United Methodist evangelists inspired by Charles Wesley
Jan. 10, 2008
NOTE: Photographs available at http://umns.umc.org.
By The Rev. Jim Nelson*
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 Christ.
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."
The 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.
"We United 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."
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 Charles Wesley.
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 forth?"
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.
Swanson criticized 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 agenda.
"When 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."
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 be last.
"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 are.
"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 uplifting.
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 Knoxville, Tenn.
The 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 folks."
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 reunion.
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 faith.
The Foundation for Evangelism announced the awarding of 18 scholarships to individuals under age 40 attending their first congress.
The National 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.
The 2009 Congress on Evangelism is scheduled for January 6-9 in Nashville, Tenn.
*Nelson is editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
United Methodist News Service Photos and stories also available at: http://umns.umc.org
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