Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: Other Models of Global Church

Today's piece is written by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It is the second of a three-part series on General Conference and the global structure of the UMC.

As I mentioned in the first two parts of this blog series, the United Methodist Church can no longer ignore the growing non-US sector of the UMC, but there is an increasing cost associated with bringing together delegates from around the world for an often ineffective meeting at General Conference. While I enjoy being part of a global church, I have come to the realization that it is not the most cost-effective way to organize an international body.

One proposal to address this problem is for a Global Book of Discipline that will move all the binding polity for the global church into one section that can be addressed at GC. This is important because the UMC functions in a variety of languages, cultures and under several governments with different laws that affect how the church must relate to the state. The remaining sections of the Book of Discipline will allow for changes by the Central Conferences for the church to function within the local context. The Global Book of Discipline will be available for review and discussion at the 2016 GC, but will not be eligible for adoption until 2020.

While these are positive incremental changes, I feel that they do not go far enough. Before joining the UMC, the EUB Church facilitated the independence of its former mission churches around the world. The PC(USA) and the Episcopal Churches have done the same; the latter maintains a connection to those churches through the worldwide body of the Anglican Communion.

The current configuration of the global United Methodist Church is still a holdover from the traditional mission model with the U.S. at the center, and former mission churches at the periphery. As I mentioned in my first blog, some of those Methodist Churches in Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, India, and Latin America and the Caribbean became autonomous, while those in Africa, Europe and the Philippines did not. This would be tantamount to some of the 13 American colonies choosing independence and some remaining part of England.

I would like to propose picking up the work of the COSMOS commission in the 1960s to have conversations with the Central Conference churches, while also retaining a commitment to connectionalism. This would be a model more in line with other Protestant churches as well as the Wesley spirit of equality and appreciation of diversity.

Here are two real examples of how this might look. The first is the Sol Africa project. Recently I had the privilege of attending the 10-year anniversary of the Sol Africa project that brings together the Portuguese-speaking Methodist Churches in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, and Portugal to share resources. This project joins both autonomous and United Methodist churches, as well as human and monetary resources to carry out the mission of the church.

These churches share publications, as well as human and material resources, to train future leaders, produce Sunday School materials and rebuild Methodist training institutions that were damaged during civil strife in Mozambique and Angola under the guidance of the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry and Discipleship Ministries. Part of this project is distributing E-readers uploaded with Bible commentaries and theology books, many published by Methodist authors, to pastors and seminary students.

The Cuba-Florida Covenant is another example of a ministry that goes beyond the United Methodist Church, yet honors past relationships. Historically the Methodist Church in Florida has played an intricate role in the growth of Cuban Methodism. Many mission churches in Cuba were started and built by Florida churches in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. After the Cuban revolution in 1959 and the beginning of the embargo in 1961, the two countries (and churches) went their own way. The Methodist Church in Cuba gained its autonomy in 1968 and went through three very difficult decades of tense church-state relations under a Socialist government.

Beginning in the 1990s the church underwent a charismatic revival, which transformed its theology and practice according to its ministry context. Gone were the formalities of bulletins, hymnals, and organ music, and in were extemporaneous prayers, praise music, guitars and maracas. I lived through six years of this charismatic renewal as a missionary in Cuba (1991-97) and observed many positive attributes, such as adapting to current realities and contexts, that we can all learn from our Cuban brothers and sisters.[1]

The Cuba-Florida covenant was signed in 1997 by the Florida Annual Conference and the autonomous affiliated Methodist Church in Cuba, and since then has facilitated 198 partnerships between local churches and districts.These are two ecclesial bodies that could not be more different culturally, liturgically and theologically. I cannot imagine these two churches having to function under the umbrella of one General Conference or one Book of Discipline--which is fine. Neither should the Cubans impose their beliefs and practices on the American church, nor should the Americans impose their beliefs and practices on the Cuban church. Both are in ministry in their distinctive contexts and cultures. The Cuba-Florida Covenant operates despite the obvious differences, respecting each others’ autonomy, yet allowing districts and churches to covenant to pray, visit and even support one another in more concrete ways.

If the Wesleyan connection between Cuba and Florida is still strong after 55-years with no diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, then certainly the connection between Methodist churches around the world can retain their historical relationships while we move away from a neocolonial mission model to one that is more adaptable to local contexts and cultures. The current model is a leftover configuration without a sound biblical or theological justification. It is frozen in time when the work of the COSMOS commission was interrupted by the unification talks between the former Methodist and EUB churches.

