Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Methodism is for Migrants

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.

I’d like to start with an assertion: Migrants have been and continue to be one of the largest venues for Methodist growth.

Hearing this statement, one might initially think about international migrants in the history of Methodism. Here, one could reflect on Methodist growth among English, Scottish, Irish, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Czech, Korean, and Filipino immigrants to the US, all of which represented growing Methodist immigrant populations in the US at one point.

One could also point to the historical connection between migration and Methodist growth outside the US. Here, the stories could include the migrant settlers of Liberia who were the first to practice American Methodism outside the US; the Germans and Scandinavians converted to Methodism through return migration by their fellows who had become Methodist in the US; the migration of soldiers, sailors, and businesspeople throughout the British Empire, and the spread of Methodism along these lines; or the growth of Methodism among Chinese and Indian migrants in Southeast Asia.

These examples of international migration and the growth of Methodism might be interesting but still seem peripheral, insufficient to prove the enormity of the claim. It’s when we expand our scope of migration to include domestic migration that we fully see the link between Methodism and migration.

The quintessential story of Methodist growth is the circuit riders and the growth of Methodism along the expanding American frontier. This historical epoch is the often portrayed as a golden age of Methodism upon which we should model current evangelistic efforts. It is worthwhile noting, therefore, that the frontier was populated by migrants, people that had moved to the frontier from more settled lands farther back east. In places that we now think of as Methodist strongholds like Georgia and Texas, Methodism arrived there along with migrants for the sake of serving them.

We can apply this insight elsewhere in the world, too, especially as we look at the phenomenon of urban migration. While in some settings (the US, Zimbabwe), Methodism was predominantly rural and was slow to adapt to the strong trend of migration to cities in the 20th century, in other areas (China), Methodism first enter a society through its cities, and urban migration was a boon to the church.

Moreover, this linkage between migration, both international and domestic, and the expansion of Methodism, both in the US and elsewhere around the world, continues today.

In the US, international migration is boosting the UMC through the formation of new migrant churches. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, it’s the non-white segments of the UMC in the US that are growing, especially among Asians/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, two Methodist communities for whom immigration is an important factor. Even among white American Methodism, the growing spots are frequently suburban megachurches. One important factor in these churches’ growth has been the population growth of their surroundings. People have been migrating to the suburbs in the US (especially in the South and Southeast) for decades now.

Looking elsewhere around the world, one sees immigrants as crucial to the continuation of Methodism in Europe. African and Asian Methodists are filling pews increasingly empty of native-born white Europeans. Migratory connections have been important for the growth of the church in new mission initiatives, whether that’s in Southeast Asia or Africa. United Methodists in Liberia and Sierra Leone suffered a long and painful series of forced migrations during those countries’ civil wars. Yet new churches came out of that awful experience, and these two countries are now one of the few areas of the world where United Methodism is growing.

Of course, not all instances of Methodist growth have occurred among or because of migrants. For instance, to my knowledge, the dramatic growth of Methodism in Korea or the Democratic Republic of Congo was not fueled by migration. (It is perhaps worth noting that in both instances, Methodism did grow in large part because of its political identification was people suffering from war and foreign incursion.)

Still, even if migration is not always a root cause for Methodist growth, I think it is safe to say that it is one of the primary root causes for Methodist growth.

If we accept this insight, it leaves us with a question: If we care about the growth of Methodism, how can we leverage this linkage between migration and Methodist growth to further that growth? How do we structure our churches, our evangelistic campaigns, our mission initiatives to best reflect this insight? And how do United Methodists as citizens act on this insight in a world that both has more migrants, internal and international, than ever before, but which is seeing increasing anti-migrant sentiment? How we treat the migrants in our midst is ultimately not just a political or moral question, it’s a missional one.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Recommended Readings: Migration Roundup

United Methodists around the world celebrated Global Migration Sunday on Dec. 3, 2017. In the almost three months since then, migration has continued to be a significant topic for United Methodists. Here’s a roundup of some of the recent United Methodist news stories related to migration.

Global Migration Sunday
The UMNS story “Churches unite in support of migrants” reports on how United Methodists observed Global Migration Sunday.

Methodists Understanding Migration
In “Who’s in, who’s out: Migrants and a compact,” Church and Society’s Levi Bautista reflects on the state of migrants in the church and UN work.

United Methodist Women published a video entitled “People on the Move: The Global Face of Migration” explaining the phenomenon of global migration.

