Reflections: Recall, and look ahead – on Heritage Sunday

No one would be more surprised than John Wesley, to observe the worldwide impact of his ministry today. He uttered those famous words, “I look on all the world as my parish,” and the result of his notion of spreading the gospel far and near, is the ongoing Wesleyan and Methodist movement in every corner of the globe.

In this month of May, we in the United Methodist Church pay special attention to our heritage by observing Heritage Sunday. According to the Book of Discipline, the observance takes place “on Aldersgate Day (May 24), or the Sunday preceding that date.”

Bishop Woodie W. White

Bishop Woodie W. White

This year the observance will be on Sunday, May 19. It is a day to remember our roots as Methodists, and to reflect on how the movement has not only changed individual lives but also transformed our societies and the world.

The United Methodist Church has a rich, historical legacy. And it is not about only a single history but a collection of histories, a metaphorical quilt of remarkable vision and service in ministry—which has resulted in a still more remarkable institution. This history must not be forgotten in the midst of current stresses and the demands of the future.

It is good that we pause as a denomination for this annual occasion, but the risks, sacrifice and, indeed, the faith of our forebears should be remembered the whole year round. Since 1738, hearts have been “strangely warmed” and lives forever changed far beyond the locality of Aldersgate Street in London!

As United Methodists, we all know people in the church who have touched our lives personally. Also, the saints we never knew can make an impact because their stories of service in ministry are told to succeeding generations. So many names, events, circumstances and places come together in a colorful tapestry of Methodist heritage.

I am on the board of the African American Methodist Heritage Center (AAMHC), an organization just a little more than 10 years old. Its mission is to “to collect, preserve, protect, and make accessible artifacts, documents, printed materials, and manuscripts about African American people in Methodism.”

The AAMHC materials and, in fact, all the archives of the United Methodist Church are stored in a secure and professional manner at the United Methodist Archives and History Center on the campus of Drew University in Madison, N.J. Recently, as the AAMHC board’s new president, I visited at Drew and received a brief tour of the center from the top executive of the denomination’s General Commission on Archives and History. I saw original documents written by Methodist leaders and U.S. presidents, copies of early hymnals and, oh, so much more. What a treasure, and how reassuring it is to know this history will not be lost because others have made it their ministry to preserve it! Generations of Methodists to come will be able to glimpse the past through archives that are so well cared for and organized.

This month let us examine the vibrant history of Methodists from every region, and of every racial and ethnic background. Let us be inspired by the contributions of clergy, laity, congregations, conferences and agencies of the church.

As a United Methodist I take great pride in this legacy. Early in life, my own heart was strangely warmed and my path made clearer—and I hope my witness is more effective because of it.

When those who are yet unborn look back at the ministry and witness of 21st-century United Methodism, I pray that they will be equally proud!

Retired Bishop White is bishop-in-residence at Candler School of Theology, in Atlanta.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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