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African bishops recommend 7 central conferences

The Africa College of Bishops has proposed the creation of seven central conferences in Africa, which now has three, the college's president said.

The plan, recommended to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, would divide the Africa Central Conference — a church region that stretches from the southern tip up through the eastern side of the continent — into four central conferences. It would divide West Africa Central Conference into two central conferences. The Congo Central Conference would be unchanged.

Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu said creating the seven conferences would allow episcopal areas to do more effective work. Yambasu told United Methodist News Service that the issues discussed by the bishops included the placement of five new episcopal areas starting in 2020. General Conference, the denomination's top law-making assembly, at its 2016 gathering approved adding the bishops.

"The deliberations were a little intense, but finally by the power of the Holy Spirit we reached a consensus," he said. "What we agreed however, is not the final decision, but just a recommendation that has to go to the Standing Committee on Central Committee Matters," he said. The Africa Central Conference recommended changes to its borders at its meeting last year.

John K. Yambasu speaks at the Africa College of Bishops retreat in Mutare, Zimbabwe, which was marked by in-depth conversations among serving and retired bishops. Photo by Eveline Chikwanah, UMNS.

"The GC decision must enable us to focus on the continent as a whole rather than focusing on our individual sectoral, tribal or regional entities," Yambasu said. "It must make the African central conferences more functionally effective in terms of organization, intentional leadership development, new church growth, new mission engagement, economic viability and sustainability. Anything less is unacceptable."

The discussions took place last fall at a retreat for the bishops that Yambasu said was marked by in-depth conversations among the serving and retired bishops who attended.

"We discussed what would happen to the global church and the church in Africa.  We decided to immediately begin educating our people about how to financially sustain our ministry and the mission of the church on the continent if the church divides," he said. In April, Yambasu addressed the Sierra Leone Conference on this issue, urging the conference to reduce its reliance on overseas support.

President-elect of the Council of Bishops, Florida Area Bishop Kenneth H. Carter Jr., attended the Mutare retreat. The gathering was held under the theme "The journey ahead" drawn from Joshua 3: 1-15. Carter is also one of the three moderators for the Way Forward Commission.

"Bishop Carter's presence was a heart-warming experience," Yambasu said. "I believe his attendance gave him the opportunity to have in-depth understanding of who we are as Africans. At the Council of Bishops, we discuss global issues, but here we tackled specific issues affecting the continent."

Eveline Chikwanah, communicator of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference.

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