World Methodist Conference brings together Wesleyan family

There's no better place than a World Methodist Conference to witness the scattered seeds and deep roots of John Wesley's approach to Christianity.

Some 2,500 Wesleyan faithful, from 108 countries and 88 communions including The United Methodist Church, gathered in downtown Houston hotel for the 21st such gathering.

"John Wesley said the Methodists are one people throughout the world," said United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones, who as newly assigned Texas Conference episcopal leader offered greetings at an Aug. 31 opening service. "It's in this conference, as we gather together from so many different places, that that unity becomes visible."

The World Methodist Conference is a once-every-five-years meeting of the World Methodist Council, an association of 80 Methodist, Wesleyan and related United and Uniting churches, representing 80.5 million people.

This conference is the first to be held in the United States since 1981. The theme was "One: God, Faith, People, Mission."

David Wilkinson, a scientist-turned-theologian, and Jennifer Wiseman, an astrophysicist and United Methodist, gave a dialogue program titled "Awesome Universe, Awesome God" during the Aug. 31 opening worship service of the World Methodist Council.
 

The World Methodist Conference, in contrast to The United Methodist Church's General Conference, is not about legislation, budgets and other forms of church politics.

Instead, it's an occasion for people of the Methodist tradition to be together.

"This is like a huge family reunion," said United Methodist Bishop Michael Watson, incoming ecumenical officer and a member of the steering committee of the World Methodist Council.

However, while most family reunions might make do with a blessing before the meal, the World Methodist Conference features daily worship services and teaching in a variety of formats. These include workshops led this time by faculty of United Methodist-affiliated Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

For the opening worship, a conventional sermon was replaced by a dialogue between astrophysicist Jennifer Wiseman, a member of Deer Park United Methodist Church in Reisterstown, Maryland, and David Wilkinson, a scientist-turned-theologian teaching at St. John's College, Durham University in England.

They rooted the talk in Psalm 8 ("When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained …") but also projected images of distant galaxies and emphasized how the latest research underscores the vastness of the universe and illuminates its likely Big Bang origin.

"I glean from this that the God we pray to is awesome," said Wiseman.

Wilkinson argued that Christians should welcome, not feel threatened by, the fast march of science.

"It's a gift to liberate; it's a gift to heal; it's a gift to instill in us awe and wonder," he said.

The Rev. Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. Joh/s United Methodist Church in Houston, touched on the segregation of his youth in Houston, the pace of technological change, and the need for the church to love sincerely, energetically and without precondition if it's going to avoid obsolescence.

For the Rev. Reynaldo Leao-Neto, a Brazilian working in inner-city London for the Methodist Church in Britain, the World Methodist Conference needs prophetic preaching and teaching to help ensure the relevance of Wesleyan Christianity.

"It helps us to translate our roots into today's concerns," he said.

Adapted, Sam Hodges, UMNS writer, lives in Dallas.

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