Friday, June 28, 2013

World Growth of the United Methodist Church in Comparative Perspective

For those of you looking for resources in thinking about The United Methodist Church as a global denomination, the Methodist Review, the online-only Methodist academic journal, provides a number of helpful resources.  Among these are an article written by Dana L. Robert and David W. Scott two years ago entitled "World Growth of the United Methodist Church in Comparative Perspective: A Brief Statistical Analysis."  In this article, the two authors compare the growth rates of the UMC, independent Methodist churches, other Wesleyan churches, and Anglicans churches on a country-by-country basis.  As the study notes, "These comparisons show that population figures give serious cause for concern about the UMC’s performance globally" (38).  The authors suggest several possible reasons for that poor performance.  The authors examine sociological, structural, cultural, and theological reasons, raising questions for further research.

The article is available freely online, though accessing it does require the creation of a login for the Methodist Review's site.  To see the article, go to www.methodistreview.org/index.php/mr/article/view/48.  For other articles by the Methodist Review, see www.methodistreview.org/index.php/mr/issue/archive.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

International UMC connections help forward mission

This story from Global Ministries talks about how a second generation Korean-American couple are serving as missionaries in Central Asia, helping grow The United Methodist Church's ministry there.  The story struck me as presenting some of the advantages of the global nature of the UMC as well as its connections to other Methodist denominations around the world.  Thanks to on-going ties to the independent Korean Methodist Church, the UMC's work among Korean immigrants and Korean-Americans has been strong, bearing fruit such as the Kim, the missionaries in the story.  These missionaries are then helping United Methodism in Kazakhstan, including sending Kazakhs to Russia for theological education.  Thus, the UMC's global ties bring together Korea, the US, Kazakhstan, and Russia into a global missionary partnership.  Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

United Methodist Historic Sites and Heritage Landmarks

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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Church in China

Last week, the United Methodist News Service did a series of excellent articles on the church in China.  Note that the articles are not about The United Methodist Church in China.  As mentioned on this blog before, the UMC is active in China.  Nevertheless, we would be sorely mistaken if we assumed that Christianity in China was structured in ways that were similar to the U.S. landscape of denominations.  Click the links below to learn more about what the church in China does look like!

The Church in China: A Growth in Size, Faith

The Church in China: One Pastor's Journey

The Church in China: Pews are Full

The Church in China: To Serve God, Society

The Church in China: A Bible Printing Press

The Church in China: Focus on Disaster Relief

United Methodism's Chinese Connections

As you read, ask yourself what place the UMC has in this religious ecosystem that is in many ways different than that of the U.S., but in which people still seek to faithfully live out the call of the gospel.  Share your thoughts below.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Annual Conference

It's early June, which in the United Methodist world means it's Annual Conference time.  I just returned from an inspiring and uplifting experience at the Wisconsin Annual Conference led by Bishop Hee-soo Jung.  For more on that experience, see the Twitter hashtag #wiumc13.

You can follow news and reports from Annual Conference from around the connection through the United Methodist News Service by visiting this webpage.  For those of us blessed with an internet connection, it's a great way to see what other United Methodists from around the world are doing in their ministry.

Indeed, Annual Conference holds a special place for global Methodism.  It's still one of the things that unites all United Methodism.  While its format and content have varied over the years and across conference, the experience of joining together yearly for prayer and deliberation is is one that ties us not only to our historical roots but also to our sisters and brothers in Christ who are fellow United Methodists throughout the world.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Christian Perfection and the Global UMC

Kevin Watson recently posted a piece on his blog Vital Piety about the doctrine of Christian perfection in which he examines a John Wesley quote about the importance of Christian perfection (also known as entire sanctification or holiness) for the early Methodist movement.  Watson asserts, "Wesley believed that there was a particular reason for Methodism. Methodists existed because God had given them a particular corporate calling – to spread the teaching about the possibility of full sanctification."

As Watson notes, there was dispute about the importance of holiness even in Wesley's day, and Christian perfection has fallen by the wayside in much of contemporary United Methodism.  Thus, to say that the doctrine of Christian perfection is the reason for the existence of The United Methodist Church would probably fall more into the realm of normative than descriptive statements.

Moreover, while the doctrine of Christian perfection may provide a reason for Methodists to exist and to exist around the globe, it does not answer Dr. Pieterse's question from a previous blog on this site as to why United Methodists should exist as a global denomination.  Other Methodists share this doctrine; indeed, it has remained a more important doctrine in some other churches.

Share your thoughts: Does the doctrine of Christian perfection still have anything to do with why God is raising up the people called United Methodists throughout the world?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Trip celebrates historical roots of the global Methodist movement

World Methodist Evangelism sponsored a recent trip to England to visit historical sites associated with the origins of the Methodist movement in England in the 1700s.  The trip began with a celebration on May 24th of the 275th anniversary of John Wesley's Aldergate experience, the even in which his heart was "strangely warmed," issuing in a live of deeper and more vital piety for Wesley.  From there, the trip proceeded to visit other Methodist sites.  For a larger description of the trip, see this coverage by the United Methodist News Service.

The trip raises several questions about connections in the global Methodist movement.  World Methodist Evangelism is a project of the World Methodist Council, an international body consisting of denominations around the world (including The United Methodist Church) with Methodist roots.  World Methodist Evangelism's executive director, Dr. H. Eddie Fox, is American and a United Methodist, and the organization is based in Nashville.  Three out of the five officers of World Methodist Evangelism are also American United Methodists (one other is an American AME bishop and one is a bishop in the Kenyan Methodist Church).  The worship at the trip was led by four American United Methodists and one bishop of the Methodist Church in Nigeria.

Does this trip represent history uniting Methodists across the world and even across denominational boundaries?  Is it really an American United Methodist endeavor with token diversity?  Does it have anything to say about the role of history in forging a global UMC?  Share your comments below.