African bishop glad to be leading `broader Methodist family'

United Methodist Bishop Ivan Abrahams has been the top executive of the World Methodist Council (WMC) since 2012. Members of the WMC include The United Methodist Church and scores of other groups with a Wesleyan theology and tradition. Abrahams is just the fourth person to lead the council, and the first South African. He previously was presiding bishop of The Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

Abrahams explains the purpose of the WMC and the World Methodist Conference as "the only body that convenes the broader Methodist family, and it is the amalgam that holds the global Methodist family together."

"One of the purposes of the council is to network, and the World Methodist Conference is a place where people share stories of what God is doing in the Wesleyan Methodist family. It's a place to incubate audacious dreams, to cast a vision and to set strategic objectives for cooperation, as well as a place to be inspired by great Methodist teachers and speakers," he said.

In his role as top executive, Abrahams said he realizes that the council cannot continue the idea of business as usual. "We've seen a changing ecclesiastical landscape. We're living in a post-modern era, and we need to change with the times."

In his travels around the world, Bishop Abrahams said he has been disappointed in The United Methodist Church in the United States. In his opinion, there is so much pessimism in the United States as compared to the rest of the world.

"I passionately believe that the golden years of Methodism don't lie behind us, but in the future," he said. "I think we have a lot to learn from the African context, because Methodism (there) is dynamic and growing. I see the spirit of the Methodist movement and Mr. Wesley wherever I go on the African continent.

"From my experience, (evangelism and social holiness) are two sides of the same coin. Especially with indigenous spirituality, there is no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. That is something folks in the West need to learn. God is God of all creation. Methodism speaks into that reality of personal salvation, tied up with works of mercy."

When asked how the WMC differs from the United Methodist General Conference, he replied, "It is really a jamboree, a place where we celebrate our heritage, a place to be inspired. We are not dealing with any legislation, and we are not caught up with the business of a conference. The governance session for the World Methodist Council is done at the council meeting before the conference."

Bishop Abrahams has attended conferences since 1996 and will be leading this council for the next five years.

Story written by Lladale Carey from an interview conducted by Sam Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas.

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