Monday, June 24, 2019

COSMOS and Methodist Models of World-Wide Church

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
Questions and uncertainties about the future of The United Methodist Church as a world-wide denomination are swirling at the present moment. But this isn't the first time United Methodists and their predecessors have wrestled with such questions. In the 1960s, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) tried to discern how the Methodist Church should structure itself across national and regional boundaries in the future.

The time in which COSMOS operated was in many ways different than our own. Those discussions were heavily influenced by pressures for more autonomy from Asian and Latin American branches of the church, operating in parallel with processes of political decolonization. The expectation of increasing ecumenical unity up to and including denominational merger, both in the US and elsewhere, significantly influenced the contours of the discussion as well.

Nevertheless, perhaps there is something to be gleaned from the varying models of world Methodism considered by COSMOS. Questions of the tensions between connection and autonomy, concerns about rising nationalism, and debates over what types of decisions are best made at which levels of the church characterized discussions then as they do present-day discussions.

Here are links to descriptions of the four main alternatives that COSMOS considered. The text is taken from a COSMOS document generated in 1965. The original is held by the General Commission on Archives and History in Drew, NJ.

1. Maintain and Modify the Present Central Conference System

2. Encourage the Formation of Autonomous or United Churches

3. Create a Decentralized "International Methodist Church"

4. Create a World Methodist Conference of Churches

COSMOS discussed these alternatives in a series of meetings throughout the 1960s, most notably at a consultation held in Green Lake, WI, in 1966. That consultation included 250 participants from around the world, including representatives from the Evangelical United Brethren.

Although there was a Congress held in Atlantic City, NJ, in 1970 to consider forming an International Methodist Church, that proposal never came to fruition. Instead, The United Methodist Church took both of the first two approaches: full autonomy for those Asian and Latin American annual/central conferences desiring it, and a continuation of the central conference system for those who stayed in The United Methodist Church.

Americans were not convinced of the value of a reworking of structure and questioned whether COSMOS even had the authority to suggest such a new structure. Many were preoccupied with finishing the work of the 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren. Many outside the US who had pushed for a rethink of structure had become autonomous by 1970, and organizations like CIEMAL and the World Methodist Council provided other avenues for collaboration in the absence of an International Methodist Church.

That has led us to where we are today as a world-wide denomination. Yet where we are was not inevitable, as COSMOS shows us. Nor is the future ahead of us inevitable, either.

COSMOS: Create a World Methodist Conference of Churches

The following is a justification of the fourth of four main alternatives for how to structure the Methodist Church internationally that were considered by COSMOS, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas. This proposal was largely drafted by D. T. Niles of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka. The text is taken from a COSMOS document generated in 1965. The original is held by the General Commission on Archives and History in Drew, NJ.

Alternative IV: A World Methodist Conference of Churches by D. T. Niles

In this proposal, the United States would become one of eight or ten regional or central conferences. There would also be regions made up of the present autonomous churches which have grown out of both the British Methodist and the American Methodist tradition.

There would be a world general conference of Methodist and Methodist related churches composed of some five hundred delegates elected by the churches in the regions. This body would presumably meet in the various regions. It would have sufficient power to provide for the unity of its member churches and to deal with world matters facing the churches. It will not be a legislative body. Such a world conference would be a consultative body, a court of reference and an executive organ whenever its member units desire to act together.

There would be found commissions of this world conference: a theological commission – a commission on law and discipline – a commission on social and international affairs – and a program committee.

Each region would hold its own conference at such time and such intervals as it may determine in order to deal with matters pertaining to its own region. Each region would, in effect, be an autonomous Methodist Church.

There would be sufficient unity in the structure so that it is a true organ of world Methodism. This is provided in the following ways:

1. A doctrinal basis embodying the historic tenets of Methodism shall be a part of the constitution of the conference in each region.

2. The General Conference will be a delegated body in which every annual conference or district synod, as the basic unity of the Church, is represented.

