Friday, June 14, 2019

Is Being a World-Wide Denomination an American Aspiration?

On Monday, I published a rough typology of world-wide denominations. It is worth noting that most of the examples of more centralized and well-connected world-wide denominations are American in origin. This leads to a question: Is the desire to be a world-wide denomination a particularly American desire?

In asking this question, I'm not suggesting that only Americans as individuals want to be part of world-wide denominations. In order for there to be world-wide denominations, there needs to be individuals from many countries willing to belong to such groups.

Rather, what I'm asking is whether the desire to be a world-wide denomination is grounded in peculiarly American experiences of and assumptions about the world and the church.

To begin an answer, it may be worth reviewing the examples of world-wide denominations. As I suggested in the initial post, the Roman Catholic Church is the most world-wide denomination (if it can be called a denomination; there's debate over that). Beyond Roman Catholicism, the other examples of denominations with global decision-making regarding all matters of church life include nine denominations with an American background and three denominations with backgrounds in the global South (one Brazilian, one Ghanaian, and one Filipino). Of the four traditions with world-wide theological consultation, two are American in origin, and two are European in origin.

Thus, two-thirds of what might be considered world-wide denominations are American in origin. By contrast, only half of world-wide denominational traditions based on national or congregational autonomy are American in origin.

There are several possible explanations for why the United States as a religious context has given rise to so many world-wide denominations.

First, it is worth noting that the United States, with its traditions of separation of church and state and vibrant voluntary associations pioneered denominationalism as a form of organizing church life. Thus, the United States is the source of many denominations of all forms and all ways of thinking about national, regional, and world-wide connection. Perhaps the United States has given birth to many world-wide denominations just because it has given birth to many denominations.

Second, it is also worth noting that most of the world-wide denominations with an American background are Wesleyan, Holiness, and/or Pentecostal traditions. (The Mormon Church and Jehovah's Witnesses are the two notable exceptions.) Thus, another possible explanation for why so many world-wide churches come from the US is that the US is the context in which Wesleyan, Holiness, and Pentecostal traditions developed most fully, and there is something about these traditions that fosters a desire for a world-wide church.

To some extent, however, this is just to rephrase the question: Why have Wesleyan, Holiness, and Pentecostal traditions (which developed in the United States) aspired to become world-wide denominations? Here is it important to point out that other expressions of Wesleyanism and Pentecostalism that have developed outside the United States have not aspired to world-wide organizational unity in the same way that their American counterparts have.

Third, it is possible that the key explanatory factor is not American origins per se but rather globalization as a framework for world-wide expansion. Because of the time frame in which these US-originated traditions spread to the rest of the world (late 19th century to present) and because of the distinctive American experience of economic and cultural rather than political colonialism, it is possible that these denominations think of themselves as world-wide because of their (positive) experiences with globalization.

European traditions, on the other hand, have roots either in the Peace of Westphalia or the European experience of political colonization and de-colonization, both of which have emphasized national autonomy.

The inclusion of three denominations from the global South on the list of world-wide denominations, each of which has developed through global migratory diasporas and/or global media distribution, gives further credence to the notion that what is at the root of this desire is globalization more so than American origins.

It is worth noting, however, that the two - globalization and American origins - are not possible to entirely separate. The United States has had a significant role in creating and shaping waves of globalization in the past 150 years. Thus, a globalization explanation may also be a US explanation.

Fourth and finally, it is possible that there is some particular about how Americans have thought about the world that has impelled them to create world-wide denominations, bringing in others who have either adopted this way of thinking from Americans or have been willing to participate in world-wide denominations for their own reasons.

This explanation is not mutually exclusive with the prior explanation. It is quite possible that this peculiarly American way of thinking about the world is tied to American experiences of and ways of thinking about globalization. In that regard, it is possible that American experiences of economic globalization and the creation of multinational corporations and organizations like the World Bank or cultural and governance globalization and the creation of world-wide organizations like the Red Cross and UN have served as models, implicitly or explicitly, for how American denominations have thought about their relationships with their co-religionists around the world.

Another version of this explanation might instead look at American notions of American exceptionalism and the American national mission for the ideological sources of the desire for American denominations to become world-wide denominations. The notion of America as a city on a hill and a country with a mission to the world has been explored in books such as William Hutchison's Errand to the World and Ian Tyrrell's Reforming the World.

One concluding comment seems appropriate here. To the extent that the desire to be a world-wide denomination is tied to an American background, that does not necessarily make it an invalid desire. The belief that denominations should be organized at a national level also usually comes out of particular historical and cultural experiences.

