Thursday, June 20, 2013

United Methodist Historic Sites and Heritage Landmarks

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

As mentioned before on this blog, one of the possible forms of unity for the UMC as a global church is the historical heritage of Methodism.  An important part of preserving and carrying forward that heritage is the stories we tell, the books we write, and the artifacts we preserve.  But places matter to history as well, which is why The United Methodist Church has designated certain sites as either United Methodist Heritage Landmarks (approved by the 2012 General Conference) or United Methodist Historic Sites (approved by an Annual, Central, or Jurisdictional Conference).  A list of both the Heritage Landmarks and the Historic Sites is available online.

If the UMC is to truly be a global church, then we must think of our history in global terms as well.  Yet both of these lists show the overwhelming preponderance of places in the United States in our list of what we consider the most important historical sites in United Methodism.  Only three of the forty-six Heritage Landmarks are outside the United States, or 6.5%.  A mere 7 out of nearly 500 Historic Sites, just barely over 1%, are outside of the United States, and one each of these is in Canada and England.  That means a paltry 1% of our Historic Sites are in non-U.S. Annual Conference.  How can we be a global church if we do not have a global history?

Of course, there are a complex set of factors that affect the list of Historic Sites.  Some annual conferences have been much more active in designating Historic Sites, and they certainly should not be punished for recognizing their history.  Yet, as a denomination, we need to make sure that we are representing the history of the entire denomination.  That's why the GC-approved list of Heritage Landmarks is perhaps more troubling.  Are there really only three places in the world outside of the U.S. that deserve recognition for their importance to United Methodism?  Until we can say no and come up with a much longer list of places throughout the world with historical significance, we should have trouble calling ourselves a global church.

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