Thursday, July 31, 2014

Global Young People's Convention and the Unity of the Church

The Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly (GYPCLA) took place a week and a half ago from July 16 to 20 in the Philippines.  More than three hundred attendees participated in the event, with just over 100 voting.  This was the third such meeting of United Methodist youth and young adults, previous convocations having taken place in 2006 and 2010.  While the story from the GYPCLA that received the most attention was the disruption of the meeting by Typhoon Glenda (see also here), that was certainly not the most significant story from the event.  In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the significance of having such a meeting.  In this post, I will follow up by examining an important resolution that came out of the meeting.

The GYPCLA was not just about fellowship and relationship-building.  As the name "Legislative Assembly" suggests, it was also a forum for young United Methodists around the world to propose and vote on legislation that the GBOD could forward to General Conference 2016.  Bishop Warner Brown of California-Nevada Conference and Pampanga Philippines Conference worker Joanne Valenzuela explain the legislative process in this video, and youth delegates Benjaim Musasizi of East Africa and Lee Rodeo of North Carolina share their views on their legislative work in this video.

The GYPCLA discussed legislation around numerous issues, but of course the issue of preoccupation, at least among American United Methodists, is the debate over the status of LGBT people in the church.  There, the youth and young adult delegates at the GYPCLA seem no less divided in opinion than the church as a whole.  On a vote to remove language declaring the practice of homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching" from the Book of Discipline, delegates split their votes evenly, 54-54.

Where the youth and young adults differed from some of the louder voices in the denomination was that although they were divided in opinion, they were not divided in spirit.  The GYPCLA did not spend extensive time in legislative wrangling on the issue.  They did not use a series of parliamentary procedure tricks or protest tactics to advance their agendas on the issue.  Instead, they listened to each other.  They discussed.  They prayed.  And, at the end, they issued a statement calling for unity instead of schism in the denomination, despite disagreements about LGBT issues, disagreements which they themselves also had.  The full statement of that statement reads:

Statement of Unity from the United Methodist Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly held in Manila, Philippines:

“There has been increasing talk of schism of the United Methodist Church in recent months. Many say that the issue of homosexuality is so contentious that it will inevitably split our Church. We, as the young people of The United Methodist Church, would like to say that we do not desire a divided Church.

 “The Church that we have taken our places in is called to a ministry that includes so much more than this one issue. There are genuine, passionate perspectives on all sides of the issue and though we disagree, we have committed ourselves to loving, faithful discussion on this subject. Part of the beauty of our Church is that there has always been room at the table for a wide range of theological diversity within our connectional church family. As Wesley said, ‘May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?’

 “We urge everyone to seek solutions that promote our global unity as the United Methodist Church of Jesus Christ, rather than focus only on the issues that divide us, so that we may faithfully live out our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

By The Global Young People's Convocation & Legislative Assembly
Manila, Philippines

The GYPCLA is not unique in prioritizing unity and a variety of ministry foci over division on LGBT issues.  A recent survey of American United Methodists found that the vast majority had other ministry priorities than sexual politics and no interest in a schism.  The GYPCLA confirms and expands that finding, adding in youth voices and voices from around the world, voices which, as this blog has previously mentioned, are important to include in any discussion of the future of the denomination.  Decision-makers in the denomination would do well to listen to the voices coming out of the GYPCLA.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Global Young People's Convocation Gives Voice To, Shapes Global UMC Youth

The Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly (GYPCLA) took place a week and a half ago from July 16 to 20 in the Philippines.  More than three hundred attendees participated in the event, with just over 100 voting.  This was the third such meeting of United Methodist youth and young adults, previous convocations having taken place in 2006 and 2010.  While the story from the GYPCLA that received the most attention was the disruption of the meeting by Typhoon Glenda (see also here), that was certainly not the most significant story from the event.  This blog post and the following one will highlight two ways in which the GYPCLA was significant other than in its weather.  In this post, I'd like to focus on what's significant about having such a meeting, and Thursday's post will examine an important resolution to come out of the meeting.

As Dr. Timothy L. Bias, general secretary of GBOD, explains in this video, one of the ways in which the GYPCLA is important is in giving a voice to young people in the denomination.  That's an important function.  United Methodists often hearken back to the days of the circuit riders as exemplary of what the church should be about.  Yet people often forget that the circuit riders were mostly young men in their twenties and thirties.  How often have you heard people say that our church should recapture its history roots of being run by people in their twenties and thirties?  Not often, but we would do well to remember the connection between youth and vitality.  GYPCLA didn't quite let young adults run the denomination, but it did give them a voice in doing so.

