Reaching the Neighborhood
Free Methodist General Conference Theme Echoes Wesley’s Emphasis
on “Social Holiness”
THE 2003 FREE METHODIST General
Conference made history in at least two
ways. Not only was this just the second time
that the denomination’s largest meeting was held outside the Midwest, but the
coincided with the 300th anniversary of the
birth of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley.
From June 27 to July 4, Seattle Pacific University hosted more than 1,000 Free
Methodist delegates and friends from
the country and around the world who
gathered to consider
the denomination’s focus and future. Seattle Pacific also hosted General Conference
part of the University’s Centennial celebration in 1989.
|Over a week’s time, delegates gathered for the
General Conference Assembly and
numerous committee meetings each day.
Occurring once every
four years, General Conference is the major legislative session of the Free Methodist
Church of North America, as well as of countries whose own General Conferences
still in provisional stages. This year’s delegates — including SPU President
Eaton —- came from the United States, Latin America, Asia and Africa. For eight
days, they filled Royal Brougham Pavilion
and other campus venues with worship,
assemblies and meetings.
“There were nearly 100 papers presented
for study,” says Bob McDowell ’52, conference
coordinator. “Many had to do with the structure of the denomination, since there
has been a great deal of change in the past
One change, he says, is the denomination’s increased emphasis
in keeping with Wesley’s emphasis on “social holiness.” The General Conference
theme, “Into the Neighborhood,” was taken from
John 1 in The Message — the popular Bible paraphrase
written by Eugene
Peterson ’54 — which reiterates
that “The Word
became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.” In addition to exploring
new methods of outreach for their home churches, delegates and other attendees
toured Seattle-area ministries such as Operation Nightwatch and New Horizons,
both founded by SPU alumni.
Seminars concerning women’s ministries,
inner-city ministries, and children’s and youth ministries also took place.
The conference included speakers who were Hispanic, Ethiopian, Brazilian and
Sri Lankan, signaling a desire for the Free Methodist Church to move beyond the
allwhite, all-European reputation sometimes attributed to it, wrote Doug Newton,
Free Methodist magazine Light and Life. “This General Conference gave our North
American church an opportunity to learn
more about becoming the ‘healthy biblical
community of holy people’ that God — through our bishops — is calling us to be.”
smoothly run event that introduced many people to Seattle Pacific for the first
time, the conference represented three years of preparation and anticipation
by McDowell, other volunteers and SPU staff. Tapping into campus resources, Seattle
Pacific Conference Services Manager Judy Bruce did everything from coordinating
housing and dining services to making a quick run to Radio Shack for 200 feet
cable for delegates’ computers. “This impacted the entire campus, and people
were very gracious in helping,” says Bruce.
Vice President for Administration
University Relations Marj Johnson agrees. “Hosting General Conference this summer
gave SPU a chance to participate even more closely in our partnership with the
— BY HOPE MCPHERSON
— PHOTOS BY
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