The Methodist Church in Singapore and the Methodist Church in Malaysia were established as a result of the Methodist missionary movement during the later part of the eighteenth century. The Lord has indeed blessed the ministry of the Methodist Church in South East Asia. The Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Malaysia, in particular, was aware of its missionary obligations. Many of the migrants who speak only their mother tongue found it hard to fit into the Australian mainstream churches. Missionaries from East Malaysia were sent to Australia to minister to the migrants. As the numbers grew preaching centres and churches were established.
A Mission Conference was incorporated in 1993. Six years later, at the annual conference which took place in November 1999 held in Perth, a Provisional Annual Conference was established according to the Constitution. There are three districts (East, West, South) with a district superintendent each to oversee the ministries of the local churches. In November 2002, we became a full Annual Conference after having achieved a membership of 10 elders. We now have 15 churches in all the major cities in Australia. The present bishop is Bishop Albert Chiew.
There are presently 13 elders, 4 deacons and 4 pastors on trial. Total registered membership in 2006 was 1482.
The Uniting Church was formed in 1977 by a union of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Australia. The largest component of its initial membership was Methodist, as sections of the other two churches remained outside of the union.
As indicated by the deliberate choice of its name, the Uniting Church has a strong ecumenical ethos. It is an active participant in world church forums, including the World Council of Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the World Methodist Council. It acts in partnership with 32 churches in Asia and the Pacific, and has long associations with Methodist and United churches in Papua New Guinea, India, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. In Australia it is in national dialogue with nine other churches, although none of those relationships are expected to result in further union in the near future.
The Uniting Church is the third largest church in Australia with approximately 2,000 congregations and 240,000 members and adherents. In common with other „mainstream‟ Australian churches it is faced with the challenge of diminishing numbers as secularism continues to grow.
Government of the church follows an inter-conciliar model. The national Assembly is headed by the church‟s president, elected to office for a period of three years. Six synods, corresponding largely to the states of Australia, are the largest administrative bodies; they are headed by moderators who are elected for terms of 1-3 years. The Presbyteries, or district bodies, only some of which have their own staff, are headed by elected chairpersons.
Among the main features of the church are: An increasing multi-culturalism, five percent of the membership worships in languages other than English; The “Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress” provides for Aboriginal Christians to exercise oversight with respect to ministry with Aboriginal people. The UCA has been in a covenant relationship with Congress since 1985. A vast community service operation, which makes it the largest non-government provider of services in Australia, constant action on social justice matters, including strong stances on Aboriginal rights, disarmament, human rights and economic justice; a growing effort to transform congregations into “outposts of local mission and evangelism” through a ten-year thrust under the banner of “Forward Together;” commitment to the theological scholarship, with a network of six theological colleges, most of which are associated with universities.
A permanent ordained diaconate, established in 1992, plus new ministry orders of community minister and youth worker are now contributing significantly to the church‟s mission.
The history of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma is closely related if not synonymous with the history of this relative young South Pacific nation. It was the missionary zeal and highly disciplined evangelical thrust that saw the members of the Wesleyan Missionary Society penetrate the islands of Fiji, beginning in October 1935. Since that time, Wesleyan Christianity has become well integrated into local culture of the indigenous people.
In April 1854 the then paramount chief of Fiji, Ratu Seru Cakobau was converted to Christianity. Following this conversion, many people openly confirmed their faith in the gospel. This gospel has become a significant pillar in the maintenance of Fijian society.
When British rule was introduced in 1874, the government became the third strand in the new orthodoxy which evolved as the embodiment of Fijian consciousness. These three strands are commonly known as Vanua (way of the land), Lotu (Christianity), Matanitu (state). Throughout these last 160 years, the Methodist Church in Fiji has enjoyed the close working together of these three strands.
1879 saw the coming of Asian Indians. They were imported as indentured laborers for the sugar cane industry. They had come with their religion, language, culture and customs. The Fiji home mission responded to the Indian challenge in Fiji by setting up the Indian Mission in 1892 to address their condition of work and witness to the loving care of God. Work lapsed until Ms. Hannah Dudley arrived in October 1897.
Dudley Church and Dudley High School stand as testimony to her devotion and commitment to he cause of the gospel. Membership of Indo-Fijian Methodists is 2,243 out of a 213,000 Methodist population.
The Rotuman Mission was under the Fiji District of the Wesleyan Missionary Society since 1841. Rotumans on the island of Rotuma are predominantly Methodist. They have continued to grow in their number and persistence in faith in Fiji as well as in countries outside Fiji such as Australia and New Zealand. Rotumans in Suva, Fiji, have built one of the finest buildings with modern architectural art with a sitting capacity of 1,000.
In 1987, Fiji suffered two military coups. This event became an important turning point in the country’s political history. It placed the Methodist Church in a shaky and difficult situation. It was left with a crisis of identity. An authentic and clear witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is now called for in order for the church to recapture its identity. The Church is convinced that it must continue its missionary obedience, availing itself to assist in any way possible to become an instrument of peace, justice and unity in our multi-coloured society.