United Methodists participated in the United Nations-sponsored “Fourth Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-based Organizations in International Affairs,” which focused this year on migration, as UMNS reported in its story, “Faith groups put human face on migration.” More on the symposium can be found at “Symposium Highlights.”

Methodists Theologizing Migration
The General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) offers theological reflections on the treatment of migrants drawing on the Akan notion of “Akwaaba,” meaning welcome, as shared in this article, entitled “Akwaaba: Learning the Art of Hospitality from Akan Wisdom.”

Rev. Lyndy Zabel shares theological learnings about the sojourner from a Minnesota Annual Conference symposium in a pieced titled, “No one left behind,” shared by Church and Society.

Methodist Ministries with Migrants
National Justice for Our Neighbors (NJFON), a United Methodist-affiliated immigration ministry, released its 2017 Annual Impact Report.

NJFON also announced the opening of a new JFON site in Tucson.

NJFON also shared the story of Linh, one of them women who has benefitted from the services of the Nebraska affiliate.

UMW posted this video detailing the work with migrants supported by UMW at The Batis Center in the Philippines.

In Germany, the UMC announced a new “Network founded for work with migrants.”

Methodist Hospitality for Migrants
UMNS writer Heather Hanh draws parallels between the tradition of Las Posadas and Elizabeth, an immigrant helped by Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors, in “How an immigrant family found room at the inn.”

In “Family finds sanctuary,” the Michigan Episcopal Area reports on a family offered sanctuary by one of its congregations.

UMNS reports that despite the best efforts of a Florida United Methodist church, “Immigrant supported by church deported.”

Methodists Advocating for Migrants
As UMNS reported, United Methodists were among those joining in “Protests for Dreamers [that led] to arrests.”

In “Bishop: Immigration plan needs care and prayers,” UMNS reports on Bishop Minerva Carcaño’s position on DACA negotions.

All United Methodist Bishops joined together to “condemn Trump’s offensive remarks against immigrants,” as UMNS reported.

Nor was that condemnation limited to the bishops, as UMNS reported in “United Methodists join in Trump rebuke.”

Church and Society encourages United Methodists to sign up for Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice, which this year will focus on migration.

Migrant Methodists Contributing to the Church
UMNS profiled Ghanaian and Vietnamese migrant churches in Germany in the piece “Migrant Churches Provide Piece of Home.”

The companion piece “Journey to pulpit began in peril” profiles the only Vietnamese immigrant pastor in the German UMC.

Expressing a sentiment common to many German United Methodists, Bishop Harald Rückert says that in such migrants, “I have seen the future of our church.”

Immigrant pastor Marcelo Gomes shares his work among fellow immigrants in Massachuestts and Florida in the piece “Fertile Ground in Miami for Brazilian Faith Communities.”

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung reflects on the contributions to the wider church made by Korean immigrant and Korean-American United Methodists in “5 Propositions for Korean UMC.”

Migrant Methodists Contributing to Society
United Methodist and Liberian immigrant Wilmot Collins will serve as mayor of Helena, Montana, as UMNS reported in “Refugee U.S. mayor-elect is United Methodist.”

Friday, February 23, 2018

Analysis of the locations of World Methodist Council 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.

Earlier this week, I posted a series of maps indicating which World Methodist Council (WMC) member denominations have churches in which countries or territories. As indicated in that post, there are a few disclaimers: the data’s not perfect; it neglects Korean Methodist Church mission; it only shows presence, not relative membership; and it’s hard to decide whether to classify some territories separately from their ruling country. Nevertheless, it’s still possible to draw several conclusions about WMC member denominations and thus the Wesleyan/Methodist movement as a whole from this data.

First, a word on the types of denominations that are part of the WMC may be useful. I have separated WMC member denominations into either national and international bodies.

National bodies are of three types:

1. Autonomous churches formerly affiliated with either British or American Methodism (located in Oceania, Asia, Africa, and especially Latin America)

2. A few autonomous churches recently started in Latin American independently of British or American Methodists

3. United/Uniting denominations incorporating Methodist churches at one point affiliated with British Methodists or the Evangelical United Brethren (in Oceania, Asia, Africa, and Europe)

International bodies are of four types:

1. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) and the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) are regional denominations, as indicated in their names.

2. There are three historically African-American churches that now including branches in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, India, and Europe (mostly the UK). These are the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (A.M.E. Zion) Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church.

3. The United Methodist Church is a semi-global denomination present in some but not all areas of the world, whose presence/absence was shaped by a series of autonomy departures, mostly in the 60s and 70s.

