'Lift up your voice with strength'


Annual Conference service to celebrate refreshed Wesley hymns


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

Folks planning to attend the Mississippi Annual Conference in June should remember to pack their singing voices.


On Tuesday night of the conference, the worship service will celebrate the life and work of Charles Wesley. The brother of the man credited with starting the Methodist movement, Wesley wrote more than 5,500 hymns over the course of his life. Many continue to be sung in United Methodist churches today, including And Can It Be That I Should Gain?, O for a Thousands Tongue to Sing and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Wesley also wrote And Are We Yet Alive, the traditional opening hymn at Annual Conference. This year marks the 300th anniversary of his birth.


The Annual Conference is scheduled for June 10-13 at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson.


The Rev. Jim Matheny, pastor at Grenada First UMC, chairs the committee planning the service.


“The reality is that Charles Wesley’s music is full of passion as well as being beautifully conceived theologically to provide a perfect fit to his brother’s leadership in the early Methodist movement,” he said.


The service will focus on singing, with some Wesley hymns being presented in “refreshed and renewed” tunes, Matheny said.

“This service is unique in that other services have a designated preacher or are getting something done. We’re there to bring people together to praise God through the refreshed and renewed vibrant hymns of Charles Wesley,” said Matheny.


He noted that not all of the tunes or texts used in Wesley hymns are friendly to today’s singers and said some Wesley song texts have been given “new settings.”

“We have a chance to take ones that are still loved and sung so well; we can sing them with a great coming together of people and musicians,” he said.


Taking part in the service will be choirs from the Trinity Mission in Forest and the Christ UMC choir and orchestra. Matheny noted that Chuck Weatherford, music minister at Christ UMC, has played a key role in developing the service.


In addition, Matheny hopes college ministry music teams will participate. “Charles Wesley started student ministry, so we thought it would be wonderful to reach out to Wesley Foundations who are carrying forward that music ministry on college campuses,” he said.


Another aspect of the 2007 Annual Conference will make it unique. On Monday morning, the Right Rev. Duncan M. Gray III, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, will preach and share in Holy Communion with the conference.


The service is part of an initiative to strengthen bonds between the two denominations.


In May 2005, the United Methodist Council of Bishops approved an interim shared communion plan, an interim step toward full communion, in which The United Methodist Church and each of the other denominations recognize the authenticity of each other’s ministries and agree that their ministries are reconciled.


The goal is to enter full communion with Lutherans at the 2008 General Conference and the Episcopal Church by 2012.


The Mississippi Conference already has a strong bond with the Episcopal Diocese. The bishops of the denominations, along with bishops of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Mississippi, have worked together on various projects for several years and meet regularly. The three groups are co-sponsors of Congregations for Children, an advocacy ministry.


“Part of the larger vision is for the denominations to broaden the conversation to include theology, worship and being partners in faith together,” said Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries for the Mississippi Conference.


“The communion table becomes a symbol of putting aside things that divide us and remembering the things that bind us as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Guests at Annual Conference will be Bishop Ivan Manuel Abrahams of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and the Rev. F. Belton Joyner Jr., a retired UM pastor and teacher.


Joyner spent 42 years serving churches in the North Carolina Conference. He is a visiting lecturer on Methodist history and Wesleyan theology at Duke Divinity School.

Among Joyner’s books are Being Methodist in the Bible Belt: A Theological Survival Guide for Youth, Parents, and Other Confused Methodists and Life in the Fish Bowl: Everyday Challenges of Pastors and Their Families. Joyner will share about “Being Methodist in the Bible Belt” on Monday and Tuesday mornings.


“Dr. Joyner has written in very engaging ways around United Methodist doctrine in the Bible Belt, where many of our neighbors are congregational in their organization,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, noting that Joyner offers a high degree of wit and wisdom.

“He will be helpful to us to understand more fully the wealth of our church structure and organization.”


Abrahams serves an area that includes churches in Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa.


He is an executive member of the World Council of Churches and is co-chair of the Social and International Affairs Committee of the World Methodist Council.  Abrahams will preach at the mission and memorial worship services and lead a workshop.

Gifts to the 2007 Annual Conference Mission Offering will support ministries with children and youth in Zimbabwe and Mississippi. In the spirit of chabadza, Ward has designated 50 percent of the offering for youth and children’s ministry in Zimbabwe and 50 percent for youth and children’s ministry in Mississippi.


The conference will elect eight lay and eight clergy delegates for the 2008 General Conference and an additional eight lay and clergy delegates for the 2008 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.