

  • explore ways of maximising African input at the World Methodist Council;
  • build capacity for a sustainable Pan African Methodist Leaders network;
  • identify opportunities for mutual collaboration; dialogue; sharing of gifts and resources;
  • discern what God might be calling us as Methodists in the continent to do jointly; and
  • facilitate an All African Methodist Youth development initiative.

A Coordinating Team follow up meeting was held in Nairobi in March to:

  • write a report on the PAML Consultation;
  • prepare a statement on reasons for PAMLC existence;
  • capture in a written form the development of the Consultation from its inception;
  • identify ways of mutual cooperation and collaboration;
  • develop a consolidated budget and determine assessment/levy structure; and
  • set dates for future meetings.

This is an important initiative which seeks to bring together enhance cooperation between Methodist people in the continent. It also gives concrete expression to our vision of A Christ healed Africa for the Healing of the Nations.

2.2 New Bishops’ Orientation

It has become important that ‘new’ Bishops be given a structured orientation on their role and responsibility. The initial session was held early in the year with the aim of enabling the participants:

  • To explore the Wesleyan understanding of episcopacy and  the role of bishops;
  • To consider the work of the Methodist Connexional Office (calculation of assessments, payment of stipends, insurance, medical, personnel management system, funds, etc.)  and the Presiding Bishop’s Office (holding the Connexion together);
  • To understand Ministerial training (from candidature to ordination);
  • To appreciate importance of systems thinking

This event was seen by the participating Bishops as a significant learning experience and eye opener. A follow up session is scheduled for early in the new year.

It has also become necessary that handover and takeover guidelines be developed to ensure smooth, non-adversarial leadership transition.

2.3 Ministers’ Indaba

The two Regional Ministers Indaba held so far had both positive and negative aspects.

The following were some of the observations:

  • Brought ministers together to reconnect and talk about the things that are pertinent to their calling and common life together;
  • Created space for venting and express frustrations/ misgivings about the Church and its leadership
  • Generated constructive suggestions that could improve the way of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ church and ministry
  • The unhappiness expressed about a number of issues, including the facilitators, administration of the medical fund, pension funds, stationing etc.
  • There was very little on self-reflection and re-visioning of ministry and more on lamenting, blaming, positioning and considering matters of self-interest etc.
  • Surprising lack of understanding, on the part of most ministers on the Church governance and general lack of appreciation of their role as co-leaders

As a result of these Indabas the Bishops have recommended:

  • That to enhance clergy morality, the existing Code of Conduct alongside with a yet to be developed Code of Ethics be revisited and used as a tool to hold ministers accountable;
  • That the Bishops be freed from administrative tasks in order to meaningfully and effectively exercise their oversight and pastoral responsibilities;
  • That the issues raised in the Facilitator Report (available on our website) be given attention in Ministers Retreats, Synods, Staff meetings and other relevant forums
  • That more resources and effort be put on intentional communication, capacity building and continuous education, especially for ministers.  

2.4 Connexional Structures Indaba

The Connexional Structures Indaba which met in June fulfilled its mandate as directed by last year’s Conference. It produced a roadmap for the future (available on our website) which will, if endorsed by Districts, have far reaching implications that will change the shape and form of our Connexion.

Districts are urged to carefully scrutinise, interrogate and enrich the proposals as we re-imagine our life together.  It is Harold Wilson who reminds us that: He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.

2.5 World Methodist Conference

The World Methodist Conference which we so successfully hosted has come and gone. Well done to the Local Organising Team. They did our Connexion proud. The Street Parade on Sunday was a spectacle to behold as the people called Methodists traversed the streets of Durban publicly declaring Jesus Christ as the Healer of the Nations.

The World Methodist Conference was a reminder that we are part of a great world-wide movement that is a tapestry of diverse races, cultures and nations interwoven together by a common commitment of spreading Scriptural Holiness throughout the lands.