But while such a socio-historical view of the desire to be a world-wide denomination doesn't invalidate that desire, it does open it up for further reflection. Are there theological arguments to be made for such a view? What are the relationships between organizational unity and other forms of unity? Does seeing this aspiration as historically-rooted make being a world-wide denomination optional? If it is option, what are the other options, and what are the arguments for and against them?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Betty Spiwe Katiyo – African Women and Mission

Today’s post contains remarks prepared by Mrs. Betty Spiwe Katiyo for the panel “African Women and Mission” at the Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference. Mrs. Katiyo is an active laywoman in the West Zimbabwe Annual Conference.

What stories of United Methodist history and mission history are important for your own personal sense of religious and spiritual formation?

Let me start by quoting an excerpt from Glory E. Dharmaraj, Concepts of Mission (New York: Women’s Division, General Board of Global Ministries, 2005).

What is “Mission”? “Mission is the goal and the purpose of God for us.”

What are “Missions”? “Missions are the human objectives by which we respond to God’s love for us.”

Reflecting on the above definitions, my personal sense of religious and spiritual formation is strengthened in our missions as the United Methodist body. Knowing that from the time of the Acts of the Apostles (when the likes of Priscilla started mission work) to John Wesley (who together with his brother Charles established missional and philanthropic enterprises to promote social change in society) forming the church, embarking on “missions,” and then leading up to The United Methodist Church mission as per the Book of Discipline paragraph 120, which reads “The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” These are timelines in which we see the “missions” undertaken by humans and by His grace keep growing globally as a testament of His “Mission” for us.

What is the role of African women in those stories?

African women’s missions are as diverse as the continent, and my fellow panelists will attest to that in sharing their missions and experiences.

It is important at this point to highlight that prior to colonization and the coming of the gospel to Africa, we had our own way of carrying out missions within our societies with women very much involved.

To highlight the role of African women in these stories, I would like to share the story of the pioneer of the Methodist women’s group in Zimbabwe, Mbuya (Granny) Lydia Chimonyo, nee Duri, who was born in 1894. She was at risk of a forced marriage to a married man and ran away to Old Mutare Mission for refuge among the missionaries. She worked for missionaries as a helper and the missionaries’ wives took her under their wings to teach and mentor her spiritually and life lessons. In 1914 she got married to Obedia Chimonyo, a pastor/teacher who was attending theological training with other male pastors. It is believed that the foreign missionaries set them up and officiated the nuptials.

Lydia formed a group of local pastors’ wives whose husbands were in theological training. The purpose of this group was to pray for their husbands’ missions. They identified a meeting place at a nearby mountain named Chiremba at Old Mutare Mission under a special tree called Chin’ando, where they met and prayed as early as 4.00am. This was the birth of Rumuko (“early morning prayer before morning chores”). They continued meeting as a group of pastors’ wives and also with the missionary wives who mentored them in various disciplines of womanhood and life in general. They later started wider outreach to include other women for these prayers and meetings. Till today Rumuko has been vibrant, and men and children have joined in making it a family ritual. People meet in homes, sanctuaries or any place of choice.  Chin’ando shrine has become a place where people visit regularly for prayer and inspiration.

Women’s clubs were also formed then to teach and do a number of things like adult literacy, cooking, baking, crocheting, nutritional gardens, sustainable farming, poultry, keeping rabbits (coined “butcher in the backyards”), leadership empowerment and many more. These programs are still going on, and many more have been incorporated to suit the current times, e.g. lessons on climatic change.

How can the church globally tell stories of mission history that give more weight to the experiences of African women?

To give more weight to the experiences of African women in mission history, the church should actively capture, document and globally share the African women’s stories in church literature. It would also be worth noting, researching and archiving historical African mission stories.  

To enhance existing exchange programs locally, regionally and internationally so that there is first-hand experiences and appreciation to their experiences.

What contributions do you see African women making to the United Methodist mission today?

There is no mission in Africa without women. In Africa, women make up about 70% of the church, which makes them the strength and vitality of the African church and society. Their major contribution to the mission starts with nurturing their children into spiritual environments. This provides a base for the continuity and growth of the church, as missions are passed down from generation to generation.

Other contributions towards the missions are prayer, evangelism, assisting the needy, empowering women in various disciplines (club formations, cooking, business development, home economics, education, etc.), leadership development and mentorship.

What resources have they drawn upon in making these contributions?

They draw upon resources that include:
- Great leadership skills of the regional and local woman coordinators of UMW
- The use of clergy women as resource persons
- Personal experiences
- Funding, both local and international
- Networking with other women groups and women in government offices
- Professional experts (local, regional and international)   

What has hindered their contributions?

