The Methodist Church in Panama is the result of missionary efforts of Methodist ministers from the USA. There are two groups of Methodist churches in the Republic: the Evangelical Methodist Church of Panama (formerly United Methodist Church), a direct result of missionary efforts from the United States; and the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, a result of British missionary efforts among the West Indian descendants who came mainly for the construction of the Panama Canal.
In January 1906 the first missionary couple, Rev. and Mrs. James Elkins arrived. By 1908 a small chapel had been built with the name of “El Malecon” (The Sea Wall Methodist Church). A small day school met on the premises, known as “Panam College.” The school has experienced rapid growth and there are over 4,000 students of elementary and high school level. There is a section known as “laboral classes,” for adults who have not completed their high school education.
Due to the continuing growth, the church dedicated much time to youth work, establishing youth camps and hostels.
There are eight organized congregations with membership ranging from 40 to 250 members, seven preaching points or missions, and present membership is approximately 2,000. Mission work has been established in Chiriqui among the Guyami Indians.
The church became autonomous in 1973 and has worked to develop national leadership in order to assume all church responsibilities.
Methodism began in Puerto Rico in 1900. There are presently 11,000 members. Under Methodist auspices are a youth camp, a health multi-service center, women’s conference grounds, a clinic in Esperanza Vieques, youth center and ecumenical community programs in Comeiro and Barrio Obrero, Arecibo. The former Woman’s Division school for girls in suburban San Juan has evolved into a Community High School for girls and boys.
The Puerto Rico Annual Conference, formerly a member of the Philadelphia Area of the United Methodist Church, began work in 1972 to become an independent Methodist Church, with the desire of the Puerto Rican Methodists to build a church led by its own people. At the 1992 General Conference of the United Methodist Church a proposal was adopted to make the Puerto Rican Church an affiliated autonomous church. Under the agreement, provision was made for an eight-year transitional period, intended to insure close coordination and adequate mission support for the Puerto Rican church. Bishop Victor L. Bonilla, former superintendent of the San Juan District, said the autonomous status will enable the church to play a key role “in the Hispanic world, especially the Caribbean/Latin American World.”