Methodist mission started in Angola with the self supporting projects of the Rev. William Taylor, who was elected missionary bishop of Africa in 1884. In 1885, 45 missionaries, whose conference relationships were with Liberia, began work at six stations in Africa, five of them in Angola. In 1896, this pioneer group was taken over by the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Gradually, local pastors and laypersons--side by side with foreign missionaries--actively participated in spreading the gospel and building churches. A notable landmark in the Africanization of the leadership of the Angolan United Methodist Church came in 1972, when the first Angolan national was elected bishop. This was Bishop Emilio de Carvalho, who succeeded the last white episcopal leader, Bishop Harry Andreassen from Norway.
With Bishop Carvalho's election, Angolan United Methodists were able to hold their first annual conference session in 13 years. In keeping with the drive for Africanization, the annual conference chose an indigenous person as its first conference treasurer and a woman at that! This was Mrs. Engracia Cardoso.
In 1974, after some of the restrictions on Protestant activity had been lifted, pastors returned to the areas where all organized church life had been forbidden. They were enthusiastically welcomed by groups of villagers who still regarded themselves as Christian congregations.
Under Bishop Carvalho, church membership continued to grow. In Luanda, for instance, there were three United Methodist congregations in 1961; the number had risen to 14 by 1975. In 1975, there were between 40,000 and 45,000 members of the Angolan United Methodist Church, and more than 100 ordained and supply pastors. The number of members had reached 110,000 by 1987 and is now estimated at more than 175,000.
Another milestone in the growth of Angolan United Methodism came in 1988, when a second annual conference was established by action of the Africa Central Conference. That year's Central Conference session elected Bishop Moises D. Fernandez of East Angola as the resident bishop. He is headquartered at Malange, while Bishop Carvalho remains Bishop of West Angola with its headquarters in Luanda. Unfortunately, groups who supported other episcopal candidates broke away to form a dissident church. This split has not been salutary.
The prolonged destabilization of Angola has retarded the country's normal development, giving rise to unemployment and general deterioration of the physical infrastructure, such as roads and buildings. The Angolan United Methodist Church, like other churches in the country, has been similarly affected. Some of its ambitious plans, goals, and programs have had to be scaled down.
In an unprecedented decision, the two annual conferences chose to begin the process of supporting their own bishops. The goal is commendable, but how soon it can be reached under the existing harsh economic conditions remains to be seen.
The United Methodist Church of Angola, which has consistently demonstrated a remarkable sense of self reliance and selfhood, says that all missionaries to Angola must work under Angolan leaders. From time to time the Angolan United Methodist Church has asked for a few specific key personnel, such as medical doctors or agriculturalists, but only for limited periods of time.
At present, the church needs financial help to meet the salaries of its nationals in mission, sustain its aggressive evangelistic program, and create scholarships for leadership training in various areas. Churches are needed for newly opened districts but, despite good stewardship, insufficient funds are available to meet the rising cost of building chapels and parsonages. The church is working hard to achieve financial independence, but it still needs support.
In the capital city of Luanda, the United Methodist headquarters for the West Angola Annual Conference includes the central church, conference administrative offices, a commercial school, a Christian bookstore, an episcopal residence, a women's center, and other living quarters. A number of Children's Centers which include primary schools have also been established in the last few years.
The church continues to provide rehabilitation services for the thousands of refugees who lost everything during the war. It was the first African church to respond to the Africa Church Growth and Development fund challenge by contributing $30,000. It plans to continue aiding this important cooperative effort.
United Methodist women's work in Angola was curtailed by the war for liberation. Women began to reorganize in 1973, and the women's organization has now spread to every local church. It functions as an autonomous group that initiates mission programs, helps pay the salaries of pastors, supports newly organized congregations, and helps in the development of new churches. The women also fund scholarships for potential church leaders. They are significantly represented in all the major decision making boards of the church. Angolan women continue to seek new relationships with other women in Africa, Europe, and America through exchange programs.
The Quessua Training Center, eight miles from Malange, was the home of the chief United Methodist training center in Angola. The station occupies an area of 8,000 acres along the Lombe River, where much agricultural work has developed over the years. Much of Quessua was destroyed in the fighting which broke out following the 1992 elections but, now that peace has come, the United Methodist Church in Angolan dreams of restoring and expanding Quessua.
Among the ministries formerly conducted at Quessua and which the church wishes to restore are the William Taylor Bible School and the Educational and Medical Center at Quessua which provided training for pastors, a kindergarten, a primary school, and a secondary school. There was also a dispensary and a home economics school. While waiting for Quessua to be cleared of land mines and restored, the Bible School, primary school, and secondary school have moved to Melange, where they attempt to make do with the limited space that has been made available to them in the Annual Conference office.
In 1957, the Methodist Church and the Council of Churches of Central Angola, the country's largest Protestant denomination (founded by the United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ), opened Emanuel Seminary, a united theological school in Dondi. In 1974, when independence was gained from repressive Portuguese control, the number of United Methodist students increased by five times what it had been the previous year. Since then, a number of women have enrolled and several have been ordained as pastors. There are also courses for pastors' wives. The seminary has an excellent department of Christian education, which instructs students in organizing Sunday schools and trains Sunday school teachers throughout the area.
There is a strong movement toward unity and ecumenical cooperation. In a declaration made at its 1974 annual conference session, the United Methodist Church of Angola established the following objectives for unification with the other evangelical churches:
We suggest that the contact between the churches in the person of their leaders should begin now . . . so that the church in its entirety may be capable of serving a free and independent Angola. The relations with the Roman Catholic Church should be maintained progressively within the fraternal spirit of the World Council of Churches and of Vatican II.
This declaration also expresses the hope that the century-old contact between the General Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Church of Angola would continue to develop even after the church merges into the United Church of Angola.
West Angola Annual Conference
Caixa Postal 68-C
East Angola Annual Conference
Caixa Postal 9
Focus: Community Based Primary Health Care
Update May 30, 1996
General Information and History of Angola
Global Connections: Africa
Global Connections: Angola
The Advance for Christ and His Church