Hinderances include:
- Limited economic resources
- Limited physical access to remote areas
- Patriarchy, which inhibits some women from pursuing active roles in mission work
- Lack of self-esteem and self confidence

And what has helped?

- Improvement in the mobility and access to information through the internet has opened a gateway to information that would otherwise not be readily available.
- Open doors in government programs have expanded access to subject matter experts.
- Church programs and meetings help stimulate participation and exposure.
- The Global Ministries missionaries program has helped with human and expertise resources.

Mission has historically included many activities: evangelism, health, education, social justice, development, etc. As you think to the future of the United Methodist mission, what components of mission do you hope will continue?

All of them are critical, especially social justice and inter-generational transmission of skills and experiences. There is a need to thoroughly document the various programs and archive them for future generations.

Economic empowerment, especially with the failing economies and several catastrophes and wars, is needed for self-reliance and sustenance.

Consistent monitoring and evaluation of mission programs for effectiveness is also needed.

What do you think the relationship between these components should be?

The relationship of these components should continue to be intertwined, as they are all threads that bind our society. We need to identify synergies, with clear and effective goals to adequately implement our missions.

How do you think African women will lead in carrying out these components of Gods mission?   

They will lead in carrying out these components through their dedication and deep understanding of the church’s mission and how it relates to the different components. In addition, due to the growth of the church in Africa partly because of women’s evangelism, I see African women playing a pivotal role in assisting the church at large and being a point of reference for evangelism and mission work in the global community.

God has used the church through Christ to save persons, heal relationships, transform social structures, and spread scriptural holiness. African women have created a safe space where the church is a place of refuge and a place of purpose. Mbuya Lydia’s “missions” started under a tree, and now Rumuko (Communal Sun Rise Prayers) is practiced in homes and churches all over Zimbabwe, becoming a major source of evangelism up to date as witnessed when they hold their annual conventions and souls are won to Christ. The women’s clubs they started have progressed into various mission activities within the church. This is a testament of the power of African women missions.

I close with a quote from Glory E. Dharmaraj: “God’s mission outlives individual or denominational missions; it does not end.”

Monday, June 10, 2019

Varieties of World-Wide Denominations

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.

 The recent turmoil in The United Methodist Church has re-ignited conversation about the church’s global nature and whether it might be possible to structure the church globally in some other way.

Looking ecumenically shows us there are many different ways of organizing a church that is to some extent “global,” “world-wide,” or “international.” I do not distinguish between the three terms in this piece. What follows is a rough typology of these different ways of being a world-wide church, from most centralized to less centralized.

1. Centralized world churches
  • Church members see each other as fellow members of the same church, spiritually and organizationally.
  • Decisions affecting all aspects of church life, including doctrine, practice, personnel, and program are made by a centralized individual or small group, though those decisions may be implemented at subsidiary levels, and subsidiary levels may have additional decision-making authority.
  • Polity structures are the same for all regions, regardless of proximity to the centralized decision-makers or historical homeland, with perhaps some variation in areas of new church development.
  • Examples: The Roman Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses

2. Democratic world churches
  • Church members see each other as fellow members of the same church, spiritually and organizationally.
  • Decisions affecting all aspects of church life, including doctrine, practice, personnel, and program are made democratically by a body including equal or proportional representation from all areas, though those decisions may be implemented at subsidiary levels, and subsidiary levels may have additional decision-making authority.
  • Polity structures are the same for all regions, regardless of proximity to the centralized decision-makers or historical homeland, with perhaps some variation in areas of new church development. Some areas may be privileged because of membership size or financial resources, but not because of variations in polity.
  • Examples: The Church of the Nazarene, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)

3. Centralized nationally-based churches with global reach
  • Church members see each other as fellow members of the same church, spiritually and organizationally.
  • Decisions affecting all aspects of church life, including doctrine, practice, personnel, and program are made by a centralized individual or small group, though those decisions may be implemented at subsidiary levels, and subsidiary levels may have additional decision-making authority.
  • Polity structures are different in the church’s historic homeland than they are elsewhere in the world. These differences tend to reinforce the power and centrality of the church in the homeland.
  • Examples: Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the Apostolic Church – Ghana, Jesus is Lord Church Worldwide

4.    Democratic nationally-based churches with a global reach
  • Church members see each other as fellow members of the same church, spiritually and organizationally.
  • Decisions affecting all aspects of church life, including doctrine, practice, personnel, and program are made democratically by a body including equal or proportional representation from all areas, though those decisions may be implemented at subsidiary levels, and subsidiary levels may have additional decision-making authority.
  • Polity structures are different in the church’s historic homeland than they are elsewhere in the world. These differences tend to reinforce the power and centrality of the church in the homeland.
  • Examples: The United Methodist Church, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Church of God in Christ

