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Synod of the Waldensian and Methodist Churches in Italy

The annual Synod of the Waldensian Church (Union of the Methodist and Waldensian Churches in Italy) opened on Sunday, August 23, 2009, in the Synod Hall in Torre Pellice (Torino) with the gathering of pastors, delegates and guests to witness the adherence of the new candidates to the ministry (Stefano D'Amore and Alessandro Esposito) to the Confession of Faith of 1655 after having been approved by the Pastoral Body following a series of examinations on preaching and concerning their faith and theology. The Assembly then proceeded in procession to the church for the opening worship service presided over by Prof. Daniele Garrone of the Waldensian Faculty of Theology. Following his sermon on Jeremiah 29, 1-14 ("work for the good of the cities...") the candidates were "consecrated" to the ministry with the suggestive "laying on of hands" done by the presiding minister but with the whole community invited to participate by extending their hands as well in sign of the commitment of the whole church in the accomplishment of their pastoral ministry. At this time pastor Alison Walker, coming from the Methodist Church in Great Britain and pastor Elymas Newell, coming from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana were welcomed as they will be working with the church in Italy.
After the worship service the Synod members gathered to elect the Chair that guides the work of the Assembly for the week ahead. Antonio Loprieno was elected President with Giulio Maisano, Vice-president.

On Monday morning, following a moment of worship, the work of the Synod proceeded with the report of the Examinee Commission that worked during the year and in particular in the month preceding the Synod examining the work of the executive bodies and the Faculty of Theology, indicating the major themes that the Synod should discuss and deliberate (pastoral work, immigration, bio-ethics, Pentecostal-Waldensian dialogue, church-state relations, teaching of the Roman Catholic religion in public schools, ...) along with the routine examination of administration.
The Pastoral Body had already met for a few days preceding the Synod to discuss, among other things, their professional ethics as pastors in their relationships with the local churches on the one hand and with the executives on the other. The Synod discussed some of the problems relating to new situations developing throughout Italy and how to cover them with the proper pastoral care. The Tavola Valdese (executive board) was asked to continue to give the maximum attention to create new strategies.

A great deal of time was dedicated to the discussion of the theme "being church together" and the impact of immigration on the lives of many of the local communities. One of the aspects discussed was that of intercultural formation of those who want to commit themselves in local church activity such as preaching and Bible study, especially in situations where integration of members involves linguistic and other cultural differences among church members. The greatest concern was expressed referring to the recently approved legislation on the "security package" (Law 94/2009) which is creating a series of great difficulties for immigrants in Italy, especially in the fields of health care, education and family life in general. (See a complete translation of the motion approved by the Synod). In solidarity with immigrants and as a protest against this law the Synod decided to fast during the dinner break on Thursday, August 27, and meet together singing hymns between Bible readings and prayers. Many political groups as well as Catholics, including the Bishop of Pinerolo, joined in this protest.

Although there was a common agreement between Roman Catholics and Protestants on the "security package", other themes continue to create divergence: bio-ethics and the teaching of the Roman Catholic religion in the public schools, among others. Bishop Debernardi of Pinerolo in his message to the Synod emphasized many points of collaboration between the churches and acknowledged however the difficulties created by divergent options that have to be faced especially in the field of ethics. The study commission of the Tavola Valdese on scientific developments prepared a document on "stem cell research" which the Synod decided to send to the local churches for study and debate. Already the Tavola Valdese has supported this research with funds coming from tax rebates (8/1000). The Synod also asked the churches to keep watch on developments in the schools on the matter of the teaching of the Roman Catholic religion (IRC) and fight for the right of a lay school system. The cases of discrimination are many and the battle to safeguard the rights of minority groups must continue. Many, especially foreigners, must be made aware of their right to choose not to participate in the IRC and the right to have an alternative course of study as well (a right that has not received public financing in the schools).

For the upcoming celebration of the 150° anniversary of the Unity of Italy (Risorgimento) the churches are asked to prepare conferences and initiatives that stress the Protestant role in this historic moment in Italy, which was seen as an opportunity for preaching God's Word and collaborating in the construction of the modern, efficient lay state. The Synod expressed its concern for the Italian Government’s delay in the programming of this event, hoping that such a delay is not due to any political refusal of the idea of national unity.

Concerning the Safeguard of Creation in view of the XV UN Conference to be held in Copenhagen next December, the Synod invites the churches to promote attention on environmental themes and the struggle against economic injustice that is the cause and consequence of indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources, support ecologically sustainable practices and study the possibility of participating in the manifestation programmed for December 13 at 3 p.m. local time when churches will ring their bells for 350 strokes.

The 8x1000 (tax rebate system) is administered by a special committee nominated by the Tavola valdese and each year presents the list of funding of various projects in Italy and abroad, with a full account of how the money received from the State was put into use. The Synod demonstrated its appreciation for the work done and the fact that, starting in the year 2012, the quota received will be increased by the inclusion of those tax payers who did not express any choice as to whom should receive their quotas. The Synod also thanked those (over 300,000) who expressed their appreciation of how these funds are administered by giving their choice to the Waldensian Church (Union of the Methodist and Waldensian Churches in Italy).

For some years now the Waldensian and Methodist churches have been carrying on dialogue with various Pentecostal churches. A joint commission on this dialogue presented a document entitled: "For a covenant between the Evangelical Christian Churches of the Assembly of God and the Waldensian Evangelical Church". This document, the Synod decided, should be discussed in the local churches, who in turn should send their options to the Tavola valdese and the OPCEMI (Methodist Committee) in time for next year's Synod. The document proposes a step that goes beyond dialogue to a written commitment establishing a relationship between both bodies. The Synod also encouraged the churches and the executives to continue this dialogue wherever possible.

The Synod also asked the churches to support the campaign for the defense of civil service for conscientious objectors, in crisis because of huge cuts in government spending for this service.
At its conclusion, the Synod re-elected the Tavola Valdese in the persons of Pastor Maria Bonafede, Moderator; Pastor Eugenio Bernardini, Vice-Moderator; Pastor Giovanni Anziani, Adriano Bertolini, Pastor Giuseppe Ficara, Daniela Manfrini and Ruggero Mica, members.
The Methodist Committee (OPCEMI) saw the election of a new President, Alessandra Trotta. The outgoing President, Pastor Massimo Aquilante, completed the maximum seven years permitted to hold this office. Another new member, Raul Matta, was elected along with Monica Becchino and Enrico Bertollini into the OPCEMI. Professor Daniele Garrone was also confirmed as dean of the Waldensian Faculty of Theology.

From press release NEV - Notizie evangeliche, 30 August 2009

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