3. GOVERNANCE MATTERS

3.1 Revisiting our understanding of episcopacy

The Bishops critically explored the theological underpinnings of MCSA’s understanding of episcopacy using the British Methodist Church’s study document on “Episkope and Episcopacy” and “What sort of Bishops?”

From the discussions it emerged that the phrase “set apart” captures the spirit of episcopacy within the Wesleyan/ Methodist tradition. The bishops are therefore set apart to exercise the ministry of oversight as first among equals – primus inter pares.  It is an office and not a separate order.

Episcopacy within the Wesleyan tradition was born out of necessity and is therefore practical and functional, resting on the presbyterate, but set apart by election and induction to well defined responsibilities.  

Retaining the title after a certain period in the office seems a logic consequence of this understanding as in all intends and purposes people still regard one as a bishop, irrespective of the current MCSA policy.

3.2 Bishops’ Consultative Meetings

It is common knowledge that the Bishops meet at least three times a year for purposes of:

  • Sharing experiences from their respective contexts/districts
  • Team building and fellowshipping
  • Mutual accountability, spiritual nurturing and moral support
  • Standardizing the application and implementation of policies, procedures and Conference resolutions
  • Theological reflection on different aspects of Church work
  • Deliberating on current  issues that affect church and society

It is important that for transparency purposes District leadership is briefed about the deliberation of such meetings as they give a window to what Church leadership is grappling with at a given time.

3.3 Role of Lay Leaders

Our Church took a bold and progressive step in its Journey to the New Land of greater inclusion of laity in the leadership of the Church. The fruits of this in evident in the value add the Lay President and Lay Leaders contribute to taking the Church forward.

There are however unforeseen governance consequences which pose theological and governance challenges that may, if not attended to, cause unnecessary conflict and confusion.

3.4 Relationship  broader Methodists & Wesleyan family within  our Connexion

During the year under review we have been inundated with approaches of three kinds, namely:

  • Emerging Methodist Churches in sub-Sahara who want to be part of our Connexion (e.g. Malawi; Tanzania; Angola);
  • Methodist/Wesleyan  formations within Southern Africa who are seeking closer working relationships/partnerships with the MCSA;
  • Methodists of foreign nationals operating within our Connexion, but are affiliated to their countries’ communion.

Needless to say, such approaches demand that Conference, through its relevant structures, develop appropriate guidelines to creatively deal with these new challenges.

3.5 Strengthening partnerships

The MCSA continues to explore new partnerships and synergies that would enhance our mission.

During the period under review agreements were signed with World Vision, Church of the Resurrection, Kansas City, USA and Malaysian Methodist Church.

The World Vision partnership will support our childcare work, emergency relief and HIV/AIDS outreach.

Collaboration with Church of Resurrection will bolster our human development and economic empowerment and the Malaysian alliance will help sharpen our evangelism and church growth strategies.

3.6 Review of Laws & Discipline
 
In view of the envisaged structural changes, it has become necessary that we defer revision of some of the review of the Laws and Discipline chapters and publication of a new edition until the finalisation of the conversation of structures.

3.7 Conference Resolutions

In my last year’s report to Conference, I indicated that most Synod resolutions are repetitive and do not seem to take into consideration of previous discussions.  A booklet with all Conference and Connexional Executive resolutions for the past ten years is available to Conference members as a reference.

3.8 Methcare and alternate medical aid options

We continue to monitor Methcare scheme, its pricing and benefits, against alternate medical aid schemes and have always come to the conclusion that there is not another medical aid option available, that offers the pricing, the benefits and the freedom of choice that the existing scheme offers.

A comparative study report dated February 2009 analyzing alternative medical schemes was circulated to all Districts.

The study considered the following options:

Discovery Keycare Plus; Nimas Primary; Keyhealth Keycap; Momentum Base; Medihelp Necesse; Bonitas Boncap; Ingwe Capitation; Fedhealth Blue Door

Of the above options, Nimas Primary, Keyhealth Keycap, Ingwe Capitation and Momentum Base no longer exist and have been discontinued by the medical schemes.