5.    World-wide theological communions
  • Church members see each other as fellow members of the same tradition, but may or may not think of themselves as members of the same organization.
  • Decisions about central church doctrines are made by a group of representatives from regional units including equal or proportional representation from all areas. A central body may also help foster cooperation in ministry among regional units, but it has no decision-making authority over personnel and programs in those regional units.
  • National or regional units function as autonomous churches, making their own decisions about personnel, program, practices, and internal structures.
  • Examples: the Anglican Communion, the Free Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church, the Moravian Church

6.    World-wide cooperative fellowships of national churches
  • Church members see each other as fellow members of the same tradition, but do not think of themselves as members of the same organization.
  • A central body helps foster cooperation in ministry among regional units, but it has no decision-making authority over theology, practices, personnel and programs in those regional units.
  • National or regional units are autonomous churches, making their own decisions about theology, personnel, program, practices, and internal structures.
  • Examples: the Lutheran World Federation; the World Communion of Reformed Churches; Alliance World Fellowship (Christian and Missionary Alliance); World Assemblies of God Fellowship

7.    World-wide cooperative fellowships of local churches
  • Church members see each other as fellow members of the same tradition, but do not think of themselves as members of the same organization.
  • A central body helps foster cooperation in ministry among regional units, but it has no decision-making authority over theology, practices, personnel and programs in those regional units.
  • Local congregations are autonomous churches, making their own decisions about theology, personnel, program, practices, and internal structures, though congregations also band together into national or regional units for cooperation in ministry.
  • Examples: Baptist World Alliance, Mennonite World Conference, Calvary Chapel

It is worth noting two things about the churches described above: 1) The Roman Catholic Church is the largest, most globally distributed, and most cohesive of global churches. 2) The overwhelming majority of world-wide Protestant bodies are Pentecostal or holiness in their theology and background. Arun Jones has written fine pieces on UM & Global about the Catholic and Pentecostal approaches to being a global church.

Finally, a disclaimer: I am not an expert in the polity of all forms of Christianity. It is quite possible that some of the specific examples cited above are mischaracterized. I encourage readers to do their own research into the specific polity arrangements of the churches mentioned.

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Primer on Board and Agency Organization

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.

As recent posts on this blog about apportionments make clear, the uncertainty about the future of The United Methodist Church extends to its boards and agencies. Thus, it seems useful to provide a brief overview of how boards and agencies are organized and governed. This post will examine the variety of authorizing documents and supervising authorities for church boards and agencies.

United Methodists might think that boards and agencies exist because the Book of Discipline says they should exist, right?

That’s true in part, but the Book of Discipline in only one of three or four foundational documents for boards and agencies that also include a legal charter or articles of incorporation and by-laws, perhaps accompanied by a constitution. These three sources – the Book of Discipline, the articles of incorporation, and the by-laws and constitution – cover, respectively, the agency’s status under church law, its status under secular law, and its internal organizational rules. Thus, each of these documents stipulates distinct but overlapping aspects of an agency’s existence, structure, and purpose.

The Book of Discipline recognizes and regulates the existence of the boards and agencies in Chapter 5 of Part VI of the BOD, titled “Administrative Order.” The BOD includes often lengthy descriptions of the purpose, objectives, and responsibilities of the boards and agencies. The BOD may contain additional programmatic stipulations and/or stipulations about the work of certain sub-units of boards or agencies.

The Book of Discipline also stipulates how the members of the board of directors for each agency are to be chosen, including geographic, gender, and other forms of representation. It may also specify how senior agency leadership is to be chosen, including board officers and senior staff. Finally, the Book of Discipline stipulates in general terms how each of the boards and agencies is to be funded.

The provisions of the BOD regarding boards and agencies are, like most of the rest of the BOD, subject to change by a simple majority vote of the General Conference when it is in session. Thus, General Conference has authority under church law to recognize agencies, to prescribe in general terms what those agencies should do, and to indicate where agencies should generally get their funding.

The agency’s charter or articles of incorporation is a legal document filed with a state government. This legal document recognizes the agency as a non-profit corporate entity with the authority to own property and conduct business.

The articles of incorporation tend to be brief and broad. Articles of incorporation spell out the purpose of the agency in very general terms, specify what group or individual has legal authority to act on its behalf (usually its board), and defines the agency’s relationships with other legal entities, including predecessor groups and designated successor groups.

The articles of incorporation may specify the United Methodist General Conference as a supervisory entity for the board or agency. They may also indicate that the members of the agency’s board of directors must be United Methodist. Thus, the connection between an agency and the UMC may be written into secular law as well as church law, even though the legal existence of an agency is not a function of its recognition by church law. Put another way, an act of General Conference could not automatically dissolve an agency under secular law without additional legal paperwork being filed.

