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A packed room in Port-au-Prince thundered with applause and jubilation as the Haitian Free Methodist Church elected its first bishop and become a provisional general conference.
“They clapped and clapped and clapped and they wouldn’t stop clapping,” says Bishop David Roller, who commissioned the new bishop. “This just kept coming with waves of applause and they were just so happy to celebrate.”
Celebration is a welcome change from the heartache and suffering of the past year. After the earthquake in January 2010, the FMC in Haiti was at a crossroads, deciding whether they wanted to continue the plan to become a provisional general conference in 2011 or delay the transition.
The church is strongest in Port-au-Prince, the main area affected by the earthquake. Every church building and pastor’s home was damaged in some way. With the death toll at more than 230,000, almost every Port-au-Prince family suffered at least one loss.
“A year ago, you had people who were not only grieving the loss of family members, but most of them were sleeping outdoors in tents,” says Roller. “Most could not meet in their churches or schools.”
In February 2010, Roller and other U.S. church leaders discussed the upcoming transition with Haitian church leaders. They decided to move forward as planned.
“It really was a courageous step, because everything at that point was in shambles,” says Roller. “I think they wisely recognized that life in Haiti was a constant challenge and they had to be prepared as a church to minister and to take responsibility in the middle of the challenges.”
Free Methodist conferences, groups of churches throughout the world, undergo several phases in their development. The transition to provisional general conference is a significant milestone for the Haitian church. The Free Methodist Church first came to Haiti in 1964 and moved from a mission district comprised of several small churches to the 600 members required to become an annual conference in just four years.
There is a membership requirement of 3,000 plus other criteria to become a provisional general conference. “We want to see that the church is capable of multiplying by itself, governing itself and supporting itself,” says Roller.
The FMC in Haiti numbers more than 14,000, far exceeding the membership requirement. The area of hesitation was financial stability.
“They had held off on becoming a [provisional general conference] because the economy there is so poor, they knew they couldn’t afford a full-time bishop,” says Roller. The solution was to have a stationed bishop who is also the pastor of a local church.
Clovis Momplaisir, pastor of the Rensberry FMC, was elected bishop. As former general superintendent of the Haitian conferences, this work will be very familiar to him. Roller describes Momplaisir as gentle and soft-spoken. “He is a man who obviously does not serve for personal gain. He has been a servant of the church, and I think that’s why they trust him so much.”
Because Haiti’s status is provisional, Momplaisir is under the authority of the U.S. Board of Bishops as a suffragan bishop. He is one of five suffragan bishops worldwide, joining three in India and one in Kenya.
Haitian church members will notice very few changes. They now have a bishop and their conference superintendent has greater responsibility. The level most affected by this change is church leadership, both pastoral and lay.
“They enthusiastically engaged with the new status,” says Roller. “It communicates to them their value and worth in the eyes of the international church, which is something Haiti doesn’t get a lot.”
“This is one of the ways that we evaluate our effectiveness around the world,” says Roller. “By seeing indigenous, self-led churches prosper in various parts of the world.” The Free Methodist Church has 13 general conferences and 16 bishops around the world, with ministry in 82 countries.