Celebrating 200 years: the past, present and future of Methodist mission
By David Scott*
This year, United Methodists around the world are commemorating the bicentennial of Methodist mission, which marks the 1819 founding of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
On April 5, 1819, the Missionary Society was formed in New York City in response to the mission work of John Stewart, a freeborn African-American, among the Wyandotte Native American people in Ohio. Global Ministries is the present-day successor to the Missionary Society.
At the same time John Stewart was beginning his work among the Wyandotte people, Methodists in Great Britain were building on initial mission work in Ireland, the Caribbean, Canada, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone. Local societies formed in the early years of the 19th century to support mission. At its 1818 conference meeting, the British Methodist Conference brought these initial societies together to form the Wesleyan Methodist Mission Society.
A half century later in 1869, women in the Methodist Episcopal Church joined together to form the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, which became one of the most significant women’s denominational mission societies globally and the forerunner to today’s United Methodist Women, celebrating 150 years in mission in 2019.
Together, these mission societies have been the main organizational vehicles for Methodists engaged in mission around the world. This history includes active participation in mission by Methodists from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America.
This bicentennial year is a time for honoring the place of mission in the life of the church, past, present and future and also for reflecting on the practice of mission within local churches, annual conferences and throughout the United Methodist family.
The bicentennial includes a world conference of mission leaders and scholars. Sponsored by Global Ministries, in collaboration with Candler School of Theology of Emory University, the conference, called “Answering the Call: Hearing God's Voice in Methodist Mission Past, Present, and Future,” convenes at the Emory University Conference Center Hotel, April 8-10, 2019. The conference will celebrate mission and build relationships among mission leaders from around the world. Information about the conference is available at http://methodistmission200.org/bicentennial-conference/.
Another component of the celebration is the collection of stories about Methodists from around the world who have been and are involved in mission. These stories will help to answer the questions: What has God done through Methodists in mission historically? How is God moving in mission among Methodists today? You are invited to share significant stories of individuals and institutions in mission from your annual conference. To submit a story, visit http://methodistmission200.org/mission-stories/submit-your-story/.
You are also encouraged to use these stories as resources for mission education and promotion. The collection already contains more than 200 stories of Methodists in mission. Stories can be searched by geographic location, area of mission work (evangelism, health, or education, for instance) and name. These stories help celebrate our mission past but also inspire present and future mission engagement. You can read stories at https://methodistmission200.org/mission-stories/.
*David Scott is the director of mission theology for Global Ministries.