The articles of incorporation can be amended by filing legal paperwork with the appropriate state authorities. Such changes are usually authorized by the agency’s board of directors, with the work carried out by staff and/or hired attorneys. Articles of incorporation must fit within the standards of state law governing non-profit corporations, but beyond those broad parameters, state governments don’t have much of a say in the actual content of the articles of incorporation.

Finally, each agency has by-laws and may also have a constitution. The by-laws and/or constitution will include items such as the name and general purpose of the organization. But most importantly, these documents specify in greatest detail how the agency and its board of directors should be structured to carry out their work.

They indicate what the officers of the board of directors should be and how they are to be chosen. They may specify aspects of the board’s work, including standing committees, timeframes for meetings, criteria for quorum, etc.

They may stipulate the existence of certain senior staff roles such as General Secretary and Chief Financial Officer. They may also specify relationships with other agencies, such as local or annual conference auxiliaries.

The by-laws (and constitution, if there is one) can be changed by the agency’s board of directors. The exact procedure varies and may be different for the constitution, if there is one, than for the by-laws. Generally, a majority of board members, and perhaps a super majority, must vote for by-law changes.

While the responsibility for amending the by-laws and revising the articles of incorporation technically rests with the board of directors, it is worth noting the importance of senior agency staff in suggesting by-law changes and changes to the articles of incorporation. Members of the board of directors sometimes may not be familiar with, may not have strong opinions about, or may not have sufficient time to learn about the technical and legal issues at stake.

Thus, boards of directors will frequently (though not always) defer to senior agency staff who make requests for legal and organizational changes, assuming that senior staff possess the technical expertise and familiarity with the agency necessary to determine how the foundational documents should be changed. Of course, the extent to which this is true depends upon the personalities and abilities of and relationships between senior staff and board leadership.

What does this approach to structure mean for current debates in The United Methodist Church? It means that some changes to how boards and agencies operate could be unilaterally passed by General Conference. However, really substantive changes in how the boards and agencies are set up and their relationship to the denomination (and/or its successors) would likely require agreement among General Conference, the board of directors, and senior staff, or at least a willingness by the board of directors and senior staff to accede to the wishes of General Conference.

If there is significant disagreement between General Conference and the board of directors of an agency on its future, this way of organizing and authorizing the boards and agencies also sets up the possibility of a situation in which the status of the agency under church law and its status under secular law may be in conflict with one another. In that instance, its secular status as determined by its board of directors may (though not necessarily) have an advantage over its church status, since any disputes about the status of the organization and its resources would be resolved in secular courts.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Laura Wanza Nyamai – African Women and Mission

Today’s post contains remarks prepared by Rev. Laura Wanza Nyamai for the panel “African Women and Mission” at the Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference. Rev. Nyamai is Director of Connectional Ministries for The United Methodist Church in Kenya.

What stories of United Methodist history and mission history are important for your own personal sense of religious and spiritual formation? What is the role of African women in those stories? How can the church globally tell stories of mission and mission history that give more weight to the experiences of African women?


In 1968, The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church united. Full clergy status for women was included in the plan of union. Since then, an increasing number of women have been admitted to the ordained ministry, appointed to the district superintendency, elected to positions of denominational leadership, and consecrated as bishops. In 1980, Marjorie Matthews was the first woman elected to the Church’s episcopacy

The Church globally can tell stories of mission and mission history through celebrations and events like these, music concerts, medical camps, road shows, gathering together to sing and tell stories while we celebrate the legacy of the African Women who made significant contributions to The United Methodist Church. Through such initiative, we can learn more and get inspired. I pray to be that woman that will be celebrated in 100 years to come.

We appreciate the fact that these stories from the past are relevant today and will remain relevant forever.

What contributions do you see African women making to United Methodist mission today? What resources have they drawn upon in making these contributions? What has hindered their contributions, and what has helped?

African women are contributing tremendously to United Methodist mission today through their skills and talents. This has resulted in an increased number of the clergy women than before. According to United Methodist News, before 2004 in some conferences in Africa women were not allowed to join pastoral ministry, but today we have the first female bishop in Africa, Bishop Joaquina F. Nhanala. Clergy women continue to develop their leadership capabilities as highlighted by the African United Methodist Clergywomen Leadership Development Conference held in July 2018 at Africa University, Zimbabwe, which I was privileged to attend. Besides being clergy, women have contributed as missionaries serving not only in their own African countries but also in other countries.