The remaining options still follow the same protocols as before, in that, they use a Doctor Network as well as a Hospital Network. This means very simply that as a member you are dictated to by the medical scheme as to which Doctor and which Hospital you can use. Should you not use the network as specified by the medical schemes then the cost of service is for your own account.

The above options are essentially designed to meet the demands of the Metropolitan areas and work on the 80/20 principle, i.e. 80% of their members will come from 20% of the areas they cover such as, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Vaal Triangle, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban etc.

The study concluded that these options would not work for Methcare members for the following reasons:

  • The Methcare members are geographically represented across the country and none of the options that were available to us had this representation from a Doctor Network point of view.
  • The same applied to the Hospital Network and in fact it was far more limiting in that 80% of the Methcare members would have had to travel great distances to get to a Network hospital.
  • The cost comparison for an individual member and for member plus spouse was in line with the alternate options analyzed, but once children were added to the equation the alternate options became far too expensive as compared to the Methcare option.

What was relevant at the time of the analysis is still relevant today and nothing has changed apart from the choice of options that have diminished.

The Methcare option through Pharos is still the option of choice for various compelling reasons. These are:

  • Freedom of Doctor Network – the Member can use their own doctor of choice.
  • Freedom of Hospital Network – The members can go to any hospital (This is a very big issue with medical schemes who want to dictate which hospitals are used).
  • With the Methcare option, the Church’s contribution to the medical scheme is per family contribution, whereas with the other options they charge for each family member. This would escalate our monthly contribution enormously and would be an additional monthly cost of between R200 000 to R500 000.
  • Pharos, as the administrator of Methcare scheme, has proved to be most accommodating to our requests and proposals which no other medical scheme would do.

3.9 Review of Connexional Committees

Our Connexional Committees, especially on Mediation, Arbitration and DEWCOM have served us well in the past. Our appreciation goes to each and every one of them as they have offered their time and expertise pro-bono and pro-deo basis. We will ever be thankful to God for continuously blessing this Church with selfless servants.

As we review the Committees at this Conference. We will be releasing some of the members who have served their term and welcoming new ones who have graciously agreed to serve.

4. RECLAIMING OUR ROLE IN EDUCATION

Due to the overwhelming challenges in education, Conference must urgently give direction on how the Church could meaningfully reclaim its role in education.

A consultative meeting was recently held with Methodist Schools Heads and Chaplains which sort to define:

  • the roles and function of the Independent schools in the life and Mission of the Church
  • the context of education in the Church (Independent and other schools).
  • the governance role of the Church in independent schools, given that we have moved away from conflictual to more constructive relationships.

This historic meeting proved to be a useful platform to chart a way forward.

A proposal was made for the addition of the fifth pillar to our Mission Strategy which speaks to Christian Formation and Education.

More attention should however be given to our under resourced schools in Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana.

The MCSA has also entered into partnership with Historical Schools Restoration Project to develop an Education Resource Centre to reclaim the legacy of Healdtown.  The restoration of Indaleni as a commercial and industrial hub is also at advanced stages.

There is therefore an urgent need to resuscitate the Education Task Team to examine the current education situation, draw up a roadmap and take appropriate action.

5. THE METHODIST DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION

Last year I reported that we were registering a Methodist Heritage Foundation, but because of the development challenges that confront us, it was decided that we broaden the scope and have now registered a Section 21 Company – The Methodist Development Foundation. Such a vehicle will assist us to access funding for from cooperate, government and other funders.

The objectives include promotion of rural development; facilitation of rehabilitation of Methodist Educational and Health Institutions; conducting or commissioning research on Methodist heritage in Southern Africa as well as identifying and preserving Methodist heritage sites and routes.

6. INDIAN MISSION COMMEMORATION

The 150th Indian Mission Commemoration is planned for early next year. This will be a Connexional event that will kick start with a two day conversation on Methodist Heritage which will culminate in Commemoration of Indian Mission.