3. (A) There will be, relating together the conferences in the American Methodist tradition, a Council of General Superintendents (Bishops) in which body every member would be recognized as an equal and as a General Superintendent in the whole Church as well as of the electing unit. This Council will meet at such intervals as it may determine.

(B)There will be also, relating together the Conferences in the British Methodist tradition, a Council of Presidents of the Conferences, on which body every President will be recognized as an equal and as having standing as President in the whole Church as well as of the electing unit. This Council will meet at such intervals as it may determine.

(C) The Heads of the United Churches into which Methodist[s] have entered and which churches are member units of the World Conference shall be members of the Council of Presidents.

4. There will be written into the constitution of the conference in each region provisions giving effect to the Methodist tradition of a connexional system the itinerancy of its ordained ministry and its General Superintendents and District Chairmen [sic].

COSMOS: Create a Decentralized "International Methodist Church"

The following is a justification of the third of four main alternatives for how to structure the Methodist Church internationally that were considered by COSMOS, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas. The text is taken from a COSMOS document generated in 1965. The original is held by the General Commission on Archives and History in Drew, NJ.

Alternative III: Decentralized International Methodism Church

This proposal is an effort to see what would be involved in the United States becoming a Central Conference – or a Regional Conference – alongside other central or regional conferences. The United States would become one of eight or ten regional conferences. There would be an international general conference composed of approximately four hundred delegates, elected by the annual conferences in all of the regions. This conference is intended to provide for the unity of the church and to deal with international problems and inter-regional relationships. It will be a delegated body. Each annual conference would have at least two delegates, one minister and one layman [sic]. Additional delegates would be elected at large from each region, so that the membership will be approximately one half of the United States and one half from other regions.

The general conference would have legislative power over matters distinctly inter-regional and international. It would establish the boundaries and number of the regional conferences; provide consultative boards and agencies for the work of the church; establish a judicial system; provide for the raising of funds for international and inter-regional responsibilities; and suggest standards for church membership, ministry, for ritual and worship; and offer its aid in other aspects of the work as requested.

The eight or ten regional conferences would meet quadrennially and deal with matters primarily relevant to the regions. Each regional conference would: (1) Formulate its statement of faith within the Methodist heritage; (2) Establish standards of church membership; (3) Provide for the organization and administration of the local church; (4) Set standards for the ministry; (5) Provide for a general superintendency of the region, including the designation of the title by which the general superintendent would be known (Bishop, general superintendent or president); Determine the number of superintendents, their term of support, compensation, powers, duties, privileges, and Methodist support.

The unity of the church would be provided for in several ways: (A) Common Methodist heritage in doctrine, ritual, policy; (B) The regional conferences would be bound together within a single constitutional framework. Within this framework greater or less power could be given to the general (international) conference or to the regional conference. (C) The international general conference would be a world forum with what other powers the church as [a] whole might choose to give it; (D) A council of general superintendents all of whom are equal. This council would meet at least once in each quadrennium and plan for the general oversight and promotion of temporal and spiritual interests of the entire church and for carrying into effect the rules, regulations and responsibilities prescribed by the general conference; and (E) An itinerant ministry and general superintendency.

Several questions have been raised concerning this proposal. Is there sufficient unity at the center of this organization? Is it a church? Does it provide adequately for unity or Methodist Churches in difference [sic] parts of the world? Does this proposal undermine efforts toward church union?

COSMOS: Encourage the Formation of Autonomous or United Churches

The following is a justification of the second of four main alternatives for how to structure the Methodist Church internationally that were considered by COSMOS, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas. The text is taken from a COSMOS document generated in 1965. The original is held by the General Commission on Archives and History in Drew, NJ.

