Representatives of the World Methodist and European Methodist Councils, the British Methodist Church, the Methodist churches in Italy, and The United Methodist Church met in April in Italy. Among the many things accomplished were the opening of the Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome, a visit to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and a private audience with Pope Francis.
At the meeting with Pope Francis, a sculpture of Methodist founder John Wesley was presented in a handcrafted box constructed by Thomas Stamey of Clyde, North Carolina. A master woodworker, Stamey said that he was very honored to have this once in a lifetime opportunity. The box was constructed of early American chestnut, chosen for its growth in the Appalachian Mountains where the World Methodist Council office and Museum are located. “It is not only a beautiful wood but also a very long-lasting wood,” he said. “The wood was harvested before disease caused the extinction of this majestic species. I’ve had it a long time and been saving it for a special project,” Stamey added.
In his remarks, Pope Francis said, “I was pleased to learn of the opening of the Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome. It is a sign of our growing closeness, and particularly of our shared desire to overcome all that stands in the way of our full communion. May the Lord bless the work of the office and make it a place where Catholics and Methodists can encounter one another and grow in appreciation of one another’s faith, whether they be groups of pilgrims, those training for ministry, or those who guide their communities. May it also be a place where the progress achieved through our theological dialogue is made known, celebrated, and advanced.”
“Of the items that were available, Wesley seemed the obvious choice,” explained Museum Director Jackie Bolden. “He believed in going where the people were whether it be in the streets, the fields, or to the mines or debtors’ prisons. When Pope Francis was on tour, he reminded all of us that it was about touching the hand, not throwing a little money in the cup. These two religious leaders have much in common regarding how we should treat our fellow man,” she said.