GYPCLA didn't just give young United Methodists a voice, though; it shaped them as well.  As Dr. Bias also says in the video linked above (start at 1:44), "What revelation is it when we have a teenager that stands and says, 'I've learned this week that God is not from Oklahoma.'"  GYPCLA has shaped people by showing them that God in not just from Oklahoma or the Philippines or Liberia, nor is the church just in Oklahoma or the Philippines or Liberia.  God exists throughout the world, and the United Methodist Church exists throughout the world as well.  Much has been written about how racial and ethnicity diversity is a natural part of life for millenials in the US, not something they need to struggle to accept.  I hope that the GYPCLA taught young adults not just in the US but around the world to accept racial, ethnic, and national diversity as a natural part of life in the UMC, not something they need to struggle to accept.  I hope that delegates to GYPCLA will presume the global nature of the UMC from the beginning of their involvement in it.

The other significant way in which the GYPCLA shaped the young people involved in it was by teaching them to partner together across those differences to carry out the work of the church.  A large part of this working together was practicing listening, discussing, and collaborating in the legislative process.  Attendees also worked together in mission to pack bags of relief food for those affected by the typhoon that had displaced them as well.  Finally, attendees worshipped together in the commissioning service for the first class of Generation Transformation Global Mission Fellows, a new program of the General Board of Global Ministries that is sending 42 young adults from 11 countries to mission sites in 15 countries around the world.  Such experiences helped GYPCLA attendees not only understand but live out the understanding that the UMC is a global church and the work of the UMC is a global work.  May the rest of us be willing to learn from them in this regards.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

God's gifts for mission - William Payne on Grace Upon Grace: A Church Formed By Grace

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. William Payne. Dr. Payne is the Harlan & Wilma Hollewell Professor of Evangelism and World Missions and Director of Chaplaincy Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary. Dr. Payne is commenting on paragraph 54 on "global awareness," from the ninth section of the document, "A Church Formed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

Paragraph 54 of Grace upon Grace rightly emphasizes that God has equipped the UMC to engage God’s mission. It begins with a quote from I Cor 12:4-6. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but the same God who inspires them all in every one.” Ministry to the whole world requires that the whole church utilizes all the gifts of all the people.

Paul’s organic analogy related to the Body of Christ requires unity within diversity. Accordingly, we are one Body; yet, each member in the Body occupies a special ministry position. When the spiritually animated Body works in unison, it is fully equipped to do the work of God in the world. As such, the locus of mission is the spiritually gifted church; not a mission board, a mission team, or a missionary. The mission of the church comes from God and belongs to the whole people of God.

I am reminded of my recent Pentecost sermon. It examined the “pouring out” of the Spirit and investigated how the phenomenon was tied to calling and mission. In Numbers 11:24-29 Yahweh pours out the Spirit on 70 elders so they can share the burden with Moses. Without it, they are not equipped to participate in his labors. As a sign of their anointing for service, the elders prophesied after receiving the Holy Spirit. The sign was given for the benefit of the people and the elders. Likewise, God anoints Saul with the Holy Spirit in order to prepare him for his new calling as king over God’s people (cf. I Sam 10:6[1]). In like manner, God pours out the Holy Spirit on all the gathered disciples in Acts 2. In the New Testament, the Spirit is given to all believers because everyone is called and gifted to participate in God’s work.

The outpouring with the gift of languages should be seen in light of the church’s global commission in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NRSV). Before the outpouring of the Spirit, Jesus sternly warned the disciples to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). Even though the eager disciples had been personally trained by Jesus, they were not prepared for the global mission of the church until they were spiritually equipped.

Obviously, global Methodism has not arrived at this ideal. For example, many in the West value formal education more than spiritual vitality. I have overheard American colleagues sneer at the African connection’s lack of academic training. At the same time, friends from the Cuban connection have sneered at the spiritually dead conditions in American Methodism. Some years back I worked with a Methodist missionary from South Korea who was dispatched from his connection to teach American Methodists how to pray. In fact, formal training and Spirit anointing (vital piety) belong together.

After the outpouring in Acts 2, Jewish pilgrims heard the disciples proclaiming the gospel message in their native languages. As a result, about 3,000 Jews from all regions of the known world believed, received baptism, and were discipled. In Acts 4:4 another 5,000 people were added to the church as a consequence of the healing of the crippled beggar and Peter’s anointed preaching. Later, due to the persecution described in Acts 8, God scattered the new disciples in all directions. As they fled, they planted the seed of the gospel by preaching the word from place to place (cf. Acts 11:19). Some of the foreign pilgrims who had been assimilated into the Jerusalem Church on the Day of Pentecost returned to their home communities and started house churches. In this sense, disciples who were scattered became inadvertent church planters.