Alternative II: Encourage Developments Toward Autonomous and/or Union Churches

For the Methodist Church, consideration of autonomy as the goal toward which we should move in our structural relationship was given fresh impetus at the Asian Consultation in Park Dickson, Malaysia, November 1963. This consultation said:

“We believe that the Methodist Churches in Asia are called to give serious consideration to becoming autonomous churches or, in some countries, where it seems to be God’s will, uniting with other churches to become united churches. Development of Methodist autonomy will still be in the direction of church union which is an autonomous state. Any changes which contemplate autonomy will prepare the way for union. Such a step will also make eventual union easier to achieve be removing many of the present hindrances in our policy.

“Autonomy does not mean severance of our ties with Methodist churches in other lands or an unbiblical accommodation of the church to nationalistic sentiments present in some of our countries. It does not mean becoming self-supporting immediately or breaking the close relationship our churches have had with the Board of Missions in the U.S.A.

“Autonomy does mean becoming fully responsible for administration and legislation, for faith and practice with the Central Conference or its equivalent as the supreme governing body. The Methodist Church would become free to have, under God’s guidance, that form of church structure through which the mission of the church can be served best in each country. Realizing self-hood through self-government, an autonomous church will become more able to accept its place alongside other churches in the area and be free to establish church to church relationships throughout the world, participating fully in the ecumenical movement. With roots in the soil and a structure suited to the people, the autonomous church would be able to work and witness more effectively in its national and cultural environment.”

Autonomy is seen as necessary in order that people in each nation may visualize the church as an indigenous body—in order that the church may adequately fulfill its mission to and responsibilities for the life of the people in that particular nation—that the church is not seen as a foreign body. It is seen as a means to further church unity at the local level. It is the expression of a genuine maturity in the life of the church, and therefore the proper goal in church-mission structural relationships. It was suggested that autonomy is necessary “in order that Christ’s presence shall be truly and fully realized in each place where his body is.”

COSMOS: Maintain and Modify the Present Central Conference System

The following is a justification of the first of four main alternatives for how to structure the Methodist Church internationally that were considered by COSMOS, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas. The text is taken from a COSMOS document generated in 1965. The original is held by the General Commission on Archives and History in Drew, NJ.

Alternative I: Modification of the Present System.

The Methodist Church now has a world-wide structure. This is in keeping with its heritage, its emphasis upon universal grace and its missionary drive. This structure has proven useful and fruitful in carrying the gospel to other parts of the world and in bringing together new Christians into churches. We ought not lightly to disregard a rich heritage if for no other reason that that it may be a structure with value to bequeath in due season to the whole church.

Now is no time to dismantle a world-wide structure. During a period of such extreme nationalism, is it wise to put aside an international fellowship? At a time when at political and economic and social level [sic], we are seeking ways and means to embody a world fellowship, is this time for the church to dismantle what world ties it does have. Do not isolated churches run the risk of becoming their tools of nationalism? Is it not possible that there is a danger in exchanging one form of disunity for another – that is national for denominational?

Methodism and its structure has [sic] been flexible in its approach to problems arising from its world-wide connections. The initial creation of the central conferences inaugurated for India and China in 1884, was an effort to deal creatively with the demands for greater freedom on the part of churches in each area and yet within [a] framework it [that?] maintained world-wide relationships. Therefore, now that there are further strains upon the connection, is it not possible to make further modifications as we have in the past to meet the needs? Where there is demand for greater freedom to write a discipline, would it not be possible under [the] present system to meet this need? Other objections would also be met through similar modifications. It may well be too late to consider such a drastic re-organization of the Methodist Church as is envisioned in the proposal for a decentralized international church. However the central conference can be modified at any meeting of the General Conference. Further the church is not prepared for such a drastic move. Would it not be better to maintain the present system until such time as the way into larger ecumenical union is seen more clearly?

Has the Methodist heritage made its larger and fullest contribution to the ecumenical movement? Is confessionalism necessarily inimical to church union? It may well be argued that Methodism has not yet finished its task, and it may be a betrayal both of Methodism and of the universal church if we dissipate our heritage before presenting it in its fullest form to the ecumenical movement.

