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Local Methodists celebrate 50 years of autonomy

Friday, May 19, 2017

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Methodists throughout Jamaica will gather at the National Indoor Sports Centre on Sunday, May 21 to celebrate 50 years since the signing of the Deed of Church Order and the Deed of Foundation by which the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) became independent of the British Methodist Conference and its evangelical arm, the Methodist Missionary Society.The deed was signed on behalf of Methodists in the region by the Rev Dr Hugh Sherlock, inaugural president of the new MCCA Conference on May 18, 1967 at the MCCA Conference Centre in Antigua, where Methodism had been first introduced into the region some 200 years before.

The Jamaica District's MCCA 50 commemorative service will incorporate its annual Aldersgate Rally which harks back to the evangelical conversion of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, at Aldergate, London, in May 1738. This year's mass rally will feature proclamations of the word, confirmation of members from congregations throughout Jamaica, as well as stirring renditions from guest artiste Kevin Downswell and choirs drawn from the 171 Methodist churches and 27 circuits on the island. The Methodist Chorale will also present Noel Dexter's stirring Hitherto the Lord Hath Led Us, composed in 1989 to recognise 200 years of Jamaica Methodism.

One highlight of the event will be the launch of the Annual Hugh Sherlock Lecture Series to be delivered in the course of this anniversary year. The first presenter will be the Rev Dr Oral A W Thomas, acting president, United Theological College of the West Indies, who will address the Methodist Regional “Connexion” in the context of nationalism and individualism.

The message will be delivered by Jamaica District Bishop Everald Galbraith.

The Methodist church in Jamaica has over 170 congregations and ministers to more than 100 schools and other institutions across the island. Methodist churches and church halls have become virtual skills training hubs. The stage had also already been set for church buildings to be willingly offered for use as classrooms for day schools, homework centres and literacy projects, and as essential shelters during and after natural disasters. Methodists are also involved in managing the Faydene Home and Methodist Home for Retired Persons, the Elsie Bemand Home for Girls, and the National Children's Home which dates back to 1972.Health and legal clinics have long been a part of Methodist outreach to communities. There has also been much emphasis on the church's radio and television ministries, including, Light For Our Path and the Methodist Connexion.

Specific youth-centred initiatives have also included the “SAVE 50” programme by which each church is challenged to rescue children and young people from the cycle of neglect and physical and mental abuse. The objective is to help them develop their full potential through strategic back-to-school programmes, scholarship funding, and oversight of children's performance with remedial support.

The districts comprising the MCCA Conference were initially Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Panama, and Costa Rica, and the southern Caribbean. In 1968 the Bahamas/Turks and Caicos District, which had an associate relationship, became a full member, and at the same time Haiti was elevated from a sub-district of the Jamaica District and given district status.

Of the future of Methodism in Jamaica and the region, the Rev Galbraith sees much reason for hope regarding the capacity for church growth, adding that the church's objectives will be more decisively met when we begin to embrace more fully the teaching of St Paul as found in 2 Timothy 1: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self control.”

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