First Friday Letter The World Methodist Council
Greetings from the General Secretary Greetings in Christ Jesus! On 22 February, Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, which has since become the focus of global attention. Seven days later, on Ash Wednesday, we gathered online with ecumenical partners and all people of goodwill to pray for political leaders, soldiers, and civilians caught up in the current conflict. While we deal with conflict reminiscent of the cold war, it is ironic that we will be making three Methodist Peace Award presentations delayed by the Covid 19 pandemic. On 3 March, we will honor the late Bishop John K. Yambasu, in Bo, Sierra Leone; on 13 March, the Rev. Olav Pärnamets, in Tallinn, Estonia; and on 18 March, the Rev. Dr. Inderjit Bhogal, 2018 recipient in Sheffield, England. We pray that God may “guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79) This year during the Covid 19 pandemic, Black History Month was celebrated by exploring “Black Health and Wellness,” focusing on the contribution of Black scholars and medical practitioners. Black History Month is an annual celebration of Black excellence. It usually takes place in February in countries like the USA, Canada, Jamaica, and others, while October in England. Many Churches celebrated Black pioneers and trailblazers like Bishop Richard Allen (AME), Bishop Leontine Kelly (UMC), and Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton (CME), only to mention a few. In an insightful article, Odell Home, President of the North Georgia Conference (United Methodist News, 24 February 2024), warns that Black history does not begin with slavery. He reminds us that the legacy of African Christianity pre-dates Western Christianity and that North African theologians like Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo made significant contributions to Christianity. In this edition, we include an article by John Thomas, editor of the Christian Recorder, who does not shy away from deep introspection and critique of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. As an expression of cooperation and unity, the Christian Education Departments of the AME, AMEZ, and CME Churches jointly published a Devotional Lenten guide available on amazon. com. Here also is the link to the first week of daily devotionals: https://ameced.com/2022-lenten-devotional-sample/ May this Lenten season be a time of reflection and sincere blessing! Grace and Peace, Ivan World Methodist Council
KYIV, UKRAINE - Feb. 25, 2022: War of Russia against Ukraine. Subway station serves as a shelter for thousands of people during a rocket and bomb attack. Photo 242244557 © Palinchak | Dreamstime.com
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The Way of Peace speck in the other’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5). The conversation requires working through the difficulties, starting from where we are wrong and giving the other side an opportunity to correct their error too. Since the collapse of the USSR, NATO has expanded Eastwardly, including militarily. Russian actions in Ukraine are not a solution and can never be justified. But, one can see where they have their origin. It is a response to NATO’s territorial expansion in the first place. This is a proxy war. The innocent population pays the price. In them, Christ is crucified. The suffering imposed on them is unacceptable; although facing the cruel reality of it square in the eye, may help to bring those responsible around the table of reconciliation. Rev. Dr. Reynaldo F. Leão Neto The way of Christ is the way of peace. How far is the world from the way of Christ, the way of peace? The prayer of the Methodist and Wesleyan people at this time of war and rumours of wars is that we all learn the way of Christ, the way of peace. We pray that our leaders choose peace, choose life and not death and destruction. We join our voices with the voices of all who call ‘Not War’ but ‘Peace’. War has broken out in Europe with the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian forces. The situation threatens the uneasy truce between the powers of old. Suddenly, East and West are on the brink of war. We pray for peace. Ukraine is putting up a brave resistance to the military invasion yet every day that passes the horrors of war become a reality: bombings, many injured the dead, the displacement of the population, the plight of refugees, the destruction of the cities and the chaos that war brings. This is not the way of Christ!
As the negotiation talks begin, the miracle we need is that the plank sinfully stuck in the eyes of East and West, be returned to the cross of Christ where it can be properly dealt with by his sufficient sacrifice; from there that plank - metaphorically speaking - becomes the table of reconciliation where peace can be found. That is our prayer, and the work at hand: to put pressure by demonstrating total disapproval of the Russian war on Ukraine and to seek to remove the plank in our own eyes. To begin where I live, London is the capital of money laundering for the Russian oligarchs and for many other unaccountable powers. Change has to start from here. Story by Rev. Dr. Reynaldo F. Leão Neto, Inter-Religious Relationships Committee of the WMC.
