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Methodists must speak out, make disciples, exec says

July 24, 2006

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The Rev. George Freeman

By Joan G. LaBarr*

SEOUL, South Korea (UMNS) — The top staff executive of the World Methodist Council challenged delegates from around the world to make followers of Christ, noting that if the church doesn’t "disciple the nations, the nations will disciple the church."

In his July 21 address to the World Methodist Conference, the Rev. George Freeman emphasized the need for Methodists to speak out amid the challenges facing the world.

"With AIDS/HIV, wars and rumors of war, humanity and inhumanity, racism, unprecedented violence that makes a mockery of reconciliation, the voice of Methodism and the Wesleyan family needs to be heard widely and clearly, speaking truth in love …," he said. “If the church does not disciple the nations, the nations will disciple the church.”

More than 2,000 Methodists gathered in Seoul July 20-24 for the 19th World Methodist Conference, held every five years.

During his report, Freeman emphasized the conference theme, "God in Christ Reconciling."

"The purpose of the church is to help people be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. If we are reconciled to God, we can be reconciled with each other. In Christ, God has offered a way for all people to be reconciled to God."

He declared that reconciliation demands forgiveness, citing Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. He noted that the Bible terms this the parable of the unmerciful servant. "How terrible. How you would like to be known as someone who is unmerciful?" he asked.

A global family

Freeman, a member of the United Methodist Church’s Virginia Annual (regional) Conference, was elected general secretary of the council at the 2001 conference in Brighton, England, in 2001. He succeeded the retiring Rev. Joe Hale, who had led the organization for many years. In his remarks in Seoul, Freeman recognized his predecessor’s long service.

He also described the five years of hard work on the part of many people to plan the conference in Korea.

"Seeing all of you here together is a reward for all of this work," he said. "The Korean Methodist Church has prepared well for this event. We have experienced hospitality like none other."

Freeman called the council and the conference an "incredible family," and asked the delegates from around the world to turn to one another and say, "You are incredible."

"When (Methodism founder) John Wesley said, ‘The world is my parish,’ he could not have realized that some day it would be in more than 132 countries reaching 75 million persons with good news of Jesus Christ," he said.

Returning to the image of the global Methodist family, Freeman said, "The reality of so many of us today is that we want to be rich … rich in the things of this world. We know from scripture that things of this world do not last. Why don’t we have the same desire to be rich in God …God who is rich in mercy? I would like to see our family become extremely, filthy rich, not in the things of this world, but in the mercy of God."

He cited 2006 World Methodist Peace Award Winner Bishop Lawi Imathiu of Kenya as an example of someone who exemplifies the struggle for mercy, peace, justice and freedom. Freeman described the Jan. 29 award ceremony at Kenya Methodist University in Meru as one of the greatest moments of his tenure, and he told of how about 3,000 people — some of whom had walked for hours — came to celebrate the occasion.

Looking ahead

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A UMNS photo by Kama Morton

Kam Nan Church in Seoul, South Korea, hosted the 19th World Methodist Conference.
Freeman affirmed the council’s commitment to continued dialogue with international partners. "We will experience this Sunday (July 23) at the Ecumenical Service, as we make history," he said. Earlier in Seoul, the council had decided to sign the Official Common Affirmation of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, previously approved by the Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholic Church, and to authorize a further round of Methodist-Catholic dialogue with the goal of "full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life."

"We also need to engage in conversation with persons of other faiths, patiently listening to their story and earning their respect to tell ours," he said.

Looking ahead, he said: "We sing, ‘We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.’ Through the leadership of World Methodist Council and so many gifted persons involved, the story is told through education, family life, ecumenical relations and dialogue, evangelism, worship and liturgy, theological education, ministry of youth and young adults, and social and international affairs."

He challenged his listeners, however, to make sure the voice of Methodism is heard.


*LaBarr is director of communications for the United Methodist Church’s North Texas Annual Conference. She managed the World Methodist Conference newsroom in Seoul, South Korea.

News media contacts: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470; Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759; or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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