The incoming general secretary of the World Methodist Council (WMC) plans to expand and strengthen Methodism's sense of "family" as the council enters a new millennium.

"The world is shrinking," George H. Freeman told ENI in an interview as he prepared to take up his new job with the council when Methodists hold their next world assembly, in July in Brighton, England. "It's important that we realize that when we worship on Sunday morning, other people in our tradition are doing that all over the world."

Freeman, aged 54, is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church (UMC), one of the biggest Protestant denominations in the United States and the WMC's biggest member church. The UMC also has many congregations abroad and a total membership of 9.9 million members, 8.4 million of them within the U.S.

In his new job, Freeman will head a council of 74 churches, which together have 36 million baptized members in 130 countries.

The council's aim is not to legislate or formally establish doctrine, but rather to promote a common Methodist identity and unity. Freeman told ENI that Methodists were linked by founder John Wesley's belief in holy living, a personal relationship with God, and their tradition of social action. At an international level, the council engages in ecumenical dialogue with other Protestant denominations and with Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches. It also seeks to promote world evangelism.

Freeman said ecumenical dialogue was particularly important. But, he added, so was the strengthening of theological education to allow "pastoral succession" in the church. "I think we have to be very serious in asking the question: 'Where are the leaders for the church of tomorrow'?"

Because the WMC did not legislate ...

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