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At church

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Oscar Allen 08.FEB.08

Last month I spent a week at church; there were nearly 150 of us, and close to equal numbers of men and women. It was the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Methodist Church in the South Eastern Caribbean. Methodists have a useful but mechanical and unweildly method of looking at God’s things.{{more}} We have to answer something like 300 compulsory questions (my estimate) when we look at the work of God that we did over the past year. Questions in committees, questions in full sessions, questions in your own heart, and these are not just “Yes/No questions”.. After you go through that for a whole week, you bound to feel fed up, glad that it done, say never me again, and pack your bag with a “Thank God”.

Actually, two weeks after this Methodist conference in Grenada, even though it had some alienating/down lifting moments, I still have a joyful, thankful spirit. I had been part of a movement of the people of God, who accepted their calling and showed me moving pictures of commitment and devotion to Jesus. They blessed me. Still, 300 questions and a whole week are too much and can add up to a flawed audit process.

The meeting took place in St. Paul’s, Grenada, and wreckage and ruin stared at us all along the way. Most of the Methodist chapels are still in an unusable mess, but our hosts and hostesses didn’t water down their hospitality or the quality of their “event management”. Love is alive in Grenada, and Rev’d Tessica Hackshaw (from South Rivers) and his team did things well. What I saw in Grenada tells me that there is abroad a spirit of renewal, a bustle of business and a seeking for change. At the start of the year, too, Ms Nadia Bishop, daughter of the slain Maurice and his wife Angela, had raised the banner of, and an appeal for peace, for forgiveness and reconciliation. It is like a seedling that needs cultivation in that hurting land.

Years ago, in 1976, working in the Rural Transformation Collective, I first visited St. Paul’s, Grenada, to support some young people in an agricultural project. Their leader was a young Methodist Leon Cornwall. During this week at church in St. Paul’s, Grenada, a worship team from the Conference went to the Richmond Hill Prison to celebrate “the Lord’s supper”. The preacher, Bro Clarke from Barbados, had been the prison chief who served the invasion regime in 1983 and managed the prison system. “At that time”, he told the congregation, “I was an officer of the intervention forces, but today, I serve a different master, I am here in the name of Jesus.” Among the 30 or so prisoners there, it was Leon Cornwall – now a Methodist preacher – who underlined Bro Clarke’s testimony that God does change lives. Cornwall had been in prison since the Grenada massacre and the US invasion in 1983. At worship also, there were two other friends whom I recognised; Bernard Coard – blind but hopeful that he would recover his vision – and Selwyn Strachan. We were pleased to see each other.

In two years, Caribbean Methodism will be 250 years old and we still have missions to accomplish. More than ever we need to position ourselves in society the way that Jesus did. He moved among the people of Galilee – the hardworking, the broken, the diseased, the neglected, as well as the “superior and righteous” – and what he saw was not a problem people, but a harvest, a possibility, a conversion readiness for the good news of liberation. The 30 Caribbean missionaries managing 80 or so congregations and 16 schools in the South East Caribbean do not presently constitute a Methodist success story for God. We are barely holding strain. We need to open our “harvest eyes” a lot more in this new year.

During 2009, a Caribbean Methodist Hymn Book will be on hand to help us sing our new song. This 2008 – 2009 year, five new missionaries will begin to take up studies to serve God in our area. One of the closing acts of the conference had to do with our prayer and call for the peace and reconciliation among Grenadians who had been torn apart when the Grenada revolution exploded in bloodshed and terror and invasion. One Grenadian participant put it this way: “I think we need help from outside to urge us towards peace.” The Methodist AGM had begun with a contemplative fast and prayer retreat on the first working day. On the final night, we unwound with a gospel concert and the rich baritone sound of Randal Robinson closed the conference with “He raised me up”. It is a fitting theme for the work ahead.

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