4. There are three global holiness denominations, located on all continents with no or little history of autonomous separations; therefore, these three are the most widely spread. These are the Church of the Nazarene, The Wesleyan Church, and the Free Methodist Church.

The Korean Methodist Church may deserve to be a fifth type of international church. I know they have member congregations in the United States that are fully integrated into their system of governance. I do not know what the relationships between the parent denomination and newly planted mission churches in other countries are like.

Now, some conclusions drawn by looking at the country-level data:

1. There is a wide range in terms of Wesleyan/Methodist denominational presence in particular countries, from a hundred or fewer members to a million or more members in one denomination in one particular country.

2. Countries with no Wesleyan Methodist presence are mostly Muslim and/or have a small population. This finding is not particularly surprising, as the difficulties in prompting Muslim conversions and the restrictions on religion in Muslim-majority countries are well-documented, and one might reasonably expect small population countries to be less able to support a variety of denominations.

3. Countries with a lot of Wesleyan/Methodist denominations are mostly former parts of the British or US empires. 80% of those countries with 5+ denominations present and all of those countries with 7-8 denominations present are former parts of the British or US empires. (The US empire was less extensive and less formal than the British Empire, but I’m including here the US Virgin Islands, Haiti, the Philippines, and Liberia, all of which were controlled at times by Americans or American settlers.) Again, given the extensive literature on the relationship between mission and empire, especially Protestant mission and the British Empire, this finding is not particularly surprising.

4. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo, and Mozambique stand out as particularly receptive to Wesleyan/Methodist denominations, despite lacking an Anglo-American colonial past. All three countries have 6 WMC member denominations. Cote d’Ivoire has 5 WMC member denominations and no Anglo-American colonialism, which is also notable. While all four countries have neighbors with British colonial pasts, more research into why these countries in particular have been receptive to Wesleyan/Methodist traditions would be welcome.

5. Despite the Wesleyan/Methodist movement’s roots in European Pietism and European Enlightenment thought, Europe is not terribly receptive to Wesleyan/Methodist denominations. Most European countries (other than the United Kingdom) have 1-3 WMC member denominations, and their memberships are small. Strong state churches, historic restrictions on religious freedom, and current secularization are all part of this story, but it is worth asking whether there are any other factors at play here.

6. The Wesleyan/Methodist movement is stronger in Latin America than Europe. In most Latin American countries, autonomous Methodist churches and the three holiness churches all have a presence. While many are small, membership is often higher than that in similarly-sized European countries. Latin America shares some cultural history with Europe. It, too, has had dominant state (Catholic) churches and historic religious restrictions. Given these similarities, the question then becomes, why has Wesleyanism/Methodism done better in Latin American than Europe?

7. Southeast Asia is one of the hot new mission fields for Wesleyan/Methodist work, attracting both UMC and holiness mission work. Thailand and Cambodia have new mission work from four denominations, Myanmar has new mission work from three denominations, and Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia have all attracted two denominations in recent years. All of these new branches of Wesleyanism/Methodism are currently small but growing. More work needs to be done on why Southeast Asia has been such a focus for Wesleyan/Methodist growth in recent years.

Finally, it is worth noting that competition may or may not be good for Wesleyans/Methodists. According to Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, the presence of large numbers of denominations may provide options for religious consumers and/or indicate a de-regulated religious market. They argue that both these factors generally promote high levels of religious affiliation. Thus, competition may be good for membership. Nevertheless, competition also involves duplication of effort, confusion among members and potential converts, conflicts over access to resources, and a potential failure to embody the unity of Christ. Thus, while data shows where WMC member denominations are and are not located, it cannot determine whether these patterns of presence are ultimately good or bad.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Resource: Maps of locations of World Methodist Council 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.

As a research aid and an aid to thinking about the shape of the global Wesleyan/Methodist movement, I have compiled maps indicating the presence of member denominations of the World Methodist Council, the ecumenical body bringing together over 70 Methodist, Wesleyan, and related United/Uniting denominations. The WMC does not include all Methodist/Wesleyan denominations everywhere, but its members include the vast majority of Methodist/Wesleyan Christians.

Using information found on the WMC site, information on the sites of member denominations, and data from the World Christian Database, I compiled a list of all countries where one or more member denominations of the WMC have congregations. I also made a distinction between national denominations (those denominations with members and churches primarily in a single country) and international denominations (those denominations with members and churches in multiple countries, often on multiple continents).

Using that list, I generated a global map highlighting those countries with at least one WMC member denomination.
Here is a static version of that map.
Here is an interactive version of that map.

