United Methodists to reconcile in Burundi

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United Methodists in Burundi have resolved to reconcile following divisions that have affected the witness of the church in the East African country for over a decade.

The decision was expressed by representatives of the two sides of the denomination’s presence in Burundi in a letter, which was signed Aug. 29 in Harare by the representatives and by members of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The committee is part of the Comprehensive Africa Task Force, led by West Ohio Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer.

“The Lord was at work because people in the two groups had been talking, and they said they were 98 percent towards reconciling,” Palmer said.

“There was expression of readiness and overtures of reaching out to one another because, in some cases, people in the same household were aligned to the different groups in the church,” he said.

Burundi’s two United Methodist groups, which had operated separately, plan to hold a special annual conference as one church in February 2018.

The letter speaks of “renewed hope” that United Methodists in Burundi can find a common mission and bright future together. “We were overjoyed and deeply encouraged to hear how hear how, after a long and painful separation, God has been working to bring unity,” the letter said.

“We were impressed with the amount of conversation that has already taken place and the openness with which the representatives came to this meeting,” the letter continued. “In our time together, we witnessed the clear commitment of both groups to reconciliation.”

Palmer described the move by the Burundi representatives as “exhilarating.”

“It exceeded my expectations of what would happen here,” the bishop said. “I imagined the process would take multiple conversations.”

Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said he was overwhelmed by the reconciliation of the church in Burundi.

“I think it is really showing that God still does miracles among us because we have been involved in efforts towards reconciliation for many years,” Kemper said. 

He said the general church had spent a lot of energy, funds and time on the Burundi issue, but the process had failed. The last meeting was held in Germany about five years ago.

“As Global Ministries, we look forward to attending their first joint annual conference in February 2018,” Kemper said. “We want to have conversations about how we can partner with the church to grow and to do its mission.”

East Africa Bishop Daniel Wandabula said he had invited those who attended the meeting in Harare — together with representatives of men, women and youth — to the episcopal office in Kampala, Uganda, for a meeting set for Oct. 18–21.

“The first thing we will do is pray and then celebrate and reaffirm the new views.  We need reports from both sides including their leadership names,” Wandabula said.

“I am very happy with the reconciliation of Burundi United Methodists. It’s a dream come true and the timing was perfect,” he said.

The Rev. Lazare Bankurunaze of Burundi said the church had been divided since 2005. “We are committed to the reconciliation,” he added. “We think it will work due to the commitment we all made. We give thanks to God and the general church for enabling us to reach the position we are today.”

The Rev. Wilton Odongo of Kenya said the reconciliation will bring change and transformation in East Africa Episcopal Area.

“The situation was not good because Burundi is the pioneer church of East Africa. In our culture, when parents are divided, children will suffer,” said Odongo.

In addition to the Harare meeting, the Comprehensive Africa Task Force will hold a followup meeting in Sierra Leone in August 2018. The purpose of the two consultations is to help the standing committee prepare legislation for the 2020 General Conference as to where to place five new episcopal leaders in Africa and increase central conference effectiveness.

Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference. News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5469.

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