By Tracy McNeal
(UMNS)-- It’s not every day that the United Methodist Church gets to
honor one of its leading lights before her years of history-making have
passed into memory.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Eunice Mathews (right) is honored by the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh for a lifetime of service to the church.
on April 29 the top legislative body of the denomination paid tribute
to Eunice Jones Mathews--a living legend in the church’s history of
mission. The 998 delegates to General Conference and hundreds of
visitors honored her 90th birthday with a "Happy Birthday" chorus and a
reception at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
proceedings were suspended as an energetic Eunice Mathews was warmly
introduced to the international assembly by the Rev. R. Randy Day, top
staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. She
received a standing ovation.
intermittent applause and appreciative shouts, Mrs. Mathews expressed
gratitude for the conference’s recognition and the reception that
followed. "I will certainly remember it for the rest of my days," she
emphasizing her respect for her parents, "whose combined missionary
service totaled 108 years," and her pride at having served with her
husband in five different episcopal areas, Mrs. Mathews made a statement
that displayed the freedom of spirit inspiring her lifework and myriad
do not have to be identified as the daughter of (evangelist) E. Stanley
Jones, nor do I have to be identified as the wife of my husband (Bishop
James K. Mathews)…but I do have permission to be myself, and this is in
the freedom of Jesus Christ."
Mathews’ birthday marks another milestone in the life of the
denomination, as a record 188 delegates from outside the United States
are attending the 2004 assembly. This landmark figure is an indirect
tribute to Mrs. Mathews’ life of missionary work.
was born on April 29, 1914, to Methodism’s premier missionary couple of
the twentieth century, E. Stanley Jones and Mabel Lossing Jones.
Growing up in Lucknow, India, young Eunice witnessed her parents plant
the seeds of God’s word and nurture them into sizable, self-sustaining
Methodist communities. Among these was a boys’ primary school in
northern India launched by Eunice’s mother, a pioneering woman whose
efforts flouted her generation’s strict gender restrictions and paved
the way for women instructors to teach male students in the region.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Eunice Mathews acknowledges applause from delegates and guests . The conference honored Mathews on her 90th birthday.
mother taught Eunice English to supplement her native Hindustani, and
her mother served on the governing board of Asia’s first Christian
institution of higher learning for women - now known as Isabella Thoburn
College, after its founder, another gender-breaking Methodist
after attending Wellesley Girls School in Naini Tal, India, and
American University in Washington, Eunice began her career in
humanitarian work and missionary service. She assisted her father, whose
lectures and writings took him around the world, and revolutionized
missionary thinking by encouraging individuals to receive Christ within
the framework of their indigenous contexts. It was while accompanying
her father on a lecture circuit in India that Eunice met James K.
Mathews, whom she married June 1, 1940.
years later, Mrs. Mathews and her husband, a retired bishop and former
associate general secretary at the Board of Missions of the Methodist
Church, have proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ on six continents,
ordering their lives by the scriptural mandate, "Go therefore and make
disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).
She and her husband fashioned their marriage as an equal partnership; Bishop Mathews wrote in his autobiography, A Global Odyssey, that "these very memoirs should be titled, We Did It Together." The couple have three children and six grandchildren.
Bishop and Mrs. Mathews have advocated for peace and good will, moving
among personages such as President George and Barbara Bush; President
Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton; Pope Paul VI; Mahatma Gandhi; Indira
Gandhi; and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
once told Mrs. Mathews of his deep appreciation for her father--who was
a personal friend and biographer of Mahatma Gandhi--because it was
reading Jones’ biography that prompted King to adopt a doctrine of
nonviolence in the civil rights movement.
Mrs. Mathews counts among her distinctions an independently researched and written book, Drug Abuse: Summons to Community Action, a second book co-written with her father, The Divine Yes, and a professorship established in her and her husband’s name at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.
lifelong call to mission beckons her still, and she continues to
respond. In 2001, she and her husband traveled back to Naini Tal, India,
to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Sat Tal Christian Ashram, a
religious retreat founded by her father.
McNeal is a staff writer with the Communications Department of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.