By Roland Fernandes and Greg Bergquist
June 28, 2023 | ATLANTA
For everything, there is a season! The months of May and June are special times for the people in the Wesleyan and Methodist traditions. In these times, we reflect on our spiritual roots as followers of Jesus Christ and renew our social commitment to a worldwide connection, inspired by John Wesley. As leaders of general agencies supporting the Church’s mission and ministries, we invite you to join us during this season as we make important decisions, renew our hopes, and move forward!
It was during this season, on Whitsunday, May 21, 1738, that Charles Wesley had a conversion moment and wrote in his journal that the Spirit of God “chased away the darkness of my unbelief.” A few days later, on May 24, 1738, John Wesley had a similar experience, famously writing in his journal, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” These were not isolated experiences, but they reflect contextual, relational, and intercultural realities such as the education provided by Susanna Wesley, the partnership with George Whitefield, Peter Böhler, and other leaders, and the input of many other people who contributed to the Methodist movement worldwide. This year, Methodists from around the globe celebrate this experience of renewal and awakening, and honor John Wesley’s 320th birthday. He was born on June 17, 1703, according to the Julian Calendar, and in the Gregorian Calendar adopted in England in 1752, the date is June 28, 1703. In this special occasion, we have many reasons to reflect on the Wesleyan legacy and emphasis on the centrality of God’s grace. We also must consider his original impact in the 18th century, personal shortcomings of many leaders, colonial implications we now recognize in hindsight, and the need to adapt and implement this legacy to the new conditions of the 21st century. We commit ourselves to engage in this task, reflect on our spirituality, put our faith into practice, and continue the theological, missional, and educational work initiated by the Wesleyan and Methodist movement.
We now witness challenges and opportunities that are very different from those experienced by the earlier Methodists. We are still dealing with the effects of a global pandemic, a lingering war and the threat of nuclear weapons, devastating impacts of climate change – with fires or flooding affecting large areas worldwide, artificial intelligence making decisions for humans without any ethical input, growing poverty, hunger, and homelessness while we experience a growing lack of solidarity, and divisions among families, churches, and nations due to political polarization. We seem to lack clarity about how to respond to these complex issues and how to apply the teachings of Jesus Christ and the renewal of Christianity provided through the Wesleyan and Methodist movement.
This season is also important for The United Methodist Church and other churches in our worldwide connection which face their own struggles, explore new possibilities, and express new hopes. As many annual conferences are meeting and making important decisions, we can come together as a connectional community, promote dialogue, and confer with each other about our challenges and opportunities, deliberating and declaring our resolve to move forward – even if in different ways – in order to respond to God’s calling. This year, annual conferences worldwide feel the pain and sorrow emerging in many contexts, even if they are not directly affected by them. The sadness, loss, and the pain in one part of our worldwide connection reverberates across the whole Church, especially due to the ecumenical nature of the Wesleyan tradition. As we reflect on the present situation and consider the positive lessons of the Wesleys’ multifarious legacy, we see future opportunities for healing and renewal.
During this season, we can witness signs of hope, motivation, and opportunities for action. As people involved in the general agencies of the United Methodist Church, we have seen our worldwide ecumenical connection at work! Higher Education and Ministry recently joined Global Ministries and UMCOR as they partnered with bishops, clergy, lay leaders, and young adults in Africa in a broad consultation to discuss and decide on the missional priorities for the continent – in a process that emphasized listening rather than talking, action rather than speculation, intercultural dialogue rather than cultural imposition. Global Ministries joined Higher Education and Ministry and IAMSCU in a gathering which brought together educators and church leaders from all around the world to the birthplace of Methodism and to celebrate the 275th anniversary of the school founded by John Wesley in 1748, Kingswood School. Participants renewed their commitment to the education of children, scholarships for diverse students, repentance for the sins of racism and colonialism, wellbeing for young adults, spiritual formation for churches and communities, and training for clergy and lay leaders worldwide.
With these and other actions that build on existing ways of belonging, recognize ecumenical relations, and promote intercultural connectionalism, we as general agencies of The United Methodist Church have deepened our resolve to partner in mission and ministry as well as to focus on real contextual needs, to mobilize existing local gifts and contributions, and to share our resources to address the challenges we face around the world. Together, we are serving as a support to our common task of making disciples of Jesus Christ and contributing to the transformation of the world.
John Wesley had his challenges and doubts, but he was able to overcome them due to his faith in Christ and recognition that, from the beginning, the Methodist movement had a social and dynamic nature that depended on contribution of women and men from many backgrounds. We should use this time to reflect on our own struggles, explore new possibilities, and express new hopes. As we remember and honor the founder of Methodism, we also reaffirm our renewed commitment to theology and human rights, mission and education, spirituality and social justice, innovative ministry and healthcare, wellbeing, and relief to the poor. During this season, we and our general agencies vow to work together to support our worldwide connection as we move towards the future, open our mind, spirit, and body to God, and unite in our faith in Christ as well as our heritage of the Wesleyan and Methodist spirituality.
Grace and Peace,
June 28, 2023, on the 320th birthday of John Wesley, founder of Methodism
Higher Education and Ministry
The United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church