After a meeting of the IAMSCU Board of Directors and a welcome dinner offered by Southlands College, more than 150 participants attended the first day of the conference on April 26. The first part of the conference focused on the theme “Transforming Lives to Shape a Just Society: Opportunities for Methodist and Wesleyan Scholars” and was hosted by Southlands College at the University of Roehampton. Dr. Christopher Stephens, Principal of Southlands College, welcomed participants with a very rich program. To see and download the program, see the Program Handbook.
Before entering the beautiful and modern Conference Centre of the University of Roehampton, participants participated in a procession in academic and liturgical regalia, leading to the Chapel of Digby College, where IAMSCU held its Opening Service.
Bishop Mande Muyombo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a leader exercising many functions in the United Methodist Church such as Chair of its Connectional Table and Vice-Chancellor of Africa University in Zimbabwe, was the preacher. He challenged participants to promote Methodist education in order to address challenges such as global migration, climate change, food insecurity, and many others, including the recent challenge being presented by artificial intelligence (AI).
Many Bishops present (from Germany, India, South Africa, United States, and the Democratic Republic of Congo), participated in the service.
Shortly after, the IAMSCU President, Rev. Dr. Tom Wolfe, and the IAMSCU Vice-President, Lic. Adriana Murriello, officially opened the conference. Rev. Greg Bergquist, the General Secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) also addressed the plenary.
Greg Bergquist reaffirmed that the partnership between GBHEM and IAMSCU, which has been going on for over three decades, will not only continue but be strengthened in the years and decades to come, allowing for the development of new programs and activities throughout the world, with a special emphasis on the African continent.
Keynote Speeches address Social Issues
Following the Opening Service and the short IAMSCU Business Session, participants in the conference had many meaningful moments and opportunities for interaction and discussion of these themes.
Dr. Fayneese Miller, President of Hamline University in St. Paul/Minneapolis, United States, spoke about the challenges and opportunities presented to students at her institution. She highlighted the way how Hamline put Wesleyan values into practice in its response to continuous cases of racism and violence against young African Americans, including the assassination of George Floyd, which occurred relatively close to the university campus and let to series of protests by students, by the community, around the nation, and the world.
Dr. Florita Miranda, President of Wesleyan College of Manila, Philippines, provided an overview of her institution’s history, curriculum, activities, and social impact in the community. She highlighted the importance of building trust as a precondition for educational work. This process of relying on trust was present when the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) of the United Methodist Church provided the initial resources for the founding of the school. She mentioned the particular role played by Dr. Ken Yamada in trusting the local leaders and supporting a process that led to the building of a college in the center of Manila. The institutions is now paying forward, not only by educating a new generation of students, but also by providing services to the community, supporting the work o f the Asia Pacific Association of Methodist Educational Institutions (APAMEI), and contributing to IAMSCU at the global level.
Multiple Seminars and Workshops
The conference in London continued with several seminars addressing many of the themes presented implicitly and explicitly in the keynote speeches. The program included a first set of three sessions. “Intercultural Dialogue” was chaired by David Scott (USA), and included the participation of Connie Mella (Philippines), Hendrik Pieterse (USA/Namibia), Apriani Magdalena Sibarani (Indonesia), and Yar Donlah Gonway-Gono (Liberia), who talked about the impact of Methodist education in Indonesia, the experiences of a Methodist university in West Africa, and the need to change the lenses through which we understand Christian history by adding an intercultural and pluralistic perspective. Similarly, there was a panel on “Investing with Christian Ethics,” facilitated by Jonathan Dean (UK) and presenting two experiences on finance and investment from a Methodist perspective, the case of Wespath in the United States which was presented by Jacob Barnett (USA) and the case of Epworth Investment which was presented by Andrew Harper (UK). In “Shaping the Curriculum for Social Change,” Melissa Jogie joined Michal Garapich (UK) and Elizabeth Bounds (USA) presented some practical pedagogical experiences promoting social justice through the work of Methodist educational institutions.
A second session of seminars included other three topics. “Human Rights” was chaired by Margaret Griesse (USA) and included Mab Huang (Taiwan), Daniel Luna (Argentina), Ulrike Schuler (Germany), and Michael Nausner (Sweden), who talked about the changing strategies of the human rights movement in Taiwan and the ambiguities in the relationship with different partners (government, cultural organizations, political parties, and communication organizations), the role of Methodist education in supporting human rights in Argentina in the transition from a military dictatorship to democracy, the importance of human rights in Methodist theology and ecumenical relations as well as the historical examples provided by John Wesley, concluding with a reflection and question about how to embed human rights in a larger framework which would also include the rights of nature and the need to address environmental challenges in the educational process. “How to be a Methodist in a Non-Methodist Context” was chaired by Christopher Stephens and showed how Southlands College is promoting a Methodist ethos by promoting intercultural and interfaith understanding through the work of its chaplains, including Revd Nicola Morrison (Methodist Chaplain), Sabiha Iqbal (Muslim Chaplain), Nick Mayhew-Smith (Deputy Head), and their impact on students, as shared by Fahad Ahmed (Student President). Finally, “Student Experiences based on Sustainable Development Goals” was facilitated by Anne-Mari Brunner Tracey (Centenary College of Louisiana, USA) and showcased the work of several institutions represented by Eduardo Bousson (Nebraska Wesleyan University, USA), Paul Shew (Aoyama Gakuin University, Japan), Vanessa Martins (Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil), Leticia Bourges (UCEL, Argentina), Wehnam Dabale (Africa University (Zimbabwe), Chloe Green (University of Roehampton, England), Mark Davies (Oklahoma City University, USA), and Donaciano Alvarado (Universidad Madero, Mexico). They also highlighted the work of IAMSCU’s Methodist International Student Exchange Network (MISEN).
Tom Wolfe, President of Iliff School of Theology, and Tink Tinkler, Professor emeritus at Iliff School of Theology, presented a TV documentary about a controversial book owned by the institution’s library and the complex process necessary to come to terms with its legacy in dialogue with Native American leaders in the United States. They shared the case of a book on History of Christianity, published in Latin in 1752, which eventually received a cover made of the skin of a murdered Native American. They then engaged the whole plenary in a conversation about this difficult issue and how Iliff engaged in conversations with the Lenape leaders today in order to learn how to address the legacy of colonialism and racism at the institution.
Participants appreciated the experience of Iliff School of Theology in dealing with this matter and discussed how similar situations may be identified and addressed at other Methodist educational institutions.
Perspectives for the Future
The conference concluded with a plenary discussion on “Valued Based Methodist Education: Crafting Hopeful Futures.” This discussion was facilitated by Shannon Conklin-Miller (USA) and included Julio Vilanculos (Mozambique), Bishop Rosemarie Wenner (Germany), and Young Min Paik (South Korea). Each one of them presented on their respective areas of work. Vilanculos shared about the work of the United Methodist University of Mozambique and its impact on the rural community where it is located. Bishop Wenner spoke about the work of the World Methodist Council in many areas that overlap with the values and purposes of Methodist education: global migration, the global financial system, climate change, global health, and other similar challenges. Paik focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI), using it as a tool to define the values of Methodist education and then contrast the results of the technological answers provided by AI with the realities observed at educational institutions. He concluded with a reflection on the meaning of the Korean concept of “Minjung” in education and the need for Methodist education to reconnect with its past and focus on the less privileged and oppressed populations, thus emulating John Wesley’s focus on poor children of miners when he founded Kingswood School in 1748.