In his last year’s Conference Address the Presiding Bishop lamented the marginalisation of the ‘minority’ Indian sector and expressed his desire to that the table be expanded to accommodate them so that they take their rightful place at the round table as a community of equals.

He further called on all Methodists to participate in this momentous celebration in our church.

7. SETH MOKITIMI MINISTRY COMMEMMORATION

Much has been said and written about the first black President of the MCSA, Rev Seth Mokitimi, especially during the birthing of the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary. The Mafeteng Circuit, where he originated is planning to have Commemoration Celebrations in honour of his ministry early next year.  The hosting Circuit intends inviting Seminarians and ministers who originate from Lesotho.

The house where Father Mokitimi lived will be refurbished and used for community development projects.

8. GROWTH OF OUR WORK

It is with deep concern that the MCSA seems to lagging behind in extending its footprint in new developing areas. There is an apparent lack of enthusiasm to push our mission frontiers.

During the last three years most events conducted throughout the Connexion have been commemorations and anniversaries. The two Districts that are leading in Church planting are Queenstown and Mozambique Districts.

Districts are urged to take this challenge seriously as our future growth mostly depends on visible presence in a fast developing urban context. We must move out of our comfort zones.

9. TRIBUTE TO PRESIDING BISHOP

This is the last Conference that our esteemed Presiding Bishop and Chief Pastor is chairing Conference sessions. I therefore want to pay special tribute to him as a mentor, leader, friend and colleague.

I have known Bishop Ivan M Abrahams the past 33 years as an activist during the Apartheid struggle years; a colleague in the ministry since seminary days; a faithful friend of a life time; a counsellor and a chief pastor to many. I had the honour and privilege to serve and work alongside him as the Presiding Bishop. What a wonderful experience and fantastic journey it has been.

During his tenure as a Presiding Bishop proved to be an outstanding and accomplished Church leader. He pioneered a number of ground-breaking, legacy projects; opened local and international partnership doors that will continue to benefit the MCSA. Bishop Abrahams has demonstrated a spirit of bravery, resilience and conviction.

Bishop Ivan’s gifting and strengths are in fostering enduring relationships and a bridge builder who has a unique way of holding people of different cultures, divergent views and ideologies together. His leadership prowess is best exhibited in times of turbulence and seeming insurmountable opposition when he calmly charts a way forward. His most ministerial tract is transparency and consultation. He is one of those leaders who are prepared to admit to failure, error of judgement and oversight. Bishop Ivan is the true embodiment of our African philosophy of ubuntu.  This underpins his leadership style, his dealings with the people, his conduct and his way of life.

Your appointment as the General Secretary of the World Methodist Council came as no surprise to those of us who have worked closely with you as you command a lot of respect, not only within Southern Africa, but also in Africa and world-wide.

We will miss his well-researched, informative and thought provoking sermons and Conference addresses, his analytical skills, institutional memory and sense of humour. No amount of words can fully capture what he is and has been to this Church.

As you prepare to leave the shores of your motherland, we know that we have not lost you your passion for the MCSA will never let you fade away. We will always be in your thoughts as you will always be in our prayers.  You have carried the cross of leadership with humility and courage.

We all say:  Adieu Amigo! Well done good and faithful servant.

10. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

An organisation is as good as its people and we are especially proud of the team at Methodist House and at the Methodist Connexional Office who continue to work selflessly on behalf of the MCSA. They provide first class service that the Methodist people have come to expect. We are sad to say ‘good bye’ to Mrs Glynis Stokes. Her financial acumen, wise counsel and pleasant personality will solely be missed. We are however fortunate to welcome a young, vibrant and very able replacement in Ms Joanne Trytsman.

Thanks should go to all people called Methodist; the District Bishops, the Lay President and our families for their support, assistance, guidance and prayers.

To God be the glory!