Rather than having an unequal and arbitrary division with some former mission churches being autonomous affiliated and others as United Methodist, I call on the church to consider a more equal model that encourages all churches to create culturally appropriate ecclesial structures, while remaining connectional, for the greater mission to “make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

[1] Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Cuba Methodism: The Untold Story of Survival and Revival, 2nd edition, Atlanta, GA: Dolphins and Orchids, 2006.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Recommended viewing: Beyond Bethlehem video on refugee crisis

The General Board of Global Ministries has put together this informative and moving video about the situation of Middle Eastern refugees not just in the US or Europe but in the Middle East, where most Syrian and Palestinian refugees live. It's about 8 mins. long, but worth a watch.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Recommended reading: Paris attacks and refugee crisis

The world has been rocked in the last week by the ISIS-led terrorist attacks in Paris and Lebanon, the political aftermath, and the implications for the on-going refugee crisis of people fleeing ISIS-led violence in Syria. United Methodists have been among the many responding to and commenting on these issues in the last week. Below is a partial run-down of United Methodist responses. If you know of others, please post them in the comments section.

On the Paris attacks:
A UMC.org story summarizing United Methodist responses
From Bishop Patrick Streiff of the France, Switzerland, and North Africa Annual Conference
From Bishop Warner Brown, head of the UMC Council of Bishops
From Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of GBGM
From Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary of GBCS
From Moses Kumar, General Secretary of GCFA
News article on interfaith service about terrorism involving the UMC in Germany
A summary of reactions in the Holston Annual Conference
From Mary Elizabeth Moore, Dean of the Boston University School of Theology

On the Syrian refugee crisis:
From Moyoliving.org, 7 Facts About the Current Refugee Crisis and a piece on How Do We See Migrants?
A UMNS story summarizing United Methodist statements on refugees
From Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference
From Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Conference
From Bishop Julius Trimble of the Iowa Conference
From Rev. Dalton Rushing of the North Georgia Conference
From Rev. Wes Magruder of the North Texas Conference
From Rev. Drew McIntyre of the Western North Carolina Conference

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The Cost of Being a Global Church

Today's piece is written by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It is the second of a three-part series on General Conference and the global structure of the UMC.

As I mentioned in Part I of my blog, when the current governance structure of the United Methodist Church was established in 1968, the global nature of the church was not a major concern. At that time, only 7.5% of General Conference delegates came from the Central Conferences. Moreover, the new union between the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) created a monster denomination of more than 11 million members, and negotiations revolved around how to honor these traditions in the new structure.

However, over the past few quadrennia membership has decreased by four million to just over 7 million in the US, while church membership in the Central Conferences has increased. Given the representative formula for electing delegates to General Conference, the resulting percentages of General Conference delegates in 2016 will look very different from those of 1968.

While we celebrate the growth of the UMC outside the United States, the increase in international delegates to General Conference does not come without a cost. The expense of running the 2012 General Conference was $8.8 million, which was up from $7.1 million for 2008 and $5.3 million in 2004. Translation alone cost $920,000. Even though several interpreters were volunteers, GC still covered their travel, hotel and per diem.[1] Delegates received up to $125 per diem for meals and housing. The rental of the Tampa Convention Center was $160,000, and GC spent $408,000 for a computer tracking system. Some of the increase from 2008 to 2012 is obviously inflation and the rising costs of organizing a major convention of this size; however, we also recognize that travel costs for delegates are a major expense. Of the $8.8 million cost for General Conference, $1.7 million was paid for domestic and international delegate travel.[2]

In an effort to cut expenses, in October of 2013, the Commission on General Conference decided to cap the number of delegates to 850 for the upcoming 2016 General Conference in Portland. This will temporarily cut down on some of the travel and per diem expenses for delegates; however, this is only a stopgap measure as the trend is for the percentage of international delegates to continue to grow.

I rejoice in the growth of the church in the global south. As I mentioned in my first blog, my parents served as missionaries with the Methodist Church in Singapore (where I was born), and I also served as a missionary for 15 years in Latin America and helped to plant new faith communities, train leaders and build churches. Now that the church is growing in the global south, it is a blessing to hear stories of full churches and see new leaders rising up. I rejoice in these lives being transformed by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. I also enjoy being part of a global church and knowing brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world.

My concern is with the stewardship of the smaller pool of resources of the United Methodist Church. For the price of $8.8 million that it costs to unite 850 delegates at a convention center for 10 days, one would hope for a very effective communication and decision-making process. Often, it is not.

One of the problems is that the overwhelming majority of petitions introduced at General Conference have to do with the life of the church in the United States. If one looks through the index of the UM Book of Resolutions, one can see the emphasis on social issues in the U.S. context. So international delegates attend General Conference to deal with matters of the general church; however, the petitions deal primarily with the U.S. context. This is not the most efficient use of the international delegates’ time, nor financial resources.

How long can this current structure be sustained given the membership trends in the UMC? Is there a better way to make decisions that still is representative of the various conferences that is more efficient and cost effective?

