I have just returned from the General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana (EPCG). The EPCG is a long-standing friend of the URC, having (I’m told) started a relationship about the time Ghana gained its independence in 1957. The EPCG was founded in 1847 following the launch of the Bremmen Mission to Ghana and Togo. The links with the Bremmen Mission are still strong, as shown by their three guests at the Assembly.
The opening celebrations were started by welcoming the Ghanaian President, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. The
celebrations were as formal as you’d expect for a Presbyterian church. However, music, which plays a special part in the life of the EPCG, was a fantastic mix of music based on European hymns mixed with traditional Ghanaian instruments and dance. This gave the opening ceremony a vitality that I haven’t quite experienced before. The music and dance came to have a greater significance for me, as during the evening entertainment I was expected to (and did) join in the agbadza dance (a traditional dance from the south eastern part of Ghana). I was reliably informed I looked like a chicken, which I think was a compliment! I’m pleased to say no reliable photographs of that event exist.
The President was able to address the Assembly before he was whisked off for further engagements. His address, in perfect English, was much appreciated, particularly when he said he was brought up as a Presbyterian. His main message was about closer working between the church and state. This is a very relevant comment given the portfolio of schools, clinics, rural community development, aged care, micro finance and climate change reversal programmes that the EPCG run. Their commitment to improving the lives of all has real traction – truly impressive for a relatively poor church with fewer than 100,000 members. As the President left he presented the church with a gift of 10,000 Ghanaian Cedis (worth about £2,000).
There were a couple of interesting new practices that were introduced at the GA this time. The first was a process for discernment that has echoes of consensus decision making which is combined with small group working for detailed discernment. This discernment process was adapted from a process trialled by Chris Ferguson at the recent WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches) General Council held at the end of June this year. The second key change was to combine all the actions from each of the sessions into a single policy document which was then put through the above process for approval. Essentially each ‘buzz’ group was given one of the recommendations to review and revise, and the amended recommendation was then put to a plenary session for approval. There seemed to be a high level of trust between the groups and members so the resulting policies were approved relatively quickly.
To our somewhat reserved culture the question of money seemed to play a more significant, if not intrusive, role in the proceedings. I noted that anyone who had donated anything towards the costs of GA had their name read out in the Assembly. A more negative feature of this focus was the interrogation (in public) of Synod Moderators whose presbyteries had not provided any donations towards GA. When we were in the main chapel I saw a rather strange ‘three headed’ offertory ‘implement’ – two of them are shown in the photograph. It was only in the closing worship (a service that lasted over six hours) that I realised their significance – because we had three separate offertories plus a fund-raising event and an auction. Overall more than two hours were spent in collecting money – admittedly we did have more than 1000 people there and they each had to file in front of the offertory boxes three times. Any comments about the highly visible role the collection of money takes in the life of the EPCG must be seen against the backdrop of a relatively small and poor church that achieves so much throughout their country … and maybe we just have something to learn from our Ghanaian sisters and brothers on both counts!