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Rev Peter Taylor (fourth from left) outside the Orthodox Church of St George.
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MCNZ President Participates in CCA General Assembly, India

Rev Peter Taylor —

The Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) General Assembly has normally met in recent times every five years, but because of Covid restrictions it was eight years since the last CCA General Assembly. As President of Te Hāhi Weteriana o Aotearoa – The Methodist Church of New Zealand I was a voting delegate representing our church.

About 500 people gathered for the General Assembly which met in Kottayam, Kerala, in the south-western part of India, an area famous for St Thomas, one of the twelve disciples who reputedly visited around 52 CE. Kerala with about 20% is the most Christian of Indian states, and Kottayam is over 40% Christian which is more than in New Zealand! The weather was very humid and we were welcomed with many monsoon downpours. On the first day I walked the 15-minute journey to the venue from my hotel and arrived drenched in sweat! Luckily air-conditioning cooled me off.

Beyond the usual reports and appointments business of CCA, there were plenty of other things going on. The worship services largely happened at the Mar Thoma Church building, and the business took place in the hall attached. Between the two was an area where food was available, in a market stall setting, so you could pick what you wanted to eat and how much. This was an excellent idea.

On the Saturday we enjoyed an Asian Ecumenical Festival, the first to occur during the CCA conferences, and many attendees entertained us with songs and/or dances often in traditional costume.

On the Sunday the delegates were allocated to a number of local churches and I went to the Orthodox Church of St George (he of the dragon!) and saw his relics on display. The service lasted about three hours, almost all in Syriac and while standing in a mild fog of incense. After the service we ate, then had a guided tour round the enormous site. We saw the burial site of the recently deceased Chief Minister of Kerala (a kind of State Governor), who was a member of the church.

During the week there were opportunities for discussions, reviewing the work of CCA and considering the theme: God, Renew Us in Your Spirit and Restore the Creation, a theme which ran throughout the event. We were blessed with some wonderful acts of worship, and inspiring talks, including a keynote address from Rev Dr Jerry Pillay, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, during the opening ceremony.

Overall, it was an opportunity not to be missed; to meet and share with Christians from around East Asia and to experience a culture and setting quite unlike our own. I was blessed to be given the chance to go and I hope that in five years’ time my successor at that point will also take up the opportunity.