Fiji Methodists allowed to hold first conference in four years

Fiji Methodists allowed to hold first conference in four years

After being denied a permit for four years, the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma is holding its three-day conference (normally held every year) from August 29 to 31.

Methodist clerics have opposed the military government, which in turn suspended a number of civil liberties. The government cancelled last year’s conference after church leaders defied its directive to step down from their positions.

The ban was lifted earlier this year with restrictions including a warning not to discuss political issues at conferences. Deputy General Secretary the Rev. Tevita Banivanua said it will be difficult to avoid political discussion as it is encouraging members to submit to a commission on Fiji’s proposed new constitution.

“We are told on one hand to discuss the constitution, which is political in nature, and on the other hand we are told not to discuss anything political,” he told Radio New Zealand International.

The Rev. Tuikilakila Waqairatu, a former principal of the Davuilevu Theological College, which educates the church’s clerics, was elected president, with 56 per cent of the vote. He told the 900 delegates the church will be working with government to move Fiji forward and will work on creating employment opportunities.

A concern was dwindling membership. Some delegates said members were being lost due to the burden placed on them through levies and other requirements. Dues are expected to increase to $15 from $10.

However conference media officer the Rev. Abel Nand said many members had opted for other denominations for safety reasons after the rift between the church and the government in 2009. Total membership declined to 197,226 this year from 201,884 last year. “We are worried — this is a huge number,” Nand said.

The Rev. Tomasi Kanailagi, a former church president, called on the 55 church divisions to reassess programs and be committed in lifting the spiritual life of its members.

By David Crampton, Ecumenical News International

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