Global Ministries Celebrates 200 Years of Mission with Gathering Reflecting on Past and Focusing on Future of Methodist Mission


Guests arriving to the Global Ministries Bicentennial. (Photo: Jennifer Silver, Global Ministries)

Celebrating its origins that trace back to the work of a freeborn African-American among the Wyandotte Native American people in the 1800s, the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church celebrated its 200th anniversary with events focused on the future of Methodist mission during changing times. 

The bicentennial celebration recognizes the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a forerunner to The United Methodist Church. On April 5, 1819, the Missionary Society was formed in New York City in response to the mission work of John Stewart, a freeborn African American serving the Wyandotte Native American people in Ohio. The General Board of Global Ministries is the present-day successor to the Missionary Society. Global Ministries includes UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief), which was formed in 1940.

According to historical records, creation of the Missionary Society was affirmed by the 1820 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church as the first denomination-wide mission society for Methodists in the United States. The United Methodist General Conference scheduled for May 2020 will mark the 200th anniversary of that action. The 2019 North Georgia Annual Conference will celebrate the anniversary as well. 

“Mission has changed in the last 200 years, but Methodists remain a people deeply committed to mission in all its forms,” said Thomas Kemper, general secretary of UM Global Ministries. “The bicentennial recognizes the accomplishments and changes over the past 200 years while celebrating the present and future of Methodist mission, including how mission unifies all Methodists for God’s redemptive work in the world.”

As part of the bicentennial observance Global Ministries, in collaboration with Candler School of Theology of Emory University, sponsored a world conference of mission leaders and scholars. “Answering the Call: Hearing God’s Voice in Methodist Mission Past, Present and Future” was held April 8-10, 2019 at the Emory University Conference Center Hotel in Atlanta, to celebrate Methodism’s mission heritage and look to the future of Methodist mission.

Scheduled keynote speakers included:
+ The Rev. Dr. Arun Jones, the Dan and Lillian Hankey associate professor of world evangelism, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
+ Bishop Mande Muyombo, Bishop of the North Katanga Episcopal Area, The United Methodist Church
+ The Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath, professor of missional and pastoral theology, Duke Divinity School, Duke University
+ Joy Eva Bohol, program executive for youth engagement, World Council of Churches

While John Stewart was beginning his work among the Wyandotte people, Methodists in Great Britain were building on initial mission work in Ireland, the Caribbean, Canada, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone. Local societies formed in the early years of the 19th Century to support mission. At its 1818 Conference meeting, the British Methodist Conference brought these initial societies together to form the Wesleyan Methodist Mission Society.

A half-century later in 1869, women in the Methodist Episcopal Church joined together to form the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, becoming one of the most significant women’s denominational mission societies globally and the forerunner to today’s United Methodist Women, celebrating 150 years in mission in 2019.

Together, these mission societies have been the main organizational vehicles for Methodists engaged in mission around the world. This history includes active participation in mission by Methodists from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America.