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Summer 2003 | Volume 26, Number 3 | Features

Reaching the Neighborhood

Free Methodist General Conference Theme Echoes Wesley’s Emphasis on “Social Holiness”

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 event also coincided with the 300th anniversary of the birth of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley.

Over a week’s time, delegates gathered for the General Conference Assembly and numerous committee meetings each day.
From June 27 to July 4, Seattle Pacific University hosted more than 1,000 Free Methodist delegates and friends from across the country and around the world who gathered to consider the denomination’s focus and future. Seattle Pacific also hosted General Conference as part of the University’s Centennial celebration in 1989.

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 are still in provisional stages. This year’s delegates — including SPU President Philip 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 several years.”

One change, he says, is the denomination’s increased emphasis on outreach, 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, editor of 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.”

A 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 of Ethernet cable for delegates’ computers. “This impacted the entire campus, and people were very gracious in helping,” says Bruce.

Vice President for Administration and University Relations Marj Johnson agrees. “Hosting General Conference this summer gave SPU a chance to participate even more closely in our partnership with the Free Methodist Church.”


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