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Methodist council prepares for global event from lakeshore offices

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Courtesy of the World Methodist Council

The World Methodist Council has been headquartered at Lake Junaluska since 1955.

June 14, 2006

By Neill Caldwell*

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) ? It might be surprising that a worldwide organization makes its home beside a quiet lake in the North Carolina mountains. But since it moved from New York in 1955, the World Methodist Council has made its headquarters here while reaching out around the globe.

The council is a fellowship of 76 Methodist-related churches around the world. It sponsors the World Methodist Conference every five years, including one coming up July 20-24 in Seoul, South Korea.

The Rev. George H. Freeman, top staff executive of the World Methodist Council, has already made several trips back and forth to Seoul to prepare for the gathering, which is expected to attract 3,000 Methodists from all parts of the world.

?The purpose of our conference is educational, inspirational and motivational,? Freeman says. The council will also conduct a business meeting at the same time.

The theme of the conference will be ?God in Christ Reconciling.?

?That theme is appropriate anywhere in the world,? Freeman says, ?because of divisions in the church, in our homes, in our personal lives. When the Korean Methodist Church invited us to meet in Seoul, it was seen as an opportunity to talk about the reunification of the Korean peninsula. The Korean people are very anxious for peace in their land.?

In addition to planning for the World Methodist Conference, the council is active in ecumenical areas. Recently a World Methodist Council lay and clergy delegation, including Freeman, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

?Methodists have been in dialogue with the Roman Catholics for 40 years,? Freeman says. ?We were first in line after Vatican II, where Catholics said they were more open to ecumenical activities. Our audience with Pope Benedict was an important sign that we want to remain in dialogue, and that we?re making progress as we continue these conversations.?

The council is also recommending that the Methodist family of churches sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, a historic document created in 1999 by officials of the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches. The document addresses the concept of salvation, and states that the Christian church agrees that people are saved by God?s grace through faith alone rather than by their own efforts.

?This was one of the issues that created the split that formed the Protestant church,? says Freeman. ?Methodists are certainly in agreement with the idea of justification by faith, and we ought to add our names to this declaration.?

This will be one of the items for discussion in Seoul, and if approved, Methodist denominations could participate in an ecumenical signing ceremony.

The council is also active on a range of international issues, including war, torture, poverty, AIDS and HIV, and immigration.

A tour of the offices

Freeman says the World Methodist Council is a proud part of Lake Junaluska. ?This is a beautiful part of God?s world,? he says, ?and it?s blessed with incredible facilities. We?re glad to have such a prominent position on the lake.?

Since 2002, the World Methodist Council?s offices have been housed in a replica of the Old Epworth Rectory where John and Charles Wesley grew up. The building was funded by Royce and Jane Reynolds, a lay couple from West Market Street United Methodist Church in Greensboro, N.C.

Next door is the organization?s museum, built in 1956 and renovated in 1983. Elmer Clark?s personal collection of Methodist artifacts was moved from New York when the organization moved to Lake Junaluska, and it accounts for the bulk of the original collection. Also featured are a number of John and Charles Wesley-related items that came directly from England.

Arthur Swarthout is about to mark his first anniversary as director of the World Methodist Council museum. Attendance appears to be climbing: since September, when the museum started keeping a daily count of visitors, more than 3,000 people have passed through. While the museum is popular with former or current missionaries and foreign visitors, the largest tour groups are confirmation classes, who often come when Lake Junaluska Assembly holds special youth events.

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The Rev. George Freeman

?This jurisdiction is blessed to have this facility,? Swarthout says. ?What other group of confirmation classes can see their heritage like this??

On Swarthout?s desk, a stack of old editions of the Book of Discipline is waiting to be sorted. ?People are constantly calling and asking, ?do you need ??? Very often its things we don?t already have. And we?re still running across things in this building that we didn?t realize we had.?

The museum is currently hosting the Ebenezer Methodist Plate Collection, a special display of nearly 600 of the world?s largest collection of Methodist-related plates. Tom and Barbara Southwell of Memphis own nearly 2,000 of these commemorative plates. The exhibit will run through October.

To the left of the main entrance and the small museum office is the library of Bishop William R. Cannon, which was moved from Atlanta, shelves and all.

?We haven?t touched any of the contents,? Swarthout says. ?If there?s a Christmas card used as a bookmark, it?s still there. If you want to study Bishop Cannon and see what he taught from, this is the place to go.?

Special events are planned for 2007, the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley.

The World Methodist Council Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and other times by appointment.

*Caldwell is a freelance writer in High Point, N.C.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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