The response by NATO has been isolating Moscow financially. To go further would increase the risk of an all-round nuclear war. The tensions between each side are increasing although there is a glimmer of hope as the mediation talks start to take place. Sitting around the table, seeking a resolution, this is the way of Christ! The ministry of Christ is the ministry of reconciliation. The table of communion is a central sign amongst the many symbols of the body of Christ. It represents forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation requires that each side would see the plank in their own eyes before helping the other with the World Methodist Council
Illustration 31324690 © Jwijayaratne | Dreamstime.com
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Ash Wednesday Statement on Russian Ukrainian conflict Seven days after Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, we gather with ecumenical partners and all people of goodwill to remember political leaders, soldiers, and civilians caught up in the current conflict. We pray that God may “guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79) The World Methodist Council supports Pope Francis’s peace initiative to mediate the conflict between Russia and Ukraine after recent talks failed to lead to a ceasefire. We note that the Pontiff called on leaders of both countries “to examine their consciences seriously before God, who is the God of peace and not of war.” Methodists are committed to peacebuilding and have a long tradition of solidarity with all who challenge violence and injustice. May we read the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the gospel. Statement by Bishop Ivan Abrahams
Photo Credit: 242395288 / Ukraine © Anyaivanova | Dreamstime.com
Read more Statements from the World Methodist Council on Ukraine • Ukraine: Christian World Communions condemn assault, call for peace, invite to prayer • World Methodist Council Statement on Ukraine/Russia
World Methodist Council
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2022 Peace Award Nominees If you have been planning to nominate someone who exemplifies Courage, Creativity, and Consistency for the World Methodist Peace Award, you must act now. Applications submitted by July 15 will be considered for this year. Any application received after July 15 will be reviewed later for 2023. Note, all supporting documents must be included. The nominee should show courage in regard to physical danger or putting personal interest at risk. Creativity should include opening new initiatives and attracting others in working for the cause of peace, Consistency is judged by effort over a period of time and intensity, despite setbacks. Here is the link to read the full criteria: http://worldmethodistcouncil.org/whatwedo/world-methodist-peace-award/ The recipient receives a medallion, citation and US $1000 which is symbolic of the larger recognition achieved in working for peace, justice and reconciliation. The recipient is included in the World Methodist Council Peace award booklet and their photo is hung on the wall of the World Methodist Council Headquarters with other recipients of this prestigious award. Go to www.worldmethodistcouncil.org and click on the “About the WM Peace Award” tab on the left side of the homepage and complete the online application. Please send all nomination forms to Bishop Ivan Abrahams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Peace Award Presentations Thursday, 3 March for the late Bishop John K. Yambasu, 2020 recipient in Bo, Sierra Leone
Sunday, 13 March to the Rev. Olav Pärnamets, 2021 recipient in Tallinn, Estonia at 15:30 Friday, 18 March to the Rev. Dr. Inderjit Bhogal, 2018 recipient in Sheffield, England at 17:00 Information on the presentations will be presented in the April First Friday Letter. (Dr. Bhogal’s Peace Award Presentation was delayed because of COVID restrictions on gatherings or foreigners entering the country.) World Methodist Council
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Bishop Yambasu Agriculture Initiative harvests first crops
Photo 165750082 / Water © Nitsuki | Dreamstime.com
A group of farmers from the Bandakor Village community use knives and sickles to harvest rice in the 75-acre Gbondapi farmland in Pujehun, southern Sierra Leone. The farm is part of the Bishop Yambasu Agriculture Initiative, a pilot project launched by United Methodist Global Ministries in memory of the late Bishop John K. Yambasu who sought to improve food security and strengthen farm communities across Africa. Photo by Phileas Jusu, UM News. A group of excited, sickle-armed farmers, mainly women from the Bandakor Village community, sweated and sang in the scorching heat of a January afternoon as they lopped swaths of rice stalks from the ground. They bent their knees as they picked up the weak stalks bearing the dry grains — an unusual way of harvesting rice, even by traditional standards. The farmers were harvesting the first yields of the Bishop Yambasu Agriculture Initiative farm in the Gbondapi farmlands in Pujehun, southern Sierra Leone, where 75 acres were cultivated in 2021. The process of manual harvesting is slow, especially in the heat. The initiative is a pilot project launched by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries two years ago. It is named in memory of Bishop John K. Yambasu of Sierra Leone who was instrumental in starting the effort to improve food security and strengthen farm communities across the continent. He was a fervent believer that United Methodist conferences in Africa can be self-reliant through agriculture. Yambasu died in a road accident in 2020. On the far end of the farm, a combine rice harvester was rolling in millions of the fallen stalks and separatWorld Methodist Council
ing the grains almost a hundred times faster than the 30 local farmers working together. The Rev. Machael Columba, Pujehun District superintendent and project coordinator for the district, explained why he engaged the local farmers when a combine harvester was doing the job. “The people you see using sickle and knife are the normal harvesters,” he said, “because the combine harvester comes on hire and is hardly available, even where we have the hiring fee.” To get it to come a second time, Columba had to try several times. Waiting for the harvester indefinitely would increase postharvest loss, he noted. “The communities have been harvesting while we negotiated for the harvester to come. The combine harvester, more or less, is helping the people to do the harvest.” He was right. In Freetown, the agriculture program coordinator, the Rev. Solomon Rogers, understands the problems in the field and said that much of the $200,000 received from Global Ministries last year was being used to purchase machinery to ease and fast-track cultivating, harrowing and harvesting. Continued...