Strong challenges from new religious groups, enthusiasts and spirited cults are among the new forces the church faces today. The spiritual life of our people at the grass root level is maintained, affirmed and renewed in the church’s worship. The evangelical disciplined faith has always been a feature of the spirituality of the Fijian people. As the church moves on to the third millennium, the challenge still stands to seek new ways of witnessing to the lordship of Christ in a new pluralistic situation.
Organized Methodism in Australia, as part of the Foreign Missions under the direction of the British Conference, dates from the appointment of the Rev. Samuel Leigh to New South Wales in 1815. This, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji were constituted “The Australian Wesleyan Methodist Connexion” with an Annual Conference, affiliated to the Parent English Conference, and the first conference was held in Sydney in the year 1855. The New Zealand Church separated from the Australian Conference in 1913 with the union of the Methodist Church of New Zealand and the Primitive Methodist Church of New Zealand and the first conference was held in that year.
New Zealand is a country with a population of 3,500,000. There are 9,473 Methodist Church members who worship as part of a Methodist Church parish. In addition there is a significant number of Methodist Church members who worship within a cooperative venture where the Methodist Church has combined with the Presbyterian or Anglicans or Church of Christ or Congregational Union congregation of a particular area. The establishment of cooperative ventures has occurred in many regions of the country and particularly in rural areas. These form over half of the parishes for which the Methodist Church of New Zealand is responsible.
At the annual conference in 1983 the church made a conscious decision to work toward becoming a bicultural church. In particular the church made a decision to take seriously the founding document of our nation, the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty was signed by Maori and Pakeha, and the church’s commitment to the bicultural journey affirms that partnership. For this reason we have adopted practices whereby the voice of the Tangata Whenua (the original people) is heard as equal with the voice of the Tauiwi (the people who came after). One of the outcomes of this recognition of partnership is that our church now seeks to make decisions using as much as possible a consensus process of decision-making.
At the 1989 conference, the following statement of mission was adopted for the people of Aotearoa/New Zealand who are associated with the Methodist tradition, both in Methodist parishes and in cooperative ventures. “Our church’s mission in Aotearoa/New Zealand is to reflect and proclaim the transforming love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and declared in the scriptures. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve God in the world. The Treaty of Waitangi is the covenant establishing our nation on the basis of power-sharing partnership and will guide how we undertake mission.”
The mission statement becomes the basis on which the mission of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, Te haahi Weteriana o Aotearoa is carried out, and reflects the partnership we seek to embody.
The Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand (WMCNZ) is a dynamic, evangelical expression of Methodism in the South Pacific, living out Wesley’s core gospel convictions in the multicultural, secular context of wider New Zealand society. The first Wesleyan Methodist minister to come to the South Pacific in 1815 was Rev. Samuel Leigh, from England. He visited New Zealand for nine months during 1819. With the support of the new (British) Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, Leigh established the first New Zealand Wesleyan work at Whangaroa (near Kaeo) in 1823. The Wesleydale mission was unsuccessful but was re-established at Mangungu in the Hokianga. Wesleyan missionaries, along with Anglicans, were instrumental in supporting the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi; between the indigenous Maori people and the British Crown. Other branches of British Methodism established themselves in New Zealand; in 1844 the Primitive Methodists, in 1860 the United Free Methodists and in 1877 the Bible Christians. These churches, and the main Wesleyan Methodist Church, were all evangelical in theology. Through a series of church unions, all the different Methodist churches in New Zealand had combined by 1913. During the 1930s and after World War II, the Methodist Church progressively adopted a more intellectual style of ministry training, which included a critical Biblical teaching method, pastoral counselling emphases, and a reduced focus on holiness and evangelical/mission convictions. Pacifism, ecumenism, post-war social turmoil, and an increasingly liberal theological ethos became influential in the church. Many evangelical ministers and lay people were concerned at the pluralism of theology, loss of Wesleyan theological distinctives, and from the 1980s the over-riding bicultural criteria which became the benchmark of mission and decision-making. The rise of the charismatic movement in the 1970s and 1980s saw many Methodists join other denominations. Theological disquiet for evangelicals deepened when the 1997 Methodist Conference approved a homosexual minister into full connexion, and in the process contravened proper decision-making processes. The Wesleyan Methodist Movement was formed to co-ordinate the work of evangelicals who could not live in theological conscience with the 1997 Methodist Conference decision. In July 2000 the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand (WMCNZ) was formed as a multi-cultural church in the Wesleyan stream to pursue a renewed evangelical missional future. The WMCNZ was founded as an indigenous church with New Zealand leadership, led by founding National Superintendent Rev Edgar Hornblow. Among decisions made at the first conference was to join the Wesleyan World Fellowship of the international Wesleyan Church. In September 2007 the WMCNZ was received as a full member of the World Methodist Council. In August 2012 a new South Pacific Regional Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church was inaugurated in Brisbane, Australia, with the constituent national conferences being those of Australia, Bougainville, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. Rev. Dr Richard Waugh, New Zealand National Superintendent, was appointed the first President. The WMCNZ undertakes mission in an ethnically diverse New Zealand (population of 4.5m) which is now one of the most secularised English-speaking countries in the world. The WMCNZ has 23 churches (2015) and four more churches in current planning, with 60 ordained ministers, licensed ministers, and ministry students (of whom many are women, younger people and culturally diverse). A multi-cultural missional ethos is promoted. The WMCNZ is ecumenically committed, takes an active role in World Methodism, and is a member of National Church Leaders Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Christian Network, and supports many other interdenominational organisations. In conjunction with the Church of the Nazarene and the Salvation Army the WMCNZ sponsors an annual Wesleyan theological symposium.
