21st World Methodist Conference in Houston

At the World Methodist Conference, church politics get checked — mostly — at the door.

There's no legislation, but plenty of preaching, teaching, singing and fellowship.  

Think revival, but also think family reunion, with John Wesley as the common ancestor.

"This is a full-on celebration of the Wesleyan tradition that takes place once every five years," said Sarah Wilke, publisher of The Upper Room, and program chair for the World Methodist Conference that took place last month in Houston.

"It's an uplifting time, and it's a time that's cross-cultural in a big way," added Watson, who is ending his tenure as North Georgia Conference episcopal leader and will become ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops. "We don't govern each other, but we join together for mutual encouragement and support and love."

The conference theme is "One: One God, One Faith, One People, One Mission."

That may seem optimistic given the open discussion of schism in The United Methodist Church over differing views on homosexuality.

But in the main, the World Methodist Conference will focus on cherishing what its far-flung members hold in common as far as faith and mission priorities.

The World Methodist Conference is a meeting of the World Methodist Council, an association of 80 Methodist, Wesleyan and related Uniting and United Churches representing 80.5 million people worldwide.

The council actually grew out of the conferences, the first of which occurred in London in 1881.

These days, the council works on a number of fronts, promoting evangelism and social justice, giving a World Methodist Peace Award, and engaging in dialogue with other Christian groups.

A council delegation, including two United Methodists, made the news April 7 by having a 45-minute private meeting with Pope Francis for the opening of a Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome.

 "Very warm, very gracious," Watson said of the pope's welcome. "He quoted John Wesley to us."

Kirby Hickey, CFO and treasurer of the council, especially recalled the end of the meeting, when Pope Francis said goodbye individually to each member of the delegation.

"He looked me square in the eye and he said, 'Pray for me,'" Hickey said. "That set me back on my heels, to hear the pope say 'pray for me.'"

Sam Hodges, multimedia news reporter, United Methodist News Service

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