Efforts are being continuously made to improve the state of communities through addressing various problems faced by people. In countries like Kenya, despite the Embargo, women have been at the forefront challenging domestic violence. We have been empowered with the Word of God, and we have also become activists in our own capacity.  We are in the front line fighting for the rights of the children.  We are also doing an operation called “Mama Linda Toto” (meaning “Mama, protect children”), a registered organisation where we advocate for children's rights, education, health and social status. In Liberia, United Methodist Women also protested against the abuse of women and girls. It can be noted that African women continue to challenge various forms of social injustice as part of the ministry.

Women make use of the existing resource systems to be able to make valuable contributions. Firstly, they are guided by the Holy Spirit in making these tremendous contributions. More so, the skills they have are important assets in mission. We have a lot of women equipped and educated in areas of education, social justice, health and development who are using their skills to improve the wellbeing of various communities. With good education, evangelism will be very easy to spread. One can never go to war without proper weapons. Our weapon is to learn and understand the Word of God. Women are so much aware of and alert to the hardships and challenges that people go through. This is because God has made our hands for war that we can even bend an iron bar (Prov. 18:23). This means that we can do almost anything and endure any circumstance.

We also use our skills, experience and talents to demonstrate God’s love and mercy in furthering the kingdom of God. This made me to be in a position to freely showcase my music talent, and I have recorded several gospel music albums to date, with songs that are transforming lives. For instance, my royalties go to a special programme that I have founded of starting off school for vulnerable children. More so, music has brought communities together and has also been a key to happiness that transcends above material issues of every-day life.

Even though people are not coming to church as they used to, music is still the key to bringing people together.

Mission has historically included many activities: evangelism, health, education, social justice, development, etc. As you think to the future of United Methodist mission, what components of mission do you hope will continue? What do you think the relationship between these components should be? How do you think African women will lead in carrying out these components of God’s mission?

The church is aimed at ensuring people’s complete state of wellbeing. Thus, despite focusing on the spiritual aspects, mission now involves health, education, social justice and development. This approach enables people to effectively contribute in mission while assisting vulnerable members of the community. The United Methodist mission needs to continue with components such as evangelism, health, education, social justice and development. These components are the backbone of most societies. Thus, they must complement each other in representing the spreading of God’s love. If we look at our focus areas, notably engaging in ministry with the poor, improving global health, developing principled Christian leaders and creating new and renewed congregations, it can be noted that they are cross cutting from spiritual and social issues to health issues; hence, they must continue to complement each other.

African women play an important role in African communities, and their contributions are being accepted more as they continue to showcase their talents. Women can lead by occupying various leadership roles and be part of the mission in various components. For example, we have women playing pivotal roles in the health field the likes of Olusimbo Ige from Nigeria, who was the director of Global Health at Global Ministries.

Besides leading from the top, with all these components of God's mission, anybody would borrow from African women. The world is under the impression that we are so poor and weak, yet we are so rich and strong.

Today the family of a widow is much stronger than a family of a widower. It is to us women children cry to. Hear them, Mama, they cry for food, proper education, they cry that you end corruption, you end domestic violence, they cry for protection, Mama. Diseases should no longer kill our children. Let us ARISE and SHINE, for the glory of God has come. A woman's voice is louder than anything. Let's move from social boundaries and become inclusive. Women are known to be knowledgeable of what is happening in their communities; thus, they can use this to identify people in need of spiritual, health and academic support, then use their resourcefulness to link these people with the resources they might need, thereby bringing more people to Christ.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Darryl W. Stephens - Connectionalism: What Connectional Relationships Really Mean in the UMC

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Darryl W. Stephens. Dr. Stephens is director of United Methodist studies at Lancaster Theological Seminary and a clergy member of the Texas Annual Conference. He is author of Methodist Morals: Social Principles in the Public Church’s Witness (University of Tennessee Press).

While discussing the nature of apportionments, it is helpful to understand the philosophy and intent behind some of these expenditures. The World Service Fund, the largest of the seven apportioned funds, pays for the work of General Conference’s agencies and boards. What is the nature of this form of connection, binding United Methodists from the local congregation to the whole of this denomination?

“Connectionalism” is an often used and seldom understood buzzword in The United Methodist Church. The Discipline states, “Our connectionalism is … a vital web of interactive relationships” (Book of Discipline 2016, ¶ 132). This vague definition becomes more concrete by tracing the relationships that comprise each enterprise of the General Conference, for example the Status and Role of Women.

Connectional relationships bridge the work of General Conference to every level of structure in the denomination. The constitution reserves for the General Conference “full legislative power over all matters distinctly connectional,” including the power “to initiate and to direct all connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration” (¶ 16.8).