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Bishop Yambasu initiative harvests crops
the future, our harvests as well. We already have the funds laid aside for the purchase of a harvester. What we are doing now is arranging the procurement processes to purchase one more tractor and a harvester.”
Both the church and the community benefit from the project.
A combine harvester works the fields at Gbondapi farmland in Pujehun, Sierra Leone, saving the farmers’ time and energy. Mechanized farming is not new in Sierra Leone, but it used to be a privilege enjoyed by only a few farmers. Photo by Phileas Jusu, UM News. The initiative cultivated more than 150 acres of rice farms in Moyamba and Pujehun districts. That may significantly increase in the coming farm year when the necessary equipment is available at the beginning of the season.
“We support the farming communities where we work,” Rogers said. “Using machinery, we plow vast extensions of farmlands for them and provide seedlings and chemicals for weeding. The pilot phase we invested in last year was promising. In Taiama alone, where we cultivated 19 acres of land using hired machinery, we harvested about 156 bushels of rice.” The project has started other initiatives on a small scale. “For Pa Loko in the Waterloo-Freetown rural area,” Rogers said, “we are engaging locals in vegetable farming and animal husbandry.” If that pilot phase proves promising, they will expand the effort.
Asked how he hoped the agriculture initiative would benefit his community, Lahai Mansaray, the Bandakor village chief, said “We are already benefiting. The initiative cultivated and plowed extra acres of farms for the community. They Rice farming in the Gbondapi area started last year, hired the plows and provided the seeds. All but productivity was low, according to Columba. This, we did was to help in broadcasting the seeds.” he said, was mainly due to unforeseen circumstances. Broadcasting is scattering seeds over a broad They were farming in an area with unique challenges. area, rather than sowing in furrows. “About three-fourths of the funds went into machinery,” he said. “The rest went into agricultural supplies, inputs like fertilizers and seeds.”
Unlike the situation in other parts of the country, the Gbondapi farmlands flood throughout the rainy season when the rice plant is about a foot tall. Tilling the land and planting are done before the farms are flooded; harvesttime coincides with the dry season when floodwaters have receded completely. With manual labor, harvesting is slow because the grains fall to the ground as the floodwaters recede, causing postharvest losses. Using their own equipment and having secured more land, the farmers have high hopes for the next farming season. “This year,” Rogers said, “we are extending to Tonkolili District in the Magbass area, where we have secured another 200 acres to plant rice. “We have bought tractors for plowing and harrowing,” he continued. “Two rice-milling plants are being installed in Gbondapi and Taninahun. We also have bought a truck to convey all our implements and, in World Methodist Council
“This year,” Mansaray added, “we hope to cultivate more because the project now has more machines. We have also asked Rev. Columba to support our vegetable farming. That way, our livelihoods are diversified and income improved.” Mansaray was excited to learn that the project is buying a harvester that would relieve them of having to harvest using sickles. He desires a boat in the future because most of the farming communities live on small islands around the sea. In the rainy season, they can only travel by boat. “Previously,” he said,” we relied on manual labor using hoes and the sickles we are using today. But with mechanized farming, the hope for the future is bright.” Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. First Friday Letter page 6
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Praying for Peace Reflections on the Gulf Crisis and Silencing the Howling Dogs of War Reviewed by Keith Anthony Vermeulen I stepped into our local library recently and was impressed with the red crinkle paper and wire designed hearts, a reminder that 14th February is celebrated as “Valentine’s Day” and subsequently, February as the Month of Love. Thirty years ago – in 1990/1 - I was awarded a World Council of Churches’ scholarship to study Developmental Studies and Theology at New College, University of Edinburgh. February is, nowadays, celebrated as the “Month of Love” with balmy weather in South Africa, quite the opposite of that in the northern hemisphere. Locals in Edinburgh reminded us that the last time it snowed in Edinburgh was six years previously so we ought to expect a cold winter snap. February 1991 was spectacularly different. The media entertained all and sundry with a Hollywood type TV drama, live streaming images of horrendous human and infrastructure carnage of the “Gulf War” in Iraq.
