We are One at World Methodist Conference

The World Methodist Conference, a once-every-five-year global gathering of the Methodist-Wesleyan family, met Aug. 31-Sept. 3 in Houston.  The theme, One, was organized around four sub themes – One God, One Faith, One People, One Mission.

Several clergy members from the East Ohio Conference were among the nearly 2,000 people who attended the 21st World Methodist Conference.  Below, they share how the conference has impacted them and the effect it will have on their ministry.

Rev. Matthew A. Laferty, a missionary assigned as pastor of the English-speaking UMC of Vienna, Austria:

“In Christ there is no East or West,
in him no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.”
– Joe Oxenham, 1908

Jim Humphrey and Matt Laferty
Jim Humphrey and Matt Laferty

“At times I’ve wondered if Joe Oxenham’s hymn In Christ There Is No East or West is true, given that our experiences of Christianity can be provincial. Certainly we understand cerebrally the existence of global Christianity, but we have too few opportunities to experience global Christianity or witness it manifest. That is until you participate in the World Methodist Conference. As I looked across the plenary hall, I could literally see people from every region of the world.

“Since 1881 Methodist and Wesleyan Christians have gathered at regular intervals to praise God, share in prayer together, search the Scriptures, fellowship, and learn from one another. The World Methodist Conference is a Methodist/Wesleyan ‘family reunion’ of 80 churches.  Some are worldwide churches like The United Methodist Church, the Nazarene Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Others are regional or national churches like the Methodist Church in Southern Africa and the Methodist Church in Malaysia.  Still there are united churches with Methodist roots like the Uniting Church in Sweden and the United Church of Australia. The conference is best described as the UMC General Conference (minus all the legislation, politics, and fighting) hyped up 10 times on steroids.

“The theme of the conference was ‘One’, a timely subject for United Methodist attendees.

  • Professor Ted Campbell from United Methodist-related Perkins School of Theology challenged us to remember our history and to explore the essentials of our unity. Campbell’s lecture provoked us to trace our historic biblical and theological expressions of unity and pushed us to reimagine our oneness in churches.
  • Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church gave a rousing sermon on ‘One’ by placing the Christian imperative love at the center of our individual and communal lives. ‘What does your love look like?’ she asked. For McKenzie and conference participants we imagined The O’Jays hit Love Train as an apt metaphor of our Christian witness; the conference broke out singing ‘people round the world, join hands, start a love train, love train.’
  • Grace Imathiu, a United Methodist pastor and Kenyan native, retold the parable of the Prodigal Son and His Older Brother as a story of reckless, extravagant, and lavish love.

“The power of the conference experience is not its vibrant worship, powerful Bible studies, and thought-provoking workshops – though it does help – rather it is the meeting and sharing of relationships across our Methodist/Wesleyan confessional connection. By sharing stories over a meal, holding hands in prayer, dancing in worship together, and waiting for coffee at breaks, our sense of the unity and richness of the kingdom of God grows. Our lives are transformed as we see and hear about others’ lives transformed. And for a conference focused on ‘One’, unity is incarnational as much as it is biblical, historical, and theological.”

Armando and Debbie Arellano with Jim Humphrey and Bev Hall.
Armando and Debbie Arellano with Jim Humphrey and Bev Hall.

Rev. Armando Arellano of East Shore UMC (North Coast District):

“I was expecting, and looking forward to, fellowshipping and connecting with the diverse children of John Wesley coming from different cultures, customs and traditions and yet made ONE in Christ. This worldwide gathering is the embodiment and manifestation of John Wesley’s claim, ‘the world is my parish.’

“While I was at the World Methodist Conference I was fed by powerful and thought-provoking messages; praise and worship spoken and proclaimed in many languages; and Bible studies from a different perspective and context that truly nourished my spirit and my soul. It was a glimpse and foretaste of heaven.

“The one aspect of the conference that I am bringing home to East Shore UMC is the importance of diversity.  One of the workshops I attended talked about the nature and leadership qualities of the early churches in Jerusalem and Antioch. Diversity is one of the foundations of the church from the day the church was born. Diversity in all aspects is part of the DNA of the church. When our churches do not reflect the mosaic or diversity of the population in the community, then ‘Houston, we have a problem.’  It means that we have not done enough to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Rev. Bev Hall of Pleasant Hills UMC (North Coast District):

“The World Methodist Conference renewed my faith in relationships, especially in the context of our global community. For example, on Friday, I sat with a woman from South Africa. We connected and I found out that her husband died a few months ago. We prayed together and shared our contact information. The church I currently serve sends books on grief to those who have had recent losses. I asked if she would be interested and her face lit up! So I’m sending her our grief books.

“We are ALL human beings, with the same needs and desires. Most of all we need to know that God’s love is real.  Flying home, I sat next to a woman from Puerto Rico whose husband is in the Cleveland Clinic. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we prayed for him and I agreed to see her and visit him. Love was the only language we needed!

“Pastor Rudy Rasmus, from Houston, led our worship on September 1. His sermon was based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said, ‘Love crossed the street and something happened!’ The next day, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, a Bishop from the AME Church, preached on Mark 2:1-12, the story of the four friends bringing the paralyzed man through the roof to help him meet Jesus. She asked us, ‘What does your love look like?’ She reminded us that ‘love is an action verb and that our actions need to demonstrate love in real and tangible ways.’ Then Rev. Dr. Harold Good, a native of Northern Ireland, reminded us that Wesley’s mandate for the Methodists was that we need to ‘love alike’ and not all ‘think alike.’

“How can we be ONE in a world-wide connection? The answer is LOVE. Love God and love our neighbors. Inspiring? Yes! Simple? No! Doable? Oh YES! What will I do now? Go and visit Jose at the Cleveland Clinic. What does YOUR love look like?”

Rev. Jim Humphrey of New Philadelphia First UMC (Tuscarawas District):

“This was my third World Methodist Conference (attending previously in Durban, South Africa in 2011 and in Seoul, South Korea in 2006).  I also attended a World Methodist Council meeting in London in 2013.  I find traveling to these world destinations so enlightening, broadening, and illuminating.

“The World Methodist Conference gathers every five years to unite in our Wesleyan and Methodist heritage.  There are 80 Methodist communions represented from over 130 countries, all branches of one single family tree planted by John and Charles Wesley.  To realize that Wesley’s influence has spread all over the world it has been said ‘the sun never sets on the Methodist Church.’  I was impressed with the thousands of people who gathered in Houston to share that uniting Methodist heritage, even in the midst of our diversity and differences.

“The worship was so inspiring, uplifting, and so inclusive with a special emphasis on young adult participation.  The keynote and plenary speakers were literally ‘world renowned’ Wesleyan leaders of our church who gave us such insights that we could apply to our local church and to the general church.

“At breakfast, at lunch, at every break, and at our workshops we had the opportunity to share and strike up conversations with Methodist leaders and bishops from around the world.  Those opportunities for conferencing in the midst of diversity are what we need in our world and especially in our church today.”

The 22nd World Methodist Conference is scheduled for August 2021 in Gothenburg, Sweden.