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) is one such board, mandated by General Conference to carry out a specific connectional enterprise, “a continuing commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church” (¶ 2102). Every charge conference and every other level of the denomination must connect with this enterprise, according to judicial interpretation of our constitution.

Judicial Decision 411 states, “When the General Conference initiates connectional enterprises and provides boards for their promotion and administration, the functioning of such boards must reach to every level in the life of the Church, from the General Board to the Charge Conference.”

How is this connectional relationship realized? Each annual conference is responsible for structuring itself to further the connectional enterprises of the General Conference.

¶ 610. The annual conference is responsible for structuring its ministries and administrative procedures …. In so doing it shall provide for the connectional relationship of the local church, district, and conference with the general agencies. It will monitor to ensure inclusiveness—racial, gender, age, and people with disabilities—in the annual conference. … (emphasis added)

Thus, the mandates of GCSRW reach throughout the denomination, at every level of conferencing. Each annual conference is required to provide structures to enable the relationships of the ministry of GCSRW, as well as all of the other connectional enterprises of General Conference.

¶ 644. There shall be in each annual conference, including the central conferences, a conference commission on the status and role of women or other structure to provide for these functions and maintain the connectional relationships.

Annual conferences are given some degree of flexibility for structuring these relationships within committees, but the basic requirements are to maintain the function of and connection to the General Commission, which is an agent of General Conference.

¶ 610. 1. Annual conferences are permitted the flexibility to design conference and district structures in ways that best support the mission …. In doing so, an annual conference shall provide for the functions and General Conference connections with all general agencies provided by the Discipline as follows: a) There shall be clear connections between the General Conference agencies, annual conference program and administrative entities, and the local congregations. These connections shall be identified in the business questions of the annual conference each year. …All disciplinary references to “equivalent structures” shall be defined by this paragraph. (emphasis added)

Judicial Council Decision 815 clarifies that “equivalent structures” must be substantive and identifiable:  “In doing this [restructuring], the annual conference may organize units so long as the functions of ministry are fulfilled and the connectional relationships are maintained.” (emphasis added)

Connectional relationships are embodied, functional, and financial. Judicial Council decisions 1198 and 1225 make clear that an “equivalent structure” (for example, a blended committee) must have a designated person and budget to maintain the connectional relationship with each general agency. For example, the annual conference COSROW chair must be nominated and elected by the annual conference, and the annual conference COSROW chair or committee must be given a budget specific to its work—a common pool of funds for a blended committee is insufficient. These responsibilities cannot be delegated—the annual conference (not a committee) must elect a COSROW chair and allocate a budget.

Connectional relationships must likewise reach to every district and local congregation (¶ 610). When every local church has identified a person for the ministry of “a continuing commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church” (¶ 2102) and this ministry is coordinated with the district, annual conference, jurisdictional (or central) conference, and general conference ministry of the status and role of women, then we will have achieved “a vital web of interactive relationships”—a glimpse of connectionalism.

So, when we consider apportionments for general agencies, we are talking about more than fees for services. “Unbundling” the work of general agencies would circumscribe the relationship of the local congregation to the denomination as a whole. A system of subscription fees might preserve some of the functions of general agencies (for those who participate) but would not nurture the connectional relationships constitutive of the UMC. The UMC could no longer claim “connectionalism [as] … a vital web of interactive relationships.”

Friday, May 31, 2019

Amy Valdez Barker: In Relationship – Not Control

Today’s post is by Rev. Amy R. Valdez Barker, PhD. Rev. Valdez Barker is Executive Director of Global Mission Connections for Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

I am a recovering “control-freak. I am a Type A personality who wants things to be organized, strategized and implemented well. In some places, this has served me well. At other times, my need for control would get out of hand when it moved me away from people and towards the attitude of perfectionism.

I planned Conference-wide youth events, and because I worked with a team who planned every minute, every second of the gathering, I knew exactly what was supposed to happen. I wanted everything to go off perfectly! Whenever we deviated from the agenda, we would roll with the bump (though it drove me a bit crazy), but then do all that we could to get things back into order. That’s how I made sense of my world and even provided safety and security for parents and youth who wanted to be sure things would go according to plan.

Now, things never went 100% according to plan. There were always people or groups who would do something completely unplanned or unanticipated. They were youth after all, always wanting to see where they could push the boundaries, test their leaders and create new adventures.

Even so, I loved them! (And I still love them.) I’m a much better Christian, a much better mother and a much better human because of my ministries with youth then and today. Those experiences remind me of who I was and the type of person God continues to call me to be.