The Samoa Methodist Church was first established in 1828 by a Samoan, named Saivaaia followed by the first missionary in 1835. She became independent in 1964. Since then there has been an increase in the number of ordained ministers. The position of leadership is in the hands of the locals. The MCS developed many Pre-Schools, a Primary School, three Colleges and a Technical Institute as our mandate in developing programs in the areas of secular education, religious education and family life.
Piula Theological College continues to feed the church in providing ministers for the local and overseas parishes as well as to equip them for overseas missionary work.
Amid the challenge and the changes coming into our shore, the Samoa Methodist Church wishes to maintain her identity as Methodist in life and worship with open minds for change as we see fit.
The involvement of lay people is very much appreciated and their talents and gifts in putting more life into the discussion and decision making within the church. We do encourage them and pray that more men and women may willingly answer their calling and offer their services to God through his Church.
In the Conference of 2006, statistics showed that the Methodist Church of Samoa’s membership is 36,385, an increase of 1,263 from the previous five years, with an approximately 42,600 touched by the church. The number of lay preachers was 1,048 in 2001 and in 2006 1,048. The fluctuation in terms of the actual amount is owed to migration, retirement and death.
Migration has affected our number from time-to-time, so our figures are not stable. However, migration also speaks for one aspect of our members as being ‘people in mission.’ Our people in American Samoa, New Zealand, USA, Hawaii and Australia decided to establish their own parishes and have continued to connect them and their children to the Methodist Church in Samoa. There are 12 Synods abroad. There are 194 parishes; 92 are overseas. These parishes and Synods are represented annually to the General Conference of the Church held every July.
The Methodist Church of Samoa realizes that its task was to be a sending church, not only a receiving church. The MCS continues to send its ministers as missionaries in other countries. For this year, three Samoan Ministers are currently working for the Methodist Church in USA. We believe that the Methodist people around the world are all interconnected to their primary and common purpose for “winning souls for Christ.” Thus it is our prayer that Christ the Head lead of the Methodist Family will continue to inspire and guide us all.
The first missionaries who came to Tonga landed in 1787. They were sent out by the London Missionary Society and were not ministers but tradesmen, the plan being to give some elements of civilization and afterwards when the way had been prepared, to give Christian teaching. This attempt failed. The Tongans misjudged the intentions of these men and during war between different factions some were massacred and others left the country.
In 1822 the Rev. Walter Lawry came and remained for 14 months. He met with a great deal of opposition and abandoned the attempt to Christianize Tonga.
On June 28, 1826, Revs. John Thomas and John Hutchinson landed at Ha‟atafu where a monument now stands to mark the spot and commemorate the event. They settled at Kolovai, the largest village in that area. Some months prior to this two Tahitians, Hape and Tafeta, began work successfully in Nuku‟alofa. Soon other missionaries arrived and the work spread to Ha‟apai and Vava‟u groups.
In July 1834 beginning in a service at „Utui conducted by a Tongan, a great work of the Spirit of God brought almost all the people of Vava‟u into the church. By the end of 1834 it was said there were no heathen left in Ha‟apai. The work was slower in Tongatapu but by 1853 all Tongans were at least nominally Christian.
The Free Wesleyan church of Tonga, gained autonomy from the General Conference of The Methodist Church of Australia when the Uniting Church on Australia was established. This was a significant decision on the part of the Tongan Conference to gain this freedom from the Australian Conference and thus lived up to its name of Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga.
Education is a strong feature of the work of the church in Tonga. It is responsible for the secondary education of more than 60 percent of the students in Tonga. It runs five senior secondary schools and two district schools, seven primary schools and three middle schools. Christian education and evangelism have also become high in the list of the church priorities. For the last decade of the century the church adopted the theme of “Witness 2000,” which involved an all-out drive to reach young people who are not yet catechists.
The Department of Christian Education and Evangelism works closely with the Women‟s Department in implementing the theme of the church. The Women‟s Department sees to the welfare of women in the church.
Although free from the General Australian Conference, the church very much values its relationships with the World Mission of the Uniting Church in Australia. At the end of 1991, there were three missionaries from Australia, one from the Methodist Church Overseas Division in Britian, and several Peace corps Volunteers as well as Australian volunteers, mainly in church schools.
The Tongan Church Mission Board oversees numerous Tongan congregations in other countries, notably the United States, Australia and New Zealand, as some congregations have opted to remain affiliated with the parent church in Tonga. Church work centers mainly on evangelism.