In the third part of this blog series, I will make some proposals for how the United Methodist Church might address these questions by reconsidering the model of relations with autonomous churches.

[1] Email correspondence with the United Methodist General Commission on Finance and Administration on February 19, 2015.
[2] Ibid.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Recommended Reading: African UMC Bishops' Statement

In a significant piece of United Methodist news, American United Methodists learned last week about a statement put forward by 11 out of the 12 active African United Methodist bishops and one retired African United Methodist bishop. Although news reached the US only last week, the statement was crafted and adopted two months ago at the bishops' September 7-11 meeting in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The statement tackles three issues: global terrorism, marriage and sexuality, and the unity of the church. It calls for greater church attention to issues of global terrorism. It condemns gay and lesbian marriage and advocates for sexuality to be expressed only within monogamous heterosexual marriages. It calls for continued unity of The United Methodist Church, even in the face of disagreements over marriage and sexuality. It also calls for daily prayer at General Conference 2016.

The statement elicited significant response upon its release. In particular, American conservatives and liberals interested in LGBT issues predictably lauded or condemned the statement, respectively. Pieces such as those written by Good News and the Institute on Religion and Democracy praised the statement's anti-gay marriage stance, while on the other side, pieces such as those written by Reconciling Ministries and Hacking Christianity took issue with this aspect of the statement. The official UMNS story eschewed either path and instead stressed the call for unity of the church. Most commentators affirmed the anti-terrorist stance without devoting significant attention to it.

The most significant aspect of this statement, though, may not be any of the issues it contains but the mere fact that it exists. The statement may prove the first step in a trend toward African United Methodist bishops speaking out with a unified voice on a whole host of topics. If that proves to be true, then whether Americans agree or disagree with it, such advocacy on the part of African bishops will certainly shift the way dialogue happens in the UMC.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The UMC as a Global Church, 1968 to the present

Today's piece is written by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It is the first of a three-part series on General Conference and the global structure of the UMC.
This fall I received an email out of the blue from Foochow Methodist Church in Singapore. It said, “Dear Prof, I am a member of Foochow Methodist Church, Singapore. My sincere apology for intruding this way. Our Church’s kindergarten is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year on 14th Nov. Mrs Carol Wingeier was the first Principal of the kindergarten 50 years ago. We wish to invite her to Singapore as our honored guest to grace the celebrate on 14th Nov 2015. Hope to hear from you soon. Regards, CL Tong.”

Fifty years ago this month my parents, like many Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) missionaries, were building up mission churches around the world. At the same time, however, conversations between the Methodist Church, the (African American) Central Jurisdiction, and the EUB led to the formation of the United Methodist Church.

When this union occurred in 1968, 92.5% of the General Conference delegates were from the United States and the remaining 7.5% came from the Central Conferences outside the U.S. Before the merger, the Methodist General Conference (GC) authorized the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) to conduct a study of the Methodist overseas structures during the 1964-1968 quadrennium and bring recommendations.

As part of this mandate COSMOS held a consultation in Green Lake, Wisconsin in 1966 where they invited missiologists from the former Methodist and EUB churches to examine the relationship to mission churches. The former EUB mission churches outside the United States had become autonomous, while most Methodist mission churches had not. The general trend in the ecumenical mission movement beginning with the International Mission Conference in Whitby, Canada, in 1947 was to encourage more partnerships, mutuality and autonomy for the “younger churches” that had reached “advanced stages of development.”

Leading up to the 1968 union, two dozen Methodist mission churches, such as the churches in Singapore, Malaysia, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Cuba, among others, requested and were granted their autonomy. However, Methodist Churches in Africa, Europe and the Philippines did not, and as a result, they were carried into the new United Methodist denomination without much consideration for how these mission churches would participate in the life of the UMC.

At the 1972 General Conference (GC) in Atlanta, there was little attention to the global nature of the church. For example, all the proceedings were in English without provisions for non-English speaking delegates. A Global Ministries staff person noted, “The non-English speakers were just left out of the process.”[1] A few staff members from Global Ministries (GM) offered translation for international delegates at the Portland GC in 1976. Staff person Joyce Hills recalls that there were no formal arrangements or equipment. In an effort to be hospitable to the guests, the GM staff just whispered an informal translation into the ears of the international delegates.[2]

With each successive GC, the United Methodist Church has become more attentive to the global nature of the church. The 1984 GC issued a directive to all general boards and agencies to have representation on their board of directors from the Central Conferences. In 1988 the Council of Bishops gave a global nature report, and in 1992 the General Council on Ministries was given several tasks related to global issues.