During this war, and after this war, people will want to pray… My thoughts turned to a little book, “Praying for Peace: Reflections on the Gulf Crisis” edited by Michael HareDuke, then Bishop of St. Andrews, Scotland, Bishop Michael laments that “War …is once again set to blight the face of the earth. Human is set against human, with high technology weapons threatening destruction and death on a vast scale. During this war, and after this war, people will want to pray…” One article amongst many that has captured my attention is “Kneeling Before the Dogs of War”, by Iain Mackenzie, a former Head of Religious Broadcasting for BBC Scotland. Mackenzie recalls standing at an upstairs window in his home where there appeared below an almighty racket as four dogs tangled with each other. A Rottweiler had tangled with a sheepdog, held by a frightened woman. The attacker’s owner who usually had the dogs under exemplary control was distressed. After the sound of battle had raged and subsided, the sheepdog and its mistress made good their escape. The owner of the other dogs looked up and down the street. Unaware that Iain was watching, he kneeled down in the street and for ten minutes at their eye level, talked earnestly to them gazing into their eyes. He then released them for their daily run into the nearby woods. Iain returned to his living room to watch the war on TV, paused then stopped, turned off the TV and concludes that “This war cannot be what our brilliance and beauty as a species is meant for.” Mackenzie believes we are meant to go out much further in exploration, not to colonize, but fructify the wild universe. There are reflections in “Praying for Peace” from over 60 faith leaders because peace belongs to all people and requires a willingness to share scarce and abundant resources of a world which could no longer afford to make competition between individuals and nations the main thrust of its way of life. “Praying for Peace: Reflections on the Gulf Crisis” was first published in Great Britain in 1991 by Fount Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins Religious. Dr Fernand de Varennes Story and photo by WMC Researcher Keith Vermeulen World Methodist Council
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Decolonizing the AME Church On November 30 at midnight, the Caribbean country of Barbados celebrated the transition from a constitutional monarchy to a parliamentary republic. As a result, the island’s head of state would no longer be Queen Elizabeth II but a President elected by Parliament. Barbados has been independent and self-governing since 1966, yet the British monarch retained its governance by appointing a local Governor-General serving as the Queen’s representative. After decades of debate, the island finally broke its final colonial tie and recognized its first homegrown head of state. As I watched the ceremony live with my mother, uncle, and family on the island, I noticed the pride and pomp of the occasion as the country claimed its full sovereignty. No longer would official oaths of loyalty be sworn to the British Crown but now to the Republic of Barbados. As I listened to President Sandra Mason and Prime Minister Mia Mottley give their speeches, I heard the emotion and pride of no longer having to represent the Queen nominally. Prince Charles was on hand to celebrate the new chapter of Barbados—a member of the Commonwealth but a country over which he would never reign.
While once a defiant act in the age of empire and colonialism, sending Black American bishops to superintend areas outside of the United States is a colonial relic parallel to the Queen of England positioned as Barbados’ head of state. In the religious establishments of newly independent countries, European leaders were replaced with indigenous clerics. While the Catholic, Episcopal, and other Methodist Churches transformed their highest ranks, the AME Church lagged content to have the supreme governance vested in an American named by the General Conference. The clamors for “indigenous leadership” through the Africa Jurisdiction Council (AJC) led the AME Church to elect three African Bishops in 2004. While again important symbols, none of these African-born Bishops served more than eight years in their “indigenous” area, and concerns regarding governance and sovereignty from Districts 14-20 have increasingly grown louder. The election of a Connectional Lay President and a member of the Judicial Council from South Africa in 2021 are equally great symbols but do not get at the deeper problems of estrangement that pervade the clergy and members of the AME Church outside the United States.
