The Methodist Presence at World Mission Conference
by Elliott Wright
Edinburgh, Scotland, June 4, 2010--Strong Methodist commitment to the worldwide Christian mission was visible and clear at "Witnessing to Christ Today," the ecumenical World Mission Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 2-6.
An official delegation of nine, organized by the World Methodist Council, was augmented by speakers, consultants, and observers. A total of some 400 persons participated, coming from 67 countries and representing more than 50 denominations.
"Mission is the church breathing," said Dr. Dana Robert, a professor at the Boston University School of Theology, reflecting a basic Methodist belief. "We inhale in worship and exhale in witness." Dr. Robert, a United Methodist originally from Louisiana, delivered the conference keynote address. She surveyed the last 100 years in mission and identified emerging trends.
The June conference, termed Edinburgh 2010, marked the 100th anniversary of a 1910 World Missionary Conference, also in Edinburgh, that brought together Protestant mission leaders, mostly from Great Britain and the United States, in a movement that revitalized mission energy.
John R. Mott, a Methodist layman from the US, an official of the YMCA, was a central figure in the organizing and the outcome of Edinburgh 1910. The gathering a century ago was not the first ecumenical mission conference, but it exerted considerable influence. One of its most significant outcomes was a sense of urgency about mission. The stated purpose was to evangelize the world in one generation.
Exchange of Experiences
Edinburgh 2010 had no such slogan or objective. A mixture of academic and practical concerns, it recognized the diversity that defines the broad Christian community today--a community set within a world of other strong religions. It provided a study process, begun a decade ago, to look at the mission experience over the last century and anticipate the future--a future, perhaps, marked by greater actual Christian collaboration than what followed Edinburgh 1910.
"The exchange of experiences is one of the most important parts of this event," said United Methodist Bishop Heinrich Bolleter (retired) of Central and Southern Europe, who represented the World Methodist Council on a committee of "stakeholders" that helped to plan the conference. These stakeholders were mostly world confessional organizations, such as the World Methodist Council and the Lutheran World Federation.
The centennial conference included many delegates from both mission-founded and indigenous churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Edinburgh 2010 also had a greater percentage of women and included participants form the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, and Independent Churches, all of which were missing a hundred years ago. The Catholic delegation of 20 was likely the largest, reflective of the extent of that church in the world.
Ethnic and gender diversity were present within the Methodist delegation organized by the World Methodist Council. In addition to Bishop Bolleter, the group included:
The Rev. Mande Muyombo from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a student at St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri, was slated as a delegate but was unable to obtain a visa to enter the United Kingdom.
Presiding Bishop Ivan M. Abrahams of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa also took part through his leadership role in the World Council of Churches.
Several other mission leaders, including Harriett Olson, chief executive of United Methodist Women, were present for special presentations. Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, who teaches at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina, was there as a consultant to one of the study tracks. Retired missionary Norma Kehrberg took part as the primary organizer of a post-Edinburgh conference set for Nashville in October. Dr. Darrell Whiteman, a United Methodist on the executive staff of the Mission Society in Atlanta, also participated.
Other Methodists may have been present but were not so identified on the roster.
Edinburgh 2010 was organized by the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, with the assistance of the World Council of Churches, a Protestant-Orthodox organization. The University of Edinburgh hosted the event on its campus.
Study Themes and Process
Nine study themes for Edinburgh 2010 were crafted beginning a decade ago, and a lengthy pre-conference study process unfolded on multiple levels. Thematically defined study groups prepared the way for intensive track and small group considerations in Edinburgh. Many of the delegates arrived on June 2 already knowing and trusting one another, trust being essential in any form of collaboration.
Much of the work at the conference was done in study sections and small sub-groups. Members of the small groups, usually 7 to 10 persons, leaned forward to hear one another and often referenced Scripture and contemporary concerns as they engaged in intense discussion:
A listing of the Edinburgh 2010 study themes, the pre-conference reports, and other resource materials can be accessed online at edinburgh2010.org.
Date posted: Jun 04, 2010