In the book of Acts, one may discern the “evangelize, disciple, and scatter” strategy. First, people are converted, baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Afterward, they are discipled. Next, the new disciples engage in the mission of the church as they are deployed in gifted ministry inside and outside the local church.

From this perspective, one can argue that God has gifted the church, both locally and globally, so that it can work God’s mission. As such, a critical linkage exists between the local church and God’s mission. Individuals are gifted, called, and trained within the context of a local community of faith that is sent into the world. The entire community of faith is called into mission. By means of one’s gifting and calling, one participates in and enables the local church to do God’s mission. Gifting must be seen in light of mission. Gifting is never an individual thing or a cause for personal pride.

Additionally, within the UM connectional system local congregations are also called and gifted for specialized ministries within their communities and the larger connection. Still, the mission of the church is never subsumed by the local context. For this reason, local congregations should not emphasize the local mission to the neglect of the global mission. All churches must jointly discern the mission and work of the UMC so that they work together to achieve it on the local and global scene. No local church exists solely for itself. The same can be said of conferences. The entire UMC is one body called and equipped to do God’s multiverse mission together.

When the entire Methodist connection works together to discern the need and give voice to the global mission, it will find a basis from which it can fulfill that to which Paragraph 54 aspires.

[1] “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with [the group of prophets] and be changed into another man.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The benefits of a global UMC perspective on the US immigration crisis

If you haven't yet read Rev. Juan Guerrero's piece entitled "Why Honduran children are coming to the U.S." do so.  Rev. Guerrero, who serves the United Methodist Mission in Honduras, provides a perspective from Honduras on the recent wave of unaccompanied children that have been coming to the United States.  He not only speaks to some of the underlying forces producing this migration but is also able to tell personal stories about the challenges of life in poor areas of Honduras, challenges that affect United Methodists there as well.

Rev. Guerrero's article does more than just inform us about Honduras and immigration, though.  It points out one of the benefits of the UMC being a global church.  Were the UMC a US-only church, we would not have people like Rev. Guerrero working in Honduras, or any of the other legion of pastors, missionaries, and laity in myriad countries around the world who can speak to issues there, or a communication network like UMCommunications and the United Methodist News Service who can make their voices heard in the US.

The recent wave of immigration by unaccompanied minors from Central America to the US has certainly been a hot-button issue within the US.  Yet the temptation for Americans is to think of this as only an American issue and therefore to see it in American terms: as a humanitarian issue calling for charity by Americans, as a political issue demonstrating the shortcomings of one American political party or another, as a policy issue requiring American legislative or administrative action, as a cultural issue highlighting the red state/blue state divide in America.

The simple fact of the matter, though, is that "America's immigration crisis" is not only an American issue.  It's a trans-national issue.  The story of these unaccompanied minors is not one we can understand if we look only at what's going on in America.  To fully understand the story, we need to look at what's going on in America AND Honduras, not to mention El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and perhaps other countries as well.  Moreover, we need to look beyond events that have happened in just the last few weeks to events that happened years or even decades ago.

Rev. Guerrero's piece does all that.  Having voices like his in the UMC that can add to our understanding of the immigration issue is a real asset, one that comes from our nature as a global church.  Moreover, this benefit of the UMC being a global denomination applies not only to Rev. Guerrero and immigration, but also to other United Methodists speaking about other issues - AIDS, disaster relief, environmental degradation, human trafficking, infectious diseases - the list goes on.

The greater understanding we gain from perspectives like Rev. Guerrero's doesn't necessarily lead to easy solutions.  Indeed, greater understanding may help us realize how difficult solutions to some large-scale problems may be.  It should lead us to better solutions, though - solutions that are more informed and are able to incorporate the perspectives of our brothers and sisters in Christ on all sides.  Thus, that greater understanding provided by the presence of global voices in the denomination truly is an asset in carrying out the mission of our denomination.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Globally aware, but of what? - David Scott on Grace Upon Grace: A Church Formed by Grace

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College. Dr. Scott is commenting on paragraph 53 on "global awareness," from the ninth section of the document, "A Church Formed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

Paragraph 53 of "Grace Upon Grace" calls the UMC to global awareness.  Global awareness, yes, but awareness of what?  The paragraph doesn't make it clear.  Is the document seeking for UMC members to be aware of the global nature of this church formed by grace and the diversity of expressions of mission contained therein?  Perhaps, but if so, to what end should that global awareness lead us?  It is reasonable to guess that if this is the global awareness for which "Grace Upon Grace" calls, then it is for the sake of recognizing the potential to be in mission with others throughout the connection, since the document notes the "global connections" each local UMC church has.  One could interpret these "global connections" as connections that exist among various parts of the UMC.

