Last night (Sunday, November 7, 2010) we gathered for the opening worship of the Conference of Methodist Bishops (various titles are used) in Panama City, Panama. The stated purpose of the Conference (which is authorized by General Conference, paragraph 428 of The Book of Discipline) is: “We hope to set a biblical/theological foundation that sets context, speaks of emergent Christianity, and impacts current reality. We hope to claim and build upon partnerships.” The diversity of the church through the various branches of the Methodist family of affiliated and autonomous Methodist churches is staggering.
Last night at dinner, I visited with the lead Superintendent of the Methodist Church in Brazil. She shared how their church came from two different sets of missionaries – The Methodist Episcopal Church (USA – North) and The Methodist Episcopal Church, South (USA – South). Because of laws ending slavery earlier than in the United States, the Methodist Church in Brazil was able to unite 10 years earlier than in the U.S.
Next to her was the Methodist bishop of Columbia. When I asked where he lived, he replied Medellin, Columbia. What flashed through my mind at the mention of that city was the infamy of the Medellin Drug Cartel. Here at our table was a courageous Christian proclaiming the gospel and leading churches (some 35 or so) in that dangerous situation.
In our opening worship we expressed the faith in a variety of songs and hymns from different languages and cultures. In this great diversity was also great commonality. Charles Wesley’s hymns were known by all. At one point bishops were invited to sing one verse of O For a Thousand Tongues in their first language. It was deeply moving! I found the words washing over me and in their singing caught a glimpse of the glory of God. “O for a thousand tongues to sing, my great Redeemer’s praise. The glories of my God and King; the triumph of His grace.”
There is much to learn here. God is at work in ways I am (we are?) as yet unaware. At this morning’s break, I visited with President (equivalent of a bishop) Lung-kwong Lo of the Methodist Church in Hong Kong. He is helping to train clergy for the explosive growth of the Christian movement in China. In visiting with the General Secretary for Missions of the Korean Methodist Church, I learned that they have more than 3 times the number of missionaries as the General Board of Global Ministries. He also commented that the rise of secularism in Korea had slowed the dramatic growth of the church.
I gaze in on the movement of the Holy Spirit in our world through the eyes of this gathering.