|Wesley hymns inspire United Methodist
United Methodist Bishops James Swanson
(left) and B. Michael Watson (center) sing with the Rev.
David Kerr during the opening worship service for the
2008 Congress on Evangelism in Savannah, Ga. UMNS photos
by the Rev. Jim Nelson.
By The Rev. Jim Nelson*
Jan. 10, 2008
| SAVANNAH, Ga. (UMNS)
With the Charles Wesley hymn "Spirit of Faith Come Down"
providing the theme, the 2008 Congress on Evangelism brought
together more than 700 United Methodists to share their
passion and strategies for spreading the Gospel of Jesus
The congress is a place where "we can come and
use the 'E' word without being ashamed or looking over our
shoulders," said Bishop James Swanson, resident bishop of the
Holston Annual (regional) Conference, during the opening
worship service. "We need to lead people to Jesus."
Jan. 2-5 event was held on Hutchinson Island in honor of the
300th anniversary of Wesley's birth. Both Charles Wesley and
his brother, Methodism founder John Wesley, came from England
to southeast Georgia and landed Feb. 6, 1736, on Cockspur
Island, just downriver from Hutchinson Island. They served as
missionaries and ministered to the settlers living there.
Methodists are here at the birthplace of the Wesleys’ work in
the new land … the Colony of Georgia," wrote the Rev. David
Kerr, president of the congress, in a message to those
attending. "In one way, the Savannah River is akin to the Sea
of Galilee in that it reminds us of God’s acts. … This is the
place from which the seed of revival would eventually spread
and take root."
ST Kimbrough Jr. performs
his one-person play about the life and hymns of Charles
The congress, held each January, is
sponsored by the Council on Evangelism and the United
Methodist Board of Discipleship with the support of the
Foundation for Evangelism. This year's three-day event was
filled with preaching, workshops and, of course, the hymns of
Bishop B. Michael Watson, resident
bishop of South Georgia, offered the welcome with the saying
that "the 'angel' in evangelism could be you." Watson then
challenged participants: "Are you the angel that could go
Swanson said the 40-year decline in membership
in The United Methodist Church has "happened on our watch,"
and that reversing that trend will require the power of the
Holy Spirit. "We cannot do this on our own power or with our
own strength. We forgot it is not about what we possess; it’s
about what possesses us," he said.
those who depend on the latest program or gimmick to grow
their church. "We cannot grow the church by a formula or
trickery. We must surrender ourselves to God," he said.
Lessons from the Bible
The Rev. Grace Imathiu, pastor of Brown Deer United
Methodist Church near Milwaukee, led Bible study each morning.
Born and reared in Nairobi, Kenya, Imathiu said she often
looks at Scripture through "African, post-colonial eyes."
After reading John 11 about the raising of Lazarus, she asked,
"Where is the power? Death tried to take the power … (but)
Jesus stayed put in a subversive act. Jesus set the
world tries to wrap us again in the dead man’s clothes," she
said, "we must hear the voice of Jesus to ‘let him go,’ and
remember that we are called out."
The Rev. Grace Imathiu leads Bible
Preachers for the
event included the Rev. Evelyn Laycock, retired director of
the Lay Ministry Center at Lake Junaluska, N.C., who got
everyone's attention with the statistic that "82 percent of
those under 18 have never been in a sanctuary."
Laycock used the Parable of the Talents, calling
talents a simile for the kingdom of God. "To reach people in
the world, we cannot be afraid, like the servant who buried
the talents, to venture out and share that kingdom with
everyone we meet."
The Rev. Robert "Bob" Tuttle,
professor of evangelism at Asbury Seminary’s Florida campus,
spoke on the first principle of evangelism and Christianity.
"The only way to gain your life is to give it up. The only way
to be great is to be a servant. The only way to be first is to
"Sin begins when we seek to be autonomous
from God," he said. And "second is to oppress the poor."
Tuttle noted that 11 million children under age 5 die every
year from poverty and spoke passionately about the need to
have a global perspective and to reach the poor wherever they
"The best opportunity for greatness is to be sent
to a small parish no one else wants––where success can only
come from God," he said.
Participants said they found the gathering worthwhile and
The congress offered a "new look at things
we as United Methodists can do without being professional
evangelists––by just being there and loving people," said the
Rev. Ray Petty of Macedonia United Methodist Church in
Rev. Michelle Williamson, pastor of Whitfield United Methodist
Church, Sioux City, Iowa, said she was reminded that "the Holy
Spirit works through you to bring the word to
The Rev. Tom Atkins (right) presents
the award for outstanding leadership in evangelism to
the Rev. William
The Rev. Ken Fuller of Hiawassee, Ga., has
attended the congresses on and off since 1974, and said the
gathering is part "inspirational time," part family
One highlight was a dramatic presentation of
Charles Wesley by ST Kimbrough Jr. Between the singing of
hymns, Kimbrough, who is a retired United Methodist pastor
from the North Alabama Conference, performed a first-person
monologue portraying Wesley’s life and his journey of
The Foundation for Evangelism announced the
awarding of 18 scholarships to individuals under age 40
attending their first congress.
Association of United Methodist Evangelists presented the
"Philip Award," named in honor of the evangelist Philip in
Acts, to the Rev. William Bouknight and the Rev. Bob Nelson
for outstanding leadership in evangelism.
Congress on Evangelism is scheduled for January 6-9 in
*Nelson is editor of the Wesleyan
News media contact: Linda
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