After the ceremony, I reflected on the status of the African Methodist Episcopal Church outside the United States. Since 1822, the AME Church has been an international church. As we expanded our geographic outreach, we have had to face the cultural and political realities of how African Methodism translates locally. For example, in 1856, many of the AME Churches in Canada separated to form the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church to avoid enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and advocate for local jurisdiction. Even after the Civil War ended, a majority of BME Churches in Canada decided against rejoining the AME Church. In South Africa, apartheid-era concerns regarding the conduct of “foreign” Blacks necessitated the election of Bishop Francis Gow in 1956 and the reconfiguration of the African work, as colonialism ended in the 1970s, to avoid engaging with the South African apartheid regime. The creation of an international Methodist denomination led by Black bishops was a revolutionary act in the 19thcentury. Decades before Black bishops would be consecrated in The United Methodist Church or in any African church, AME bishops were fully recognized and embraced at the highest levels of the ecumenical and ecclesiastical world. This symbol was one of the reasons that led Father MM Mokone to affiliate his Ethiopian Orthodox Church in South Africa with the AME Church in the United States. It is also why the AME Church became a beacon of hope to anti-colonial fighters across the Caribbean and Africa.
Bronze statue of Richard Allen at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia Photo 118661322 / Richard Allen © David Pillow | Dreamstime.com
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Decolonizing the AME Church Having a native head of state for Barbados is symbolic, but symbols are important. Denominations as diverse as the Assemblies of God, the Catholic Church, and the Episcopal Church have known that substantive authority must be vested in leadership rooted and grown in the country to truly grow and participate in a national landscape. Relying on American and foreign-born bishops to lead Districts 14-20 not only stunts our growth but stifles our prophetic voice and makes us look like the European imperialists that have long since left their colonies behind. Furthermore, maintaining these areas as excuses to elect American placeholders to bide their time until a US slot becomes available is no longer tenable or practical. The African Methodist empire must end. In the same way that Barbados reimagined its relationship with the United Kingdom, Districts 1-13 must reimagine their relationship with Districts 14-20. The Global Development Council (formerly known as the AJC) blueprint of instituting authentic indigenous leadership outside of the United
continued... States must be implemented. While some districts may need stronger ties to the United States, several areas are past due for complete autonomy and locally elected episcopal leadership. We must have intelligent discussions about how the Connectional Church truly works and what is best for living the dream of the Free African Society. Within the last 25 years, no less than five separate denominations have split from the AME Church on the continent of Africa, and the AME Church is fast becoming out of touch with members in the Caribbean. If a viable plan to provide for sovereignty is not created, Americans will wake up at a General Conference to realize that all that is left of Districts 14-20 are flags and memories. Story by John Thomas, III, Editor, The Christian Recorder
Explore Wisdom of Women around the World All We Can, the relief and development charity of the Methodist Church in Britain, has partnered with Methodist Women in Britain – a volunteer run charity equipping Methodist women from across the Church to connect with each other and issues of social justice – to produce ‘Let Wisdom Speak’. The free daily Lent devotional features reflections from TV presenter and author Joanna Adeyinka-Burford, tutor and lecturer at St Mellitus College Dr. Selina Stone and former President of the Baptist Union Revd. Dr. Kate Coleman, as well as insights from leaders of All We Can’s partners, and several Methodist Women in Britain. Additionally, All We Can has announced the launch of an event in the evening of Tuesday 8 March 2022 in celebration of International Women’s day. The virtual event, starting at 6pm, will be held will explore the themes of ‘Let Wisdom Speak’. Hosted by members of the All We Can team, contributors include Revd. Sonia Hicks, President of the Methodist Conference, and the Executive Directors of some of All We Can’s partners from around the world. Registration to the event is free via All We Can’s website. Angela Zamaere Smith, All We Can’s Director of Programmes said, ‘Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on all of us – but especially women. From loss of earnings, to an increase in gender-based violence and a rise in early marriage, women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s destruction. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we listen to the wisdom of the women who are leading change in their local contexts – both here in the UK, and in the communities where our partners are based.’ To order or download copies of ‘Let Wisdom Speak’ and find out more about the International Women’s Day event, visit allwecan.org.uk/lent.
Photo 108826566 / Bridge Water © | Dreamstime.com
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Photo credits: Perkins School of Theology/ R. Hipps
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About the First Friday Letter
This and past First Friday Letters can be found online at FirstFridayLetter.worldmethodistcouncil.org.
The First Friday Newsletter is a monthly publication of the World Methodist Council.
The World Methodist Council’s website may be found at worldmethodistcouncil.org.
Publisher: Bishop Ivan Abrahams, General Secretary
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