By Steve Beard –
The 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church is being simultaneously translated for delegates in French, German, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Swahili. The skilled bank of interpreters illustrate the unique international DNA of the denomination.
The modern day global membership of 12.5 million United Methodists is shaped by the more than 5.2 million members from the African continent. In St. Louis, that new reality explains why a notable 30 percent of the 864 delegates are Africans – with 48 delegates alone coming from the North Katanga Conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
That number will increase exponentially as membership continues to skyrocket in Africa (41 percent of global United Methodism) and descend in North America. When the denomination meets next year for the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, 55.9 percent of the delegates will be from the United States, 32 percent from Africa, 6 percent from Philippines, and 4.5 percent from Europe.
Quite simply, the energy, vitality, and growth within international Methodism is flourishing in different time zones, nations, and languages beyond the dominant American name brand Methodism of yesterday. According to the most recent statistics available from the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), the shift will define the face of Methodism in the 21st century and beyond.
• More United Methodists reside in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2.9 million) than in the Western, North Central, and Northeastern Jurisdictions combined (2.6 million).
• More United Methodists live in Nigeria (520,212) than the entire Western Jurisdiction (295,308).
• Twice as many United Methodists worship in the western African nation of Cote d’Ivoire (677,355) as in Virginia (319,822).
• More United Methodists worship in Mozambique (136,707) than in Northern Illinois, which includes metropolitan Chicago (81,999).
The axis of Methodism is shifting. The unmistakable tilt of the sociological and spiritual reality found in the newly emerging United Methodist Church is found in African cities such as Harare, Abuja, and Kinshasa. These urban epicenters may be the next Londons, Bristols, and Epworths in a tectonic shift of Wesleyan leadership.
Despite our commitment to social justice, issues of representative equity continue to hamstring United Methodism. The comparative analysis between United Methodism in the Congo Central Conference (2.9 million) and that of the Western, North Central, and Northeastern jurisdictions combined (2.6 million) is worth revisiting. These three U.S. jurisdictions currently have a total of 23 bishops, compared to only four Congolese bishops. That kind of unjust and lopsided representation within a power structure such as the Council of Bishops is in desperate need of rectifying. The 23 bishops from the three U.S. jurisdictions represent one bishop for every 113,735 members. For the Congolese, there is one bishop for every 749,811 members.
John Wesley’s declaration that the “world is my parish” has been a point of spiritual inspiration for generations in the Methodist movement. Today, it serves as a difficult challenge for a denomination living in 60 different nations. Whatever occurs in St. Louis, those who value equity in global representation will need to find a swift remedy for United Methodism’s future.
Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.