While the 13 million-member United Methodist Church is broadly international, it is not the whole of Methodism. The denomination does make an effort to maintain ties with sister and brother Methodist churches or united denominations with Methodist roots around the world.
Representatives of 24 of those churches were welcomed as ecumenical delegates at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, meeting in Tampa, Florida, April 24-May 4.
Bishop Sharon Rader, ecumenical officers of the Council of Bishops, noted in her introductions that with one exception the affiliated churches were started by through the missions of predecessors of the United Methodist Church. For various reasons, they became autonomous units that retain an affiliation.
The exception is the Methodist Church in Britain, the Methodist “mother church,” which along with three Methodist denominations in the Western Hemisphere have special relations with the United Methodists, giving them both voice and vote in General Conferences. The three are the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americans and the Methodist Churches of Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Other autonomous affiliated churches have covenants with the United Methodist. They have voice in the General Conference. The ecumenical delegates were from a total of 14 autonomous churches in Latin America and the Caribbean and nine in Asia. They were presented to sustained applause on the night of April 25.
Notably present were delegates from the Methodist Church in Cuba and the Methodist Church of the Union of Myanmar, places where religious liberty cannot always be taken for granted.
Bishop Saw Shwe of Myanmar responded to the welcome on behalf of the ecumenical delegates. He said that his first General Conference was in 1984, where the affiliated group was seat in the back of the hall. “This year,” he said, “we are right at the front, seated not as guests but as part of the family.”
A full listing of the related churches and their delegates appears online at http://www.gc2012conversations.com/2012/04/26/ecumenical-delegates-to-general-conference/