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United Methodist mission celebrates 200 years

United Methodist mission celebrates 200 years

Photo: UMC

23 April 2019

The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church is celebrating its 200th anniversary, focusing on the future of Methodist mission during changing times. Thomas Kemper, general secretary of United Methodist Global Ministries, reflected on how mission can be a source of unity, and how ecumenical collaboration in mission is essential.

Q: As a leader, how does reflecting on the history of United Methodist mission work help you shape your vision for the future?

Thomas Kemper: The first thing to be said is that the Christian mission—all mission, past, present and future—is God’s mission. We look to history both for an account of God’s initiatives and our human response to the Missio Dei, including our failures to comprehend and follow the mission examples and standards God has given us in Jesus Christ. Observation of the Methodist mission bicentennial provides opportunity to reflect on the opportunities for Christ-like witness and service God has given us through grace and on our responses in faith. Awareness of God’s presence in the past and evaluation of the effectiveness of our missional responses helps us to act faithfully in the present and prepares us for the future. In short, the past offers us a measuring rod for our commitment to God’s mission and inspires us to more perfect alignment with God’s purposes tomorrow.

Q: How can mission be a source of unity for the church today?

Thomas Kemper: Mission sustains the church, understanding “church” to mean congregational, denominational and universal expression of the body of Christ. For example, Methodism itself as well as The United Methodist Church forms a mission movement aimed at achieving personal and social holiness—life in the image of God’s self-sacrificing love. This is well summarized in Emil Brunner’s comment, “the church is by mission as fire is by burning;” meaning, no mission, no church. The mission of Methodism, the mission of Christianity is to convey not a message about God’s love but to show and share the actual love of God for all people.

Q: What is your vision for working ecumenically, now and in the future?

Thomas Kemper: Ecumenical collaboration in mission is essential for faithful alignment with God’s mission. Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21 that his initial believers and those to come “may be one.” Unfortunately, missional activities over the centuries have too often been a source of intra-Christian competition, and even violence. The contemporary ecumenical movement, including the work of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, has taught us the value of missional trust and mutuality. It has been particularly valuable in the incorporation of “mission from the margins” and holistic health into the mainstream of missional awareness. Our bicentennial conference included sessions on the ecumenical dimensions of mission.

Q: Is there a special place for youth at the heart of mission?

Thomas Kemper: Yes, and a fact recognized at the bicentennial event with a closing plenary address by one of our young missionaries, Joy Eva Bohol, who is seconded to the youth program of the WCC. Her theme was “Turn______Upside Down” and her challenge to the church was to find creative ways to encounter particularly young people, where they are and where they gather and to listen to them, especially hearing their call to the church “to witness, to be uncomfortable, to be prophetic, to speak truth to power, to be inclusive, to stand with the oppressed and those in the margins – by this we transmit the gospel and see the order of things turned upside down.” The special role of youth in mission is to be sentinels to the fact that God is always transforming the church and sending us into a new mission day.

Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church