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British Methodists focus on ecumenical ties, racial justice

7/7/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A sidebar, UMNS story #352, is available with this report.

By Kathleen LaCamera*

LLANDUDNO, Wales (UMNS) - Almost three centuries after Methodism's founder, John Wesley, first visited Wales, British Methodists gathered in this north coastal town to worship, debate and make decisions for a 21st century Methodist Church.

The June 28-July 4 conference tackled a host of issues, including closer official ties between Methodists and Anglicans, the struggle for racial justice and the designation of the first ever general secretary for the denomination.

In his inaugural speech to the conference, the Rev. Neil Richardson, the incoming Methodist president, encouraged those assembled to resist the temptation of "Wesleyan fundamentalism," in the year that sees the 300th anniversary of Wesley's birth.

"The world has changed so much; we have changed so much," Richardson told the conference. "We have to ask what we need to leave behind, what we need to cherish and take with us into the future."

Answering that challenge, conference members voted 277-86 to accept the Anglican Methodist Covenant, which paves the way for mutual recognition of clergy, shared sacraments and joint decision-making structures between the Church of England and British Methodism (see UMNS story #347, "British Methodists say 'yes' to closer ties with Anglicans," July 2). They also accepted a major report from the church's Commission for Racial Equality, detailing racial justice issues within the denomination and in the larger community.

Naboth Muchopa, the author of the report and Methodism's secretary for race relations, said there are new pressures on race relations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

"Since 9-11, people have made a mental move backwards," Muchopa said. "Some say surely we have the right to decide who we want to relate to. Surely we have the right to associate with people who share the same values and views we hold."

Inderjit Bhogal is the first and so far only person of color to serve as president of the British Methodist Church. He is also the only church official selected by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to serve on a high-level advisory panel on racial equality. Bhogal said the Church must keep holding up this issue and "not grow weary."

"We must more vigorously develop black leadership in the life of the church," he told United Methodist News Service. "We must develop broader voices…. Racism has no place in the life of the church."

Conference delegates also urged Methodists to support efforts to get food and medical aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank; called for the release of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi; voted to work with United Methodists on banning cluster bombs; voiced concern that AIDS has become the "new apartheid" and urged more pressure be put on multinational pharmaceutical companies to release cheap generic drugs; and expressed a desire to work with the British government to provide aid and end repression in Zimbabwe.

Ann Saunkeah, a United Methodist representative from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, told UMNS that she observed a refreshing lack of individual political ambition on the part of British Conference delegates.

"I sense a real spiritual renewal taking place here," Saunkeah said. "They really are about the Church."

A fellow United Methodist representative, Bishop Melvin Talbert, said the results of the Anglican Methodist Covenant process would be an "inspiration" to U.S. United Methodists who recently have begun similar conversations with the Episcopal Church USA. Talbert is the ecumenical officer of his denomination's Council of Bishops.

In additional business, the conference agreed to appoint the Rev. Nigel Collinson to a six-year term as its first ever general secretary, or top staff executive. Delegates also elected the Rev. Will Morrey as the new president designate, scheduled to take office in 2004. Morrey, who became deaf at age 19, said he hopes his appointment will "encourage others with disability."

More information about this year's British Methodist Conference is available at

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*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.

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