Once every five years, representatives from the Wesleyan, Methodist, United and Uniting church family worldwide, comprising more than 82 million people in 134 countries, gathers for a massive “family reunion” at the World Methodist Council and Conference meetings. Here, one catches a glimpse of how John Wesley’s legacy of social action, evangelism and discipleship, sparked by the Holy Spirit, is lived out in a myriad of cultural contexts globally. The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) had previously hosted the World Methodist Conference (WMC) in 1991, the first time it was ever held in Asia.
I was privileged to join the 10-person Singaporean delegation to this year’s 21st WMC, held at Houston, Texas in the USA. Themed “One”, the four-day conference from 31 Aug to 3 Sep 2016 focused on how we share “One God, One Faith, One People, One Mission”, across our different cultural experiences.
This spirit of multiculturalism was evident in the dynamic worship services, where the 2,000 gathered attendees joined voices in vibrant praise and thanksgiving, incorporating various languages as well as dramatic retellings and representations. The conference opened with a processional to Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing’, where member churches of the World Methodist Council presented banners reflecting their distinctive identities and geographic reach. At the conference’s closing worship, all the banners were joined together in a symbol of unity.
The programme was packed with opportunities for spiritual feeding, reflection and equipping: thought-provoking Bible study sessions, motivational plenaries, and informative workshops and activities. Some of the highlights were:
❧ (Pictured above) The Rev Grace Imathiu’s captivating re-telling of the parable in Luke 15:11-31, about a father and two sons. She cautioned us against reducing the complex parable to a single narrative focusing on only one member of the family, and reminded us that the word “prodigal” meant extravagant, profuse, lavish, abundant – describing the father’s overwhelming forgiveness and grace. She noted that the two sons were “one” because they shared the same father. “We are ‘One’ because of God!”
❧ The 30-year celebration of DISCIPLE Bible Study by the Richard and Julia Wilke Institute for Discipleship, recounting how DISCIPLE pioneered the use of video in Bible study, and BeADisciple.com pioneered discipleship training online. Special mention was made of the MCS’ Rev Dr Niam Kai Huey and Disciple Agency, which had assisted in translating the DISCIPLE material into languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, and Bahasa Indonesia. DISCIPLE Fast Track, an adaptation of DISCIPLE as “Bible study for busy lives”, was also introduced (read more at www.cokesbury.com/disciplefasttrack).
❧ The World Methodist Historical Society (WMHS) bus tour, an optional activity that took attendees out of the conference venue to immerse us in the rich heritage of Methodism in Houston. It began with a delightful pipe organ recital in First United Methodist Church, the founding Methodist congregation in Houston; continued to the San Felipe United Methodist Church, the oldest standing Protestant church building in Texas; and ended at Chappell Hill United Methodist Church and Historical Museum.
❧ The inspiring plenary by the Rev Dr Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent of the Wesleyan Church worldwide. The Rev Dr Lyon received the 2015 World Methodist Peace Award, having founded World Hope International, a relief and development organisation which seeks to alleviate suffering and injustice in 30 countries. She spoke passionately about John Wesley’s example of integrating personal piety and social justice, and encouraged us to boldly ask God for social transformation, referring to John 14:12-14.
In her welcome message, Ms Sarah Wilke, Program Chair of the 21st WMC, noted that “we gather, as disciples of Jesus Christ in the Wesleyan tradition, to celebrate that we are ‘One’, not because we are uniform, but because we are unified. This understanding is drawn from our most basic theological understanding of our triune God.”
Indeed, what I valued about attending the WMC went beyond the programme even with its glorious celebration of diversity, and manifested in informal interactions with fellow attendees from different countries who nevertheless shared a feeling of “You, too?” in our conversations about ministry contexts, challenges, encouragements, and hopes.
Held in conjunction with the WMC was the 13th World Assembly of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women (WFMUCW), from 29 Aug to 3 Sep in the same venue. 850 women from over 30 countries gathered at the assembly, including a delegation of 10 participants from Singapore led by Mrs Dorothy Lim, President of the General Conference Women’s Society of Christian Service here, and a delegation of 35 participants from the WFMUCW East Asia Area led by Singaporean Mrs Laureen Ong, Past President of the East Asia Area.
Officers elected at the assembly included Ms Alison Judd (Great Britain) as World President, and Ms Ngui-Ting Sing Hong (Hong Kong) as President of the East Asia Area. WFMUCW participants joined in the opening and closing worship sessions of the WMC.
In closing the conference, Bishop Ivan M. Abrahams (General Secretary of the World Methodist Council), Dr J. C. Park (President) and Ms Gillian Kingston (Vice-President) reminded us: “To stay together as the people called Methodists is not enough. We must move forward together to serve in the present age.” The next WMC in August 2021 will be held in Gothenburg, Sweden. Will you be there for this grand, invigorating Wesleyan “family reunion”?
World Methodist Council
Founded in 1881, the World Methodist Council is an association of 80 member churches on six continents, all branches of one single family tree planted by John and Charles Wesley. It comprises between 250 and 528 delegates selected by member churches for a five-year cycle, and meets at least twice a quinquennium. The Council:
• Promotes understanding – through hosting the World Methodist Conference, and representing the Methodist/ Wesleyan family in working for Christian unity.
• Promotes peace – by sponsoring the World Methodist Peace Award, and joining international efforts for social justice.
• Preserves our heritage – by maintaining historical sites related to John and Charles Wesley, and operating the World Methodist Museum.
• Spreads the Gospel – by providing evangelism training and encouraging Methodist publishing, including electronic communication, worldwide.
Grace Toh –
is Assistant Editor of Methodist Message and has been a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church for most of her life.