The Mission Society, launched in 1984 as The Mission Society for United Methodists, hosted a “Celebration of God’s Faithfulness” Friday, marking the mission-sending agency’s 25th anniversary. Hundreds friends and supporters gathered at the First United Methodist Church in Norcross, Georgia (near the Society’s headquarters) to celebrate with missionaries, staff members, and current and former leaders of the agency.
Among the speakers was The Mission Society’s founding president (and president emeritus), H.T. Maclin. He led the then-fledgling agency from 1984 to 1991, after having completed a 31-year career with The Methodist Church’s Board of Missions and the United Methodist’s Church’s General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).
Dr. Maclin described how The Mission Society was formed as a “supplemental mission agency” by a group of 34 United Methodists who had grown concerned that the GBGM flagging in its commitment to Christ-focused missions and had embraced leftist political causes and non-Wesleyan theology.
Even though he was appointed to The Mission Society directorship “without hesitation” by Bishop Joel McDavid, episcopal leader of the Atlanta Area, Dr. Maclin said the General Board of Global Ministries was not at all pleased with the creation of the new agency, perceiving it to be a threat.
The Board…circulated a letter…[saying] that this new organization could be “disruptive of the administrative order of the Church.” There was only me and a part-time secretary with a desk made from an inner door in our basement! [But] what was meant to disparage the new Society could not have been more helpful. Thank God for that!
Within a short time, we began to receive hundreds of responses from across our church, nearly a hundred of them asking me to send an application for missionary service. From around the world came a flood of letters of support, with requests from four bishops in as many nations to send missionaries….
And the following May, the Society commissioned its first 10 missionaries…. Since then, 460 additional men and women have been trained and sent out for ministry in 32 nations around the world. There, they introduce individuals to Christ.
Use the audio player below to listen to Dr. Maclin’s full remarks (7 min.).
Other speakers at the 25th anniversary celebration included: Florencio Guzman, one of the agency’s first missionaries, who — along with his wife and children — continues to serve in Monterrey, Mexico; former Society president Al Vom Steeg, who led the organization from 1994-2000 and now serves with a Mission Society offshoot organization, the International Leadership Institute; and outgoing president Dr. Phil Granger, who has been The Mission Society’s president since 2001.
The keynote address for the 25th anniversary event was presented by Mission Society board member, Dr. William O’Brien, former president of the American Society of Missiology and co-author of Choosing A Future for U.S. Missions.
To listen to Dr. O’Brien’s address, use the audio player below (16 min.) — or download the 4MB mp3 file (on a PC, right click and choose “save as”).
Dr. O’Brien begins by quoting portions of Psalm 19 and Psalm 8 as rendered by Eugene Petersen in The Message. (NOTE: The audio includes a brief introduction by Jim Ramsay, The Mission Society’s senior director of field ministry.)
Toward the end of the evening, current and former leaders of The Mission Society participated in a prayer of consecration for the agency’s new president, Dick McClain, who officially took office during the anniversary event.
McClain is the longest-tenured member of The Mission Society’s staff, having served 23 years, most recently as executive vice president and chief operating officer.
In a just-released Mission Society podcast, Dick McClain discusses the changing face of world missions and talks about his vision for The Mission Society. Click here to listen.
The Society’s 25th anniversary celebration coincided with the release of the book, World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit (Providence House, 2009).
Twelve of the 31 authors whose work is represented in the new book were on hand for anniversary event, including Gerald Anderson, Luis Wesley de Souza, Howard Snyder, and Bishop Robert Aboagye-Mensah of the Methodist Church Ghana.
As noted above, the formation of The Mission Society as a “supplemental mission agency” was controversial among some the United Methodist Church. Archival audio related to that controversy is below.
First, an excerpt from the Episcopal Address at the 1984 General Conference in Baltimore. Speaking on behalf of the Council of Bishops, Bishop William R. Cannon (North Carolina Conference) acknowledged legitimate concerns about certain United Methodist boards and agencies, but noted that “[w]e support General Board of Global Ministries as the sole sending agency of missionaries and disapprove the organization of another agency in competition with it” (1:35).
Next, two excerpts from a legislative committee at the 1984 General Conference. A resolution to approve The Mission Society as “an alternative mission sending agency of the United Methodist Church” met with a vote of “non-concurrence” (:50). (The full General Conference, however, mandated that the GBGM maintain a series of conversations with representatives of The Mission Society.)
During a workshop at the 1989 UM Congress on Evangelism in Atlanta, then-Mission Society President H.T. Maclin discussed the role that “unofficial” groups such as The Mission Society fill within the church (:42).
Bishop Emerson Colaw (retired—North Central Jurisdiction), speaking at the 1990 UM Congress on Evangelism in Pittsburgh, cited the furor of The Mission Society as an example of “misplaced energy” and “paranoia.” He said the controversy demonstrated how heirarchical organizations tend to become “more concerned with maintaining the structure than getting on with the mission” (1:26).
On May 2, 2008, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church passed a resolution affirming the work of The Mission Society and encouraging the General Board of Global Ministries to “develop new conversations and liaisons with the Mission Society for new and ongoing partnerships in areas of mutual concern.”
Last October, for the first time, GBGM and The Mission Society jointly sponsored a missions conference (in concert with several other organizations). The “Beyond These Walls” conference was hosted by McEachern UMC in the Atlanta area.
Another such conference will be held next year, also at McEachern. Details here.