Yet is is possible to interpret "global awareness" in other ways as well.  Maybe "Grace Upon Grace" would like to see the UMC be aware of the global issues which present themselves as opportunities for mission, such as the child immigration crisis currently going on in the US, a national political and moral issue, but one with undeniable global origins in international networks of violence in Central America and transnational migration to the US.  Such "global connections" to issues that originate outside the church are also critical in shaping the mission of the church and may be those connections of which the document speaks.

A third possibility is that "Grace Upon Grace" would have us be aware of the vast cultural and religious diversity that exists in our world.  If so, then the call to "global awareness" could be read as a call for culturally- and religiously-sensitive mission in the complex, global world in which we live.  Since, as others have noted, "Grace Upon Grace" often assumes modernity and Western-ness as normative, such an interpretation, while reflecting good mission practices, might be somewhat against the grain of the rest of the document.

"Grace Upon Grace" does not make it clear which of these versions of global awareness it would like to see, but each of these interpretations is potentially important in guiding the UMC's mission, and each can be grounded in a deeper ecclesiology focused on God's role in forming the church for mission. Since the church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12), God is certainly aware of the global variety within the church, and would likely have us be too, as the 1 Corinthians passage suggests.  The image of the church as the body of Christ also suggests that this awareness of each other is not just for its own sake, but for the sake of working together to execute God's gracious mission in the world, just as the hand and eye must coordinate for a body to do its work.

"Grace Upon Grace" combines this Body of Christ metaphor with an emphasis on the rest of the world that seems to fit well with the second and third possible interpretations of "global awareness."  The document's statement that "the full ministry and mission is that of the whole Body for the world world" implies that if we as the church are to be the whole Body of Christ, we must be prepared to meet the whole world, including the global issues driven by forces outside the church and the cultural and religious differences that must be accommodated in addressing them.

A revision or update of "Grace Upon Grace" would do well not to choose one of these interpretations of "global awareness," but to emphasize the importance of being aware of both the global diversity within the denomination and the global issues and diversity outside of the denomination as well.  The old adage about praying with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in another seems apropos here, but we should add an element to that image - we should pray with the Bible in one hand, a newspaper in the other, and a speakerphone connecting us to other UMC members elsewhere around the world.  Then, what we have prayed about, we should go out and do.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Your contributions needed for World Methodist Youth & Young Adult worship e-book project on human rights

The World Methodist Council's Youth and Young Adults branch has issued a call for youth and young adults (ages 35 and under) to contribute prayers to an upcoming e-book entitled "weWorship."  The theme for the book is "Our Faith and Human Rights."  The WMC is looking for prayers of approximately 300-word prayers that express the connection between you or your youth/young adult group to human rights in your context. 

To some, it may initially seem confusing to have a worship resource focused on human rights.  Human rights may seem to be much more the stuff of social justice educational campaigns or political lobbying, not praise bands or Taize services.  Yet combining human rights and worship shows the true Wesleyan spirit of this project.  John Wesley understood that concern for social justice and personal piety were not separate things, but intricately linked things in the Christian life.  Our worship of God should lead us to serve others, and our service of others should draw us closer to God.  Worship of God thus motivates us in our pursuit of justice and gives us strength for the journey.  Without a personal and active connection to God, our work for human rights and other forms of social justice devolves into mere politics.  Worship is necessary to keep our efforts within their proper transcendent frame.  Thus, writing prayers about human rights to use in a worship resource should make complete sense from a Wesleyan perspective.

Not only does this project well-reflect Wesleyan understandings of faith, I hope it will also appeal to young United Methodists (including many of those in the UMC social media/blog world).  My sense is that many young United Methodists care deeply about human rights as an important matter of faith.  I hope, then, that this call will be of interest to some of this blog's readers, and that it will encourage them to continue to develop a faith that sustains engagement with important justice issues such as human rights.

Prayers can be e-mailed (along with a selfie and a 150-word explanation of who and where you are) to or  Entries should be submitted by the end of September.