The first General Conference that I attended was in 1992, and the number of international delegates was still relatively small. I remember a local church in downtown Louisville that provided a resting place and meals funded by Global Ministries for international delegates. Moreover, the area churches invited international delegates, many of whom were bishops and distinguished leaders in world Methodism, to preach on the Sunday in area congregations. However, this had the feeling of a “dog and pony show” with the main event still being the legislative process at the convention center. Aside from the formal introductions on the floor of GC, the international delegates were largely ignored, and the majority of the petitions and discussions on the floor were not relevant to international delegates.

By the 2012 GC in Tampa, not only had the awareness of the growth of world Methodism increased, so had the sophistication of preparing for a larger number of international delegates. GC had mushroomed into a full-fledged international convention—with a price tag to match. All of the petitions were translated into nine languages before the start of GC for the delegates to consider.

Proceedings at GC were simultaneously interpreted into the languages of the delegates, including American Sign Language, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili.[3] Whenever a written proposal or amendment was on the floor for a vote, the presiding bishop asked the maker of the proposal to write it down and give it to a page, who would take it to the chair to be translated into the aforementioned languages. When the floor language is English and an increasing percentage of delegates are non-English speakers, it is difficult to have full participation in parliamentary procedure.

In October of 2013, GC secretary Rev. Fitzgerald L. Reist made an announcement that was of no surprise to anyone: the percentage of Central Conference delegates will rise; thirty percent of delegates in 2016 will be from Africa, 58.3 percent from the U.S., 4.6 percent from Europe and 5.8 percent from the Philippines. In a stopgap measure to decrease costs, the secretary also announced that the cap for delegates was lowered from 1000 to 850.

The non-US sector of the UMC can no longer be ignored or treated as a sideshow. We have reached a critical tipping point as a denomination where we either need to embrace the global nature of the church or reform the structure. As membership declines in the US and increases in the Central Conferences, the percentage of international delegates will continue to grow.

Ever since COSMOS completed its mandate in 1972, there has been no movement toward autonomy for former mission churches. The current structure is not really global, because many Methodist Churches around the world are not included. Also, the overwhelming majority of the petitions discussed at GC deal with the U.S.-based church. There is not a good biblical or theological explanation as to why some Methodist Churches around the world are autonomous and others belong to the Central Conferences.

Nor have we gone back and reflected with the autonomous churches on their well-being. Some of these churches, such as the Methodist Church in Singapore, have thrived on their own and have grown to be self-supporting. Others, such as those in Latin America, have a rich Wesleyan heritage yet have struggled to be self-supporting. Yet because they are autonomous, they do not have access to many denominational funds. We have come to a critical point where the UMC either needs to fully embrace the global nature of the church and invite all to the table or continue the work that COSMOS was doing before 1968 to encourage autonomy.

In part II of this blog, I will address the effectiveness of the General Conference as a decision-making process and the cost of being a global church. I will also discuss proposed changes and how they can make the UMC structure more efficient in Part III.

[1] Bloom, Linda. “Global Delegates Mean Multiple Languages,” UMNS, accessed February 28, 2015, http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/global-delegates-mean-multiple-languages
[2] Ibid.
[3] UMTV: “Interpreters Raise Church Voices,” posted July 5, 2012, accessed February 28, 2015, http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/umtv-interpreters-raise-church-voices

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Recommended reading: Thomas Kemper on Extending the Global Mission Conversation

General Secretary of GBGM Thomas Kemper, in this month's New World Outlook magazine, has published a piece about some of the new missiological directions in which his organization has been going. Kemper touches on three themes in particular: the structure of GBGM, which includes people from all over the world serving in many ways and places; the practice of mission roundtables that encourage mutuality and listening; and partnerships with autonomous Methodist churches and other ecumenical partners, especially in Latin America. The piece is well worth a read for those interested in the latest in United Methodist missiology.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Recommended reading: Update on UMC & refugees in Germany

While the media buzz over the refugee crisis in Europe has died down, the crisis itself has not. While the most dramatic situations of tens of thousands detained in Southeast Europe are past, refugees continue to arrive in Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere on a daily basis. Moreover, the hard work of helping refugees settled down into a new life in Germany or elsewhere has truly begun. In that regard, we offer these three glimpses of how The United Methodist Church in Germany is participating in that work of welcoming refugees.

A report from Anne Detjen, the Bishop’s Secretary for Missional Congregation Development in Germany, courtesy of the Dakotas Conference: http://www.dakotasumc.org/news/german-clergy-member-givies-insight-what-is-the-refugee-crisis-like-in-germany/

A video of Rolf Held, UMC pastor in Messstetten, Germany, courtesy of UMCOR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvB0gbm7M2w

A report on the efforts of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Deutschland, to which the UMC belongs, courtesy of the German UMC: http://www.emk.de/meldungen-2015/stellungnahme-der-ack-zu-fluechtlingssituation.html