On the continent of Asia, the United Methodist presence has become limited to the Philippines and to recent missions in South-East Asia and Mongolia. However, in its predecessor bodies, it was widespread over Asia. In most countries, they have become autonomous churches.
Central conferences have their origin in the mission field in Asia. Neighboring annual conferences in India were longing for closer collaboration in the region. In 1884 the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church agreed to the creation of a “Central Mission Conference” which developed into the “Central Conference”. A first central conference was created for India (1885), a second for China (1897).
In India, the Methodist Episcopal Church began in 1856, and The Methodist Protestant Church in 1900. The country then included also Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Methodist Church in India became an affiliated autonomous church in 1980. The Methodist Church in Pakistan became an affiliated united church in 1970.
In China, the Methodist Episcopal Church began its mission in 1847 and had to close in 1949. The same happened to the mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church South in China (1848), Manchouria (1921-27) and Siberia (1921 to the 1930s). The Methodist Protestant Church also began mission in China in 1910. Methodism developed strongly in China so that the central conference of China in 1923 formally invited General Conference to hold its 1928 session in Peking. It never became true.
The first autonomous Methodist Church was established in Japan in 1907 as a union of MEC (1873), MEC South (1886), and the Methodist Church of Canada (1873). The missions of the Methodist Protestant Church (1880), the Evangelical Association (1875) and the United Brethren (1895) became part of the larger union with other Protestant denominations that were brought together under the Japanese military government to form the Kyodan (United Church of Christ in Japan) in 1941.
Mission in Korea was begun by the Methodist Episcopal Church in1885 and also by the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1897. It led to the creation of the autonomous Methodist Church in Korea in 1930.
From India, the mission spread to Burma (today Myanmar, 1879), to Malaysia-Singapore (1884), including Sarawak-Borneo (1901), and to today’s Indonesia, with Sumatra (1905), Java (1905), West Borneo (1906), and Bangka Island (1911). These churches became autonomous in the 1960’s.
Mission in the Philippines began in 1899 and will be further described below.
In recent years, new mission work developed in The United Methodist Church in Southeast Asia: Cambodia (1995), jointly with other Methodist churches), Laos (2005), Mongolia (2002), and Vietnam (1998).
Philippines Central Conference
The central conference of the Philippines today is comprised of three episcopal areas covering different parts of a country with more than 7,000 islands and 50 language groups.
In 1899, the Methodist Episcopal Church began its mission in the Philippines as an outpost of the Malaysia Annual Conference. In 1905, the work developed into the Philippine Islands Mission Conference and continued as a part of the central conference of Southern Asia with seven annual conferences in India, one in Malaysia, and one in the Philippines. Many Filipino leaders perceived the annual conference status as a form of annexation by U.S. leaders. In 1908-09, a first schism occurred and a minority group created the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en las Islas Filipinas (IEMELIF).
In 1912, one of the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church for Southern Asia took residence in the Philippines, but this practice did not last for long. In 1933, a second schism occurred around judicial matters and a large minority group created the independent Philippine Methodist Church which became a founding member of the Evangelical Church in the Philippines in 1943.
The United Brethren began a mission in the Philippines in 1901 in cooperation with Presbyterians and Methodists in the Evangelical Union of the Philippine Islands, a federation joined by other denominations which agreed on the division of provinces. In 1929, the United Brethren joined the indigenous United Evangelical Church, which became part of the Evangelical Church in 1943 (1984: United Church of Christ in the Philippines).
In 1940, the first session of the Philippines Central Conference of the Methodist Church was held. Under strong pressure from Japanese occupation, the central conference elected a first indigenous bishop in 1944. In the 1950s, the Methodist Church expanded its mission to Mindanao and other islands of the country. With the growth of the church, the 1960 General Conference authorized the election of a second bishop.
After 1968, debate continued in The United Methodist Church in the Philippines on choosing to become an autonomous church, an affiliated autonomous church or remaining within The United Methodist Church. This debate was heightened by the fact that all other Methodist churches in Asia had chosen autonomy and The United Methodist Church was still perceived as a U.S. dominated church.