The World Methodist Conference concluded this past weekend, but not before one particularly stirring worship service that had the large, diverse crowd singing and dancing to “Love Train.”
African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie chose that secular tune to conclude her Sept. 2 sermon, which repeatedly challenged listeners with the refrain: “What does your love look like?”
The four-day conference was itself something of a love-in, bringing together at a downtown Houston hotel more than 2,000 people from scores of Wesleyan Christian denominations worldwide, including The United Methodist Church.
Church politics largely were set aside in favor of preaching, teaching, singing, Bible study and workshops, as well as networking and fellowshipping.
The conference occurs once every five years, and this was the first held in the United States since 1981.
“I’m very pleased,” said Bishop Ivan Abrahams, top executive of the World Methodist Council, the group that puts on the conference. “I think we’ve had a good representation of the global Methodist family.”
Lyon wins Peace Award
One highlight of the conference’s last day was presentation of the World Methodist Peace Award to Rev. Jo Anne Lyon.
She’s a former general superintendent of The Wesleyan Church denomination, but the award recognized her as founder and longtime leader of World Hope International.
She started that nonprofit in her home, and under her leadership, it grew into a major Christian relief and development agency, now working in 30 countries. The group has focused on bringing clean water and spiritual nourishment to communities, as well as providing holistic healing programs for post-war amputees.
Lyon herself has worked to raise awareness of human trafficking, and she represented her denomination on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
“Seeking justice alone can become all political,” Lyon said. “But righteousness without seeking justice for others leads to isolation from the world. We find that balance including both justice and righteousness, rooted in the Bible and in our historical identity.”
Lyon gave a plenary address at the conference on Sept. 3, and noted the power inherent in the 80.5 million people represented in the 80 Methodist, Wesleyan and related United and Uniting groups that are part of the World Methodist Council.
“Eighty million of us. That’s a lot of folks, people!” she said. “And God can do a lot with us. And if we can get focused on the mission and vision God has for us, literally at this time in history the world can be turned upside down.”
Meetings within meetings
The World Methodist Conference attracts other meetings, including, this time, the 13th World Assembly of the World Federation of Methodist & Uniting Church Women.
Some 850 women from around the world came, participating in their own Bible studies and business meetings, while also joining in the conference.
“We’ve never had (attendance) as big as that,’ said Ann Connan, an Australian and outgoing president of the group.
The men’s affiliate of the World Methodist Council is officially called World Fellowship of Methodist and Uniting Church Men. It took advantage of the Houston gathering to spread the word that it has rebranded itself as WesleyMen.
President Larry Malone and secretary/treasurer Andy Morris also used workshops and a booth to introduce a campaign to fight world hunger. The “Fast, Pray, Give” effort asks people to forgo one meal a week and use the money for hunger relief.
More specifically, the group hopes to enlist millions within the 80.5 million represented by the World Methodist Council to give $8 a month.
Malone noted that “One: God, Faith, People, Mission” was the theme of this World Conference.
“This is something we could do as one,” Malone said of his group’s campaign. “We could start to rise up against hunger in a way that would not be ignored by the world.”
On to Sweden
United Methodist attendance at the World Methodist Conference may have been suppressed by the event occurring in the same year as General Conference and Jurisdictional Conferences.
But United Methodists were deeply involved in putting on the Houston gathering, and the Texas Conference provided volunteers, choirs for worship and communication support. Sarah Wilke, publisher of the Upper Room, served as program chair. The World Methodist Council inducted her into its Order of Jerusalem, reserved for those who have provided distinguished service to global Methodism.
Many United Methodists are used to the arcane word “quadrennium,” meaning every four years. That’s the interval for General Conferences. But, World Methodist Conference organizers use the even more obscure word “quinquennium,” since such conferences happen every five years.
The next, in 2021, will be in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Bishop Dinis Matsolo, bishop for the Mozambique district of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, came away from Houston a big believer in such conferences.
“It’s a pleasure and an honor,” he said. “We’re proud of being a family in the world — the Wesleyan Methodist family.”
Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]