I also then generated a series of regional maps indicating which specific international denominations operated in particular countries, along with the presence of national autonomous and/or united/uniting denominations in each country.
Here is a .png file of the map for Africa.
Here is a .png file of the map for Asia.
Here is a .png file of the map for Central America and the Caribbean.
Here is a .png file of the map for Europe.
Here is a .png file of the map for North America.
Here is a .png file of the map for Oceania.
Here is a .png file of the map for South America.
Here is a PDF file with all seven regional maps.

There are a couple of caveats to the data and therefore the maps:

1. The data are not perfect. There’s no assurance these maps are 100% accurate or will stay that way for long. Denominations start work in new countries occasionally or have unofficial or unlicensed congregations that may not appear on the public lists.

2. It neglects Korean Methodist Church mission. I know the Korean Methodist Church conducts extensive mission work throughout the world, but I am unfamiliar with how this work is structured in terms of the ecclesial relationships between mission congregations and the Korean Methodist Church.

3. The maps only show presence, not relative membership levels in each country. These vary quite widely from the millions to the dozens. I know such data would be useful, and I may be able to produce it later, but to do so would require an extra challenge of data collection and map making.

4. It is surprisingly difficult to determine what should constitute a "country" for these maps. This difficulty arises not only because of instances of disputed sovereignty, but also because of a number of semi-autonomous relationships between territories and colonial governments. In the Caribbean, I have leaned toward a looser definition of country than elsewhere.

Readers are encouraged to draw their own insights and conclusions from these maps. I will present my insights and conclusions from these maps in a post later this week.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Act Now: Share Your Mission Story

2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the first denomination-wide mission society in any of The United Methodist Church's predecessor bodies.

Global Ministries is coordinating several components to celebrate this milestone. One is collecting and sharing stories of Methodists in mission throughout our history. These stories are intended to help us understand who we have been in mission and propel us forward into a new age of mission.

The story collection process is open to anyone. You can submit your story here:

As the website indicates, the stories should answer the questions: "What has God done through Methodists in mission historically in your area? How is God moving in mission among Methodists in your area today?"

In continues, "You are encouraged to share short written stories of mission pioneers, persons who brought Methodism to a new area; mission exemplars, individuals, institutions, movements, and events that represent a significant aspect of Methodist mission; and mission lessons learned from current or recent mission projects. These stories can be illustrated by photos and video."

You can read the stories collected here:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Making Sense of UMC Membership Numbers

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.

GCFA recently released delegate counts for the 2020 General Conference along with the membership and clergy numbers on which these delegate counts are based. UMNS put out a news story based on this membership data, and I’m sure many others will be combing through it. I wanted to share several observations not highlighted in the UMNS article.

1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to be the great driver of membership growth in the UMC. The Congo Central Conference added nearly half a million members in the last four years, and total membership in the Congo Central Conference now stands at 3 million. This is further evidence that we need to be more specific when we talk about “African” church growth. Even more so than becoming a US-African denomination, the UMC is becoming a US-Congolese denomination.

2. The Congo Central Conference and West Africa Central Conference were the only two central conferences/jurisdictions showing numeric growth in the last four years. West Africa’s growth was driven by very strong membership growth in Liberia and good growth in Sierra Leone. Both countries are seeing the fruits of rebuilding after long civil wars. It’s significant that, although there were individual annual conferences here and there in other central conferences/jurisdictions that grew, overall the trend lines for the UMC were down around the world. Some of that may have been due to new reporting standards (see below), but it complicates the simplistic narrative of “the US and Europe are declining, and Africa and the Philippines are growing” and thus should lead United Methodist leaders to pay more attention to specific dynamics on the ground in various places around the world.

3. This was the first time that membership numbers (and therefore delegates) outside the US were based off of local congregation records instead of numbers provided by annual conference as a whole. Though not without problems, this approach is a more accurate reporting fashion. There was a lot of curiosity as to how this new approach would affect the overall membership numbers, especially in Africa. There were places where the numbers seem to have declined because of this new procedure (East Africa, South Mozambique), but overall the African numbers proved fairly consistent with past figures. Interestingly, there was a much larger drop in the numbers from the Philippines. The membership figures under the new system were 1/3 lower than under the old. My sources tell me this is more reflective of the change in reporting rather than any large defections from the Filipino UMC, but more research could be done.

