Thursday, November 19, 2009

Caribbean parallels

Somewhere along the way, says general secretary of the United Church in the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) Rev Dr Colin Cowan, the church has lost its deep-rooted connection with its people. The church had stopped being relevant amid the hardships that communities faced. It had stopped offering real answers to real problems. In short, it had stopped listening.

This is an opening paragraph from an article on the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, where the Church experience in many ways parallels the (Presbyterian/United) Church in New Zealand. After a five to six year appraisal time, the church has come to various conclusions, including:

1. Instead of putting programmes together centrally and passing them onto congregations, the church is now getting the synod to “mirror what we hear God saying about what these communities really need.” Congregations can then interpret this within their own locality. The emphasis is on the synod as facilitator, not dictator.

2. A rigorous new training and appraisal regime has been rolled out as an integral part of the programme, aiming to bring ministers up-to-date with congregational needs and how to respond to them.

"We felt that the lack of growth with the church was directly related to these deep-rooted feelings across Jamaica and the Cayman Islands,” Dr Cowan says. “Responding to people’s needs became critical and an urgent call on the church. We realised that the church couldn’t give up – that hope remained the most critical instrument available to us. We had to ask ourselves: how do we use hope?

"It became clear that it was critical to empower the local congregations, to understand what was happening in people’s lives in the here and now,” Dr Cowan says. “The time had come to put the individual at the centre of our ministry and then get our congregations supporting the individual.”

“If we had left things the way they were I think we would have become more and more nominal as a church, existing without energy, power and dynamism. Members would continue to drop off and we would start to disintegrate, losing our cutting edge and our engagement with our communities."

Does it all sound familiar - and are we prepared to do the same sort of rethinking?

Photo of the Elmslie Memorial United Church, George Town, Grand Cayman Island, by J Stephen Conn a semi-retired clergyman.

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