Bishop Ivan Abrahams has since 2012 been top executive of the World Methodist Council, whose members include The United Methodist Church and scores of other groups with a Wesleyan theology and tradition. Abrahams is just the fourth person to lead the council, and the first South African. He previously was presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
Abrahams will be in the spotlight during the World Methodist Conference, set for Aug. 31-Sept. 3 in Houston. That once-every-five-years meeting draws Methodists from all over the world. He recently spoke by phone with Sam Hodges of United Methodist New Service.
When you’re asked to explain the purpose of the World Methodist Council and the World Methodist Conference, what do you say?
The council is really the only body that convenes the broader Methodist family, and it is the amalgam that holds the global Methodist family together. One of the purposes of the council is to network, and the World Methodist Conference is a place where people will be sharing stories of what God is doing in the Wesleyan Methodist family. It’s a place to incubate audacious dreams, to cast a vision, and to set strategic objectives for cooperation, as well as a place to be inspired by great Methodist teachers and speakers.
What has been your emphasis as general secretary or top executive of the council?
One of my mantras since taking office is that, in this day and age, it cannot be business as usual. We’ve seen a changing ecclesiastical landscape. We’re living in a post-modern era, and we need to change with the times.
What have you learned about the reach of Methodism — and the appeal of Methodism — in your travels around the world for the council?
One of the things that I have been a bit disappointed about in the United States is the sense of pessimism, which is definitely not shared with the rest of the world communion. We stand in a great tradition. I passionately believe that the golden years of Methodism don’t lie behind us, but in the future. I am confident that those of us gathered in Houston will be able to write the next chapter in our Methodist history as we tackle the challenges of the 21st century. And, in that sense, I’m an eternal optimist and a prisoner of hope.
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