But, managing all those details and anticipating the limitless possibilities and surprises with plans “B” and “C” was exhausting. It didn’t allow me to be as present with the people and enjoy the moments as much as I could have. If I wanted to move closer to where God was leading me, I needed to let go of my controlling/perfectionist tendencies and move closer to where God was leading me and not where I was convinced I had to go. I needed to recover the balance of trusting God more and myself a good bit less. In other words, I had to let go of being a “control-freak.”

In my estimation, I think our denomination is at a point where we have to face our own failures as political “control-freaks.” General Conference 2019 has shown us that each part of our connection is trying to control the other by doubling-down on rules, regulations, policies and mandates in order to dictate how the Holy Spirit is moving in different parts of our world. But, this hasn’t been helping us grow the church and in many ways has been counter-productive to the strengthening of the kin-dom of God.

I used to think that if we all abided by the same set of rules and beliefs, (i.e., our ecclesiology) things would simply change and everybody would be clear about what it means to be a United Methodist Christian. And if we all agreed on that, there would be no ambiguity or differences. We would be nice, neat and uniform. In reality, I discovered how mis-guided and wrong I had become, worrying about protecting the idea of a united (single-thought/belief) institution that I thought I knew and loved.

As I look back at my experiences now, I realize it wasn’t the uniformity of the institution or the security of all believing and interpreting everything the same that I loved and held onto for our church.

No, it was the relationships. It was the incredible people I have met through a worldwide connection that has expanded my heart and my mind to a multitude of perceptions, cultures, experiences and contexts that are a part of the wideness of who God is and what God does in the world.

I’ve fallen in love with all of God’s people in their wisdom and expertise and in their failures and their challenges. I have fallen in love with God’s people who are put together and completely broken. I’ve fallen in love with God’s people from the east and from the west. I’ve fallen in love with God’s people from the tips of Alaska to the southernmost places in Cape Town, South Africa or Tierra del Fuego in South America.

The beauty of God’s people who come from every region of the world and every region of the world has shown us the problems, the challenges and the gifts of life, culture, and religion. God has taught me that the most important part of being in God’s kin-dom is the relationship we have with God and with one another.

This insight has left me wondering about what it means to be in relationship and yet have no control. I think we have many illustrations of that now and what it could look like for a Methodist connection.

Some people say that if we go into autonomous relationships there is no accountability. I disagree with that. The accountability comes in communication and expectations of the relationships. We often handle that now with MOU’s or Memorandum of Understanding, a fancy term for a covenant between partners. Sometimes our autonomous relationships are much stronger because we each have the ability to act independently and yet, there is a mutuality in growing together in grace and love.

I have met with leaders from the Korean Methodist Church, the British Methodist Church, the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) and the Uniting Church of Canada. All of these leaders and many more Methodist/Wesleyan and ecumenical partners appreciate and respect the relationships we at Global Ministries have built with them over the years. We work hard to find our common mission and vision and seek ways to collaborate so that we can have a greater impact for the people wherever we are together.

We learn so much from one another. I have learned about different types of leadership structures in these Methodist Churches.

For example, the MCCA use local lay pastors, circuit pastors and then area/regional elders to reach their communities across many islands and countries in the Caribbean. This is another way of dividing the labor for missional leadership.

I’ve learned how to start new churches from the Fijian Methodists and discovered their innovative practices of eco-tourism to support mission and ministry, while also educating about God’s creation. I’ve told their story to many US Annual Conference leaders and encouraged them to reach out to these Methodist colleagues to learn more and find ways to adapt it for their own context. This is what we mean by connecting the church in mission.

The gift of the autonomous relationships is that we can come together around mission, even if our theological understandings, our organizational structures, and our missional contexts may differ. When it comes to loving our neighbors by alleviating human suffering and seeking peace and justice for all, we can do that better together. We recognize that and so do our Wesleyan/Methodist partners throughout the world. It’s not always perfect, but it’s still the great gift of being in relationship for the sake of God’s mission. We don’t control each other; we learn from each other. I believe this is a better way for us to be a global church. We can be united around mission and join God in expanding the harvest.

As Bishop Carter put it simply in his chapter in the book Where Do We Go from Here? we must be:
“One with Christ – this is Unity.
One with each other – this is faithfulness.
One in ministry to all the world – this is fruitfulness.” (p. 43)

That’s what it could look like for a future Methodist global connection. If we are going to be one with Christ, then we’ve got to give up the need to control one another through polity and governance. If we are going to be one with each other, then we’ve got to focus on the people we are with and the journey we are on together, or in other words, live in the moment. And finally, if we are going to be one in ministry with all the world, then we the people of The United Methodist Church need to focus on the mission and truly be in ministry to all the world. Our UMC needs to give up control and put our whole trust in Christ our Savior for the sake of the future of mission and ministry.