But the aim and goal of all this is that Methodism may present itself more fully and more completely to the larger ecumenical movement and may work for this unity and pray for it.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Blair Trygstad Stowe: The History of the Global Connection, Part 2

Today’s post is by Rev. Blair Trygstad Stowe. Rev. Stowe is Lead Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Ontario, CA, and Community Cultivator of Open Space Inland Empire. It continues a series on the historical attempts to consider global structure of the United Methodist Church. You can find entry 1 here.

The American Methodist Church has investigated the question of our global structure and representation several times throughout recent history. Rev. Bruce W. Robbins in his 2004 book, A World Parish? Hopes and Challenges of the United Methodist Church in a Global Setting,[1] outlined the first two major investigations of an improved global ecclesiology by the UMC.

The first was shortly after the inaugural Central Conference episcopal election in 1930. The Committee on Central Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) returned with three options for possible ways forward:

1) The Central Conferences could all be developed into independent General Conferences, giving each church autonomy for self-governance without oversight, but not demanding that missional commitments between Conferences end.

2) Form a Central Conference in the United States as a regional body. All the Central Conferences would then relate in a smaller General Conference to maintain the connection and handle Methodist relations with other church bodies.

3) Maintain the structure as it stands with the American General Conference as the final authority and the Central Conferences as mission bodies of the “mother church”[2]

The Committee claimed the voices of Central Conference representatives spoke most strongly for the final recommendation, to maintain the current polity (option #3) for the time being until more transition could take place in the organization of the Central Conferences.[3]

It does us well while reflecting on this first discernment process to remember that American missionaries were often the representative delegates from the Central Conferences they were serving during this era of Church history, and it benefited the missionaries to remain connected to the American processes. Whether this was an implicit preference or an explicit act of colonialism we can not know, but it resulted in retention of an American-centric system into the next era of Methodism.

In 1948, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) replaced the Committee on Central Conferences in managing the connections of the international Methodist Church post-World War II.[4] The decolonization process saw a preference for ecclesial autonomy, as peoples in newly established countries sought to have their churches reflect developing nationalism.[5]

In 1951, the World Methodist Conference, started by the British Methodist Church, responded to decolonization by reorganizing as the World Methodist Council and relocating its headquarters to the United States.[6]

But economic stability did not follow political independence for much of the world, making autonomy financially inviable, and political tensions between Capitalist and Communist powers added further tensions to international loyalties[7].

Responding to the changing climate of international governance, COSMOS began a major investigation of international structures in 1960[8]. For the first time in 1964, Central Conference representatives were invited to partake in every meeting of COSMOS, rather than just the meeting preceding General Conference[9].

With the unification of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) at the 1968 Conference, an unprecedented 25 international Annual Conferences requested autonomy, a majority from Latin America[10].

The COSMOS recommendations to the 1968 Conference proposed familiar options for the future structure of the UMC:

1) Encourage autonomy for international conferences

2) Support regional General Conferences in the place of Central Conferences, each of which would create their own Discipline and organization, including a Regional Conference for the United States

3) Create a World Conference of the autonomous General Conferences for discussing global needs and continued mission partnerships

All of these suggestions were adopted by the 1968 General Conference and consultations were planned for the development of the World Conference.

However, by 1972, somewhat inexplicably, COSMOS reported its belief that the World Methodist Council would become a sufficient body for handling the connectional needs of global Methodism and that the establishment of a separate World Conference should be discontinued.

COSMOS also proposed its own discontinuance and the reestablishment of a Committee on Central Conference Affairs to deal with legislation relating to the Central Conferences and Autonomous Affiliating bodies[11]. Over a decade of study, conferencing and relationship building between the most diverse decision making body of the UMC to date was simply dissolved. Additonal information on COSMOS will be provided in future posts.

