2013 14 May

A New Kind of Partnership – Moderator’s Blog

Posted in Steinbach United

A New Kind of Partnership

by Gary Paterson

On Sunday, May 5, the General Council Executive was invited by the Ghana Calvary Methodist United Church to join with them in worship to celebrate a new “associate relationship” between our two denominations, The United Church of Canada and the Methodist Church Ghana.

It was an exciting invitation, although it required some creative reshaping of the GCE agenda. Buses had to be arranged to transport the 75 or more GCE members to Beverley Hills United Church, where the Ghanaian church is located (as is Toronto Conference Office—interesting partnership!). It meant being prepared for a two-hour worship service (which stretched to 2.5 hours—in truth, a tight schedule for our partners, who are more accustomed to a three- or four-hour service), followed by a joyous lunch with good spicy Ghanaian food.

Some background: an increasing number of immigrants to this country come from Ghana. Many are Methodists, and congregations have been established in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton (and in 21 cities in the U.S.). They are part of a new reality in this country—what some have been calling “the migrant church.” Take a look at the Ghana Calvary Methodist United Church website—I was moved by their words of welcome:

Our church has been offering hospitality and hope to the community since 1996. We do this because we are followers of Jesus: who welcomed anyone who wanted to talk, work or eat with him. In his presence, people found new hope for their lives. May you find here a living spirit of Love and peace of God.

They bring their own understanding of the gospel and their own way of “doing church,” and at the same time, they are looking for partnerships with like-minded Christians in Canada, ideally with those who share a Methodist heritage, where at least there is some common ground and history. Who better, perhaps, than the United Church?

An interesting dance has been going on between our two denominations, with excitement and questions. What does true partnership look like? How will it be mutual, with both churches open to different gifts and visions? One thing that did emerge was that the Ghanaian congregations want to maintain “dual citizenship,” to be a member of both denominations, and that means some new dance steps need to be developed to deal with property and oversight issues—tricky, but not impossible. The Memorandum of Understanding was phrased in typical “churchese,” but you could still sense the excitement and the commitment to MISSION, and when we joined together in worship there was a wonderful energy. Strong Methodist hymns, but also music and praise with a band that made it impossible to stand still—I mean, we really were dancing in the aisles. And that’s how we did the offering too, dancing up to the front and presenting our gifts. Bishop Asante, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church Ghana was present, and in his sermon he talked about a “historically dynamic God” who is calling us to love one another, and to do so in this inclusive, multicultural, multi-religious context that is Canada: “It cannot be business as usual.”

We were offered a glimpse that Sunday morning of possibilities, of new and long-time Canadians coming together, of changing each other, learning from each other, our differences put into perspective by our love of Christ. Sure, it will mean new conversations about language and gender issues, and new experiments in worship style and approaches (who says a worship service can’t be three hours long?), and above all discovering new ways of carrying out God’s mission!

Earlier in the week I had had an opportunity to have lunch with Bishop Asante, and what a pleasure. Amid the stories and laughter, however, there was a moment when he shared his sadness at visiting England—from where, with missionary zeal, the Christian faith had come to his country—only to discover that so many churches were empty or dying. In contrast, when I asked about Trinity Seminary in Accra, Ghana, where he teaches, he shared that 800 full-time students are preparing for ministry, not including students in evening classes or in the program designed for those who are already working. He thought there might be close to 2,000 students in total—quite a contrast to what’s happening in Canada.

It made me wonder about what the Holy Spirit is doing in our times as the centre of Christianity shifts. And I was very grateful that we have committed ourselves to be joined in a new way, as brothers and sisters in Christ.