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2017 Sierra Leone Annual Conference

Delegates of the 2017 Sierra Leone Annual Conference met March 8-12 in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone.

The 2017 conference theme was “The Journey Ahead” with text from Joshua 3:1-17. Resident Bishop John K. Yambasu welcomed clergy and lay delegates to the 137th session of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference, his ninth as bishop.

The March 8-12 meeting also addressed the challenging issue of apportionments in the conference where the bishop expressed his dismay over local churches not paying their full apportionments, which in recent times has led to delay in payment of salaries and other conference functions.

“The days of handouts are over,” Yambasu said. “With Africa now accounting for about 40 percent of the entire membership of the global United Methodist Church, …General Conference is now saying that we must put our money where our mouth is.”

He said, for the first time, General Conference has asked all conferences in Africa to contribute to the global apportionments. He explained that the level of apportionment is determined by the total membership of each episcopal area. Accordingly, Sierra Leone has been apportioned $28,000 for 2017.

Guest speaker, Dr. Olusimbo Ige, director of global health at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, presented on March 10. Her presentation “Global Health: Challenges and Opportunities for the African Church” was interactive with conference members providing answers to questions she asked. Members were amazed in the end that there is so much people can do as individuals, community and church to determine the level of health they want to live. Ige said the foundation for health begins in homes, schools and neighborhoods and that the circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources.

Ige wanted conference members to discover that they had opportunities, strengths, assets, hopes and ideas. Hence, she said, “Before we engage partners, we should stand by asking:

  • What can we do?
  • Things we know who can,
  • Things that we can't and we don't know who can.”

Tough action against some clergy

The Sierra Leone Conference Board of Ordained Ministry has officially informed conference members of the expulsion of the Rev James Fornah last year after his conviction of rape of a minor in his congregation. This is the first time the annual conference is meeting after the action was taken last year.

Bishop Yambasu said The United Methodist Church takes a serious stance on gender-based violence. He explained that Fornah was initially suspended when the matter was being investigated. “But once he was found guilty, we have removed him from the ministerial role, which means he is dismissed,” the bishop said. “We cannot get to him right now, but when he is discharged, we will demand of him our certificate.”

Yambasu further explained that Fornah lost his wife recently and that by the time of his release from prison, he would be old and there will be no wife to take care of him. The board out of humanitarian feeling, therefore, decided that Fornah’s end-of-service benefit would be worked out so that when he leaves prison, he will have something with which to start life.

Also, disciplinary actions — ranging from expulsion to suspension on grounds of immorality and corruption — against four other clergy were announced at the 2017 conference.

Five candidates were ordained as deacons, and three were ordained as elders. Thirteen candidates were presented as ministerial candidates.

Sierra Leone Head of State, President Ernest Bai Koroma, and his wife, Sia Nyama Koroma, worshipped with conference members, observers and guests on March 12. The president said he was impressed when he read Bishop Yambasu’s message to annual conference that he had succeeded in at least 70 percent by 2017 of what he envisaged in 2009 to do by 2020.

He said the conference theme “The Journey Ahead” was timely but cautioned that the journeys ahead are not always as smooth as one would envision because there are sure to be bumps on the way. Looking at the image accompanying the theme on the conference banner, he said the journey seemed to be very smooth. “That is what everybody would envisage. That is what we envisaged in 2013 as a government when early in 2014 Ebola struck. So we must expect turbulence. That is a fact of life,” the president said.

Look inwards for support

He said the issue of sexuality mentioned in the bishop’s speech and its potential negative impact was not only limited to the church. These are the realities representing the changing world today, he said. 

“I hope and pray that at the end of the day, God will provide the direction that will continue to save the church. As a nation, we have to look inwards for support instead of dependence on external support. We have to look inwards and strengthen ourselves. If we don’t strengthen ourselves … we will not be able to isolate ourselves from these shocks. And the shocks are going to come. They are bound to come,” he said, citing Brexit and the outcome of the 2016 American elections that brought President Donald Trump to power and the pending French and German elections.

“Things will change. And the new people that will take over governance of the world think differently. Their moral values are different. And even as a government now, the donors will come in and if you don’t support gay issues, you will not be given X amount of support or that amount of support. That is an issue that we have to live with. So, for the journey ahead, we have to look inwards,” the president concluded.

— Phileas Jusu, director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.