A new directive to study the Global Nature of the United Methodist Church was given by General Conference in 1992,[12] yet few substantive changes have been seen at the General Conference over the last seven quadrennia.

The Committee on Central Conference Affairs was re-established in 2008 as the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters,[13] chaired for the first time by a Central Conference Bishop, and has begun to undertake global investigation with a seriousness resembling the broad study initiatives of COSMOS in the 1960’s.

The designation of a Global Book of Discipline was established in 2012, and the Standing Committee is working in consultation with groups of clergy and laity across the connection on further revisions and simplifications to make the BOD more accessible and applicable cross-culturally[14].

Previous inquiries into the global structure of the church seem to have held an underlying assumption that the church in the United States would always maintain the majority at the General Conference, thus creating no need for the American Church to be designated as its own Central or Regional Conference. While it was recognized by members of COSMOS that issues at General Conference were unfairly weighted on American issues, this was not impetus enough to modify the structure.[15] The focus on American issues at General Conference was considered an inconvenience for the 10% of delegates from outside the United States. The members of COSMOS likely could not have imagined that in just over 50 years 42% of delegates would come from outside the United States.[16]

This global expansion is of course to be celebrated, but it has created a structure that may now be threatening the missional activities of the church in the American context. The Central Conferences maintain autonomy to modify decisions made by General Conference in their local context. No such process is afforded to the UMC in the US.

Within a few more quadrennia, the American UMC may become the minority at General Conference. Without a serious resurgence in action to reconsider the global structure, this could result in a flipped disadvantage where the mother church is left to carry out decisions made by her children, with no autonomy of her own.

[1] Bruce W. Robbins, A World Parish? Hopes and Challenges of the United Methodist Church in a Global Setting. Nashville: Abingdon, 2004.

[2] Robbins, A World Parish?

[3] Ibid.

[4] R. Lawrence Turnipseed, “A Brief History of the Discussion of The United Methodist Church As a ‘World Church,’” The Ecumenical Implications of the Discussions of “The Global Nature of The United Methodist Church”: A Consultation on the Future Structure and Connection of the UMC (New York: General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, 1999).

[5] Robert J. Harman, From Missions to Mission: The History of the United Methodist Church, 1968-2000 (New York: GBGM Books, 2005).

[6] “History of the World Methodist Council”, World Methodist Council: Who We Are,, accessed 26 March 2015.

[7] Harman, Missions to Mission.

[8] Turnipseed, “A Brief History”.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Robbins, A World Parish?.

[11] Robbins, A World Parish?

[12] Turnipseed, “A Brief History”.

[13] Bishop Minerva C. Carcaño, interviewed by Blair Trygstad, in person, Pasadena, California, 12 March 2015.

[14] Heather Hahn, “Plans Underway to Make Discipline Truly Global,” United Methodist News Service, Published 16 March 2015, accessed, 26 March 2015.

[15] Lawrence Turnipseed, “New Structures for Methodism Overseas,” 10 February 1966, accessed from the United Methodist Church General Archives, 15 May 2019.

[16] “2020 General Conference delegate distribution by annual conference now available,” Commission on the General Conference, Published 26 January 2018, accessed, 20 June 2019.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Jacqueline Ngoy Mwayuma - African Women and Mission, Part I

Today’s post contains remarks prepared by Rev. Jacqueline Ngoy Mwayuma for the panel “African Women and Mission” at the Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference. Rev. Mwayuma is administrative assistant to Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Episcopal Area. Rev. Mwayuma’s remarks are translated from French.

Introduction and History
In debates about "feminism," too often one confronts abstract and simplified theses. It is worth the trouble of going to the field to see how things went yesterday and go today. Despite their marginalization, African women are creators and actors in several sectors: social, economic, political, religious and cultural. A woman’s identity is more determined by roles in the secular social that limit her rather than by her understanding and acceptance as a child of God who can exercise ministry in the world.

Most of the statistics available today report the presence of three women among every five missionaries, all countries considered together. That is to say, that the role of women in the mission is far from negligible. However, it has not always been so, as a quick historical glimpse highlights.

During the post-Reformation period, Christian missionaries emphasized the family. Women going out in mission had, as their primary responsibility, to care for their homes and to support their husbands in prayer (1 Corinthians 14.33 -36).

The difficulties faced by women in the mission of the church in Africa start with the fact that the acceptance of the missionary woman was not easy in the society where she worked.
Within African society, in a traditional approach, women could neither teach men nor exercise any authority over man. Another more current approach states that the woman could teach, but she was not allowed to occupy a position of authority.

The woman was poorly perceived by those around her, which points to discrimination on the part of men. Women encountered serious depression in the face of cultural arrangements where women in primitive society were considered second class.

On the one hand, knowing that a leader is necessary and that one has the gifts for assuming this function, but that the leadership role has not been offered because one is a woman, led to a lot of frustrations.

On the other hand, accepting such a position in a cultural situation where the woman did not usually occupy a place of leadership can cause strong tensions that will often be very difficult to manage. A woman assigned to a leadership position in mission can easily be judged badly, even by her own colleagues. If she makes an error, it will be judged more severely than a male colleague occupying the same position. If under her direction certain aspects of the work are not as satisfactory as expected, the fact that she is a woman will often be blamed, sometimes quite wrongly.

After several decades, the missionary movement had a great impact in Africa, where women played a large role in this mission, in accordance with the opinion that men and women are equal according to Galatians 3:28.

Men and women, youth and adults, rich and poor, all have understood their baptism as the basis for service in the Christian ministry. Historically, the Methodist movement has given women the opportunity to assert their callings to their duties and to ensure roles of ecclesial leadership for them.

Thus, The United Methodist Church in Africa involves women in all activities – evangelical, spiritual, material, financial and social. Therefore, in Africa, women perform all the same functions as a man; they are actively involved in the functions with which they have been entrusted, according to their gifts.

Over time, the opinion that men and women are equal in the church is spreading more and more nowadays, especially within the major denominations: Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran, and others. This is how John Wesley, the organizer of the Methodist movement, used the biblical foundation to encourage all people.

The church is aware of the importance of the contribution of women to its mission in Africa, which would be less dynamic, less ready to welcome education and generous service without them. They have helped the African church to clarify the understanding of proper service due the power of evangelism. This is particularly true from the point of view of dedication, self-giving, welcoming, listening, concrete attention to people small and large, rich and poor. It is a perspective capable of helping people to challenge certain mental patterns, prejudices or ways of understanding and to organize ecclesial life.

The challenge today in Africa is to give many more places to women in the management of ecclesial affairs. The voice of women continuing the mission must be heard in the same way as the voice of men, because the church is not for men only but also women, especially in Africa where our churches are 70% filled with women.

Mady Vaillant, “Les femmes dans la mission,” Fac-Réflexion 49 (1999), 24-36.

Ruth A. Tucker, “A Historical Overview of Women in Ministry,” Theology News and Notes (Fuller Theological Seminary, March 1995), quoted by Dr. Saphir Athyal.

E. M. Braekman, Histoire du Protestantisme au Congo, (Bruxelles: Librairie des Eclaireurs Unionistes, 1961).

Delia Halverson, Kabamba Kiboko, M. Lynn Scott, and Laceye Warner, Women Called to the Ministry: A Six-Session Study for The United Methodist Church, (Washington, DC: General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, The United Methodist Church, 2015).

Leevy Frivet, “Femmes pasteurs et femmes de pasteurs: Porte-voix des femmes,” Gender Links (March 30, 2013),

The United Methodist Church, Le Quotidien du Défenseur Chrétien, Vol. 2: Ministères Globaux (Nashville, TN: [n.d.]).