4. According to these figures, the denomination has 12.5 million members and 66 active bishops serving 66 episcopal areas. Still, not all episcopal areas are the same. The four largest episcopal areas are all in Africa (North Katanga with 1.23 million members, South Katanga with 985,000, Cote d’Ivoire with 677,000, and East Congo with 447,000). Over 1/3 of United Methodists live in just these four episcopal areas. Over 1 in 12 United Methodists worldwide lives in the North Katanga episcopal area alone.

5. The second smallest episcopal area membership-wise is also in Africa. The Eastern Angola episcopal area has a mere 7500 members in it. It is the only one of the five smallest episcopal areas not in Europe. I’m sure there are political/ethnic/historical reasons why the Eastern Angola episcopal area exists, and I don’t expect it to be eliminated. Nevertheless, the discrepancies between it and the largest episcopal areas in Africa indicate some of the challenges the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters faces as it tries to decide where to put four new African bishops. These most recent membership figures will surely feed into that process. It will be interesting to see what comes out.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Recommended reading: Lisa Beth White on #MyHope4Methodism

United Methodist missiologist and UM & Global contributor Rev. Lisa Beth White has published a recent piece entitled "Cross-Cultural Short-Term Mission" on her blog, Sister of Hope Ministries, in which she picks up on our series on #MyHope4Methodism. In particular, Rev. White interacts with Robert Hunt's piece in that series and uses it to reflect on the role of culture in short-term mission trips. Rev. White's piece is well worth reading.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Phil Wingeier-Rayo: A reflection on the Methodist Church in Cuba on the occasion of its 50th anniversary

This is the second of a four-part blog by Rev. Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, that will discuss the work of the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the formation of The United Methodist Church.

Arguably no mission church faced a more difficult path to autonomy than the Methodist Church in Cuba. Before 1960 a group of Cuban leaders had conversations with the Methodist Mission Board about autonomy, but the response that came back from New York was that the Cuban church was not ready. At the time of the revolution in 1959 there were 54 U.S. missionaries, 108 churches, and 51 Cuban pastors with 9,209 members of the Methodist Church.[1]

However, Fidel Castro and his group of rebels claimed power on the island on January 1, 1959, when dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country and change happened quickly. Many Cubans were excited about the revolutionary goals of land reform, education, and health care for all. Most Christians were sympathetic with these egalitarian goals and nationalistic sentiments, as were the majority of the population. The problems with church-state relations began when Castro declared the Revolution to be socialist on the eve of the Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17, 1961. The United States had broken off diplomatic ties with the island three months earlier and imposed an economic embargo.

There was a growing spirit of nationalism in Cuba and anti-American sentiments. Cuban Methodists were being stigmatized for being pro-U.S. and the presence of American missionaries contributed to this sentiment. In 1961 the Board of Missions recalled all the missionaries back to the U.S. for their safety and for the well-being of the work in Cuba. Indeed the revolutionary Cuban government took over the 22 Methodist schools and universities, six clinics and campground. Many people thought the church buildings would be next.

Some missionaries invited their favorite Cuban pastors and helped them escape to the United States. Later in the 1960s the Cuban government organized a Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Produccion (UMAP) where several counterrevolutionaries, gays and religious, including some Methodist pastors and lay leaders, were lumped together as “anti-socials” and placed in forced work camps to be “re-oriented.” Eventually all but eight of the Cuban pastors would flee the country and only three of them were ordained elders.[2] How was the church to survive with only eight pastors for over 100 churches? Certainly Cuba’s path to autonomy was challenging but it is also a tribute to the power of the Holy Spirit that is an example for all of Methodism.

The Process toward Autonomy
Methodism in Cuba had historically been a missionary conference under the episcopal area of Florida. In 1923 the Cuban Annual Conference was formed with the bishop of Florida as the presiding bishop. Before 1960 Cubans considered autonomy but were told that the church wasn’t ready. Finally under strained U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations the bishop from Florida was unable to travel to Cuba in December 1963 to conduct annual conference, and the Cuban superintendent Rev. Angel Fuster, did all the appointments.

As a result, the Cuban leaders wrote a letter to the 1964 General Conference requesting autonomy. General Conference responded by asking them to submit drafts for consideration of their own Book of Discipline and Articles of Faith to the COSMOS commission. These were received and reviewed by COSMOS during the quadrennium and the recommendation went forward to the 1968 General Conference that the Methodist Church in Cuba become an affiliated autonomous church.

In the interim, the Cuban church was facing more adversity. Lacking trained pastors and confronting the growing anti-religious sentiment, the Methodist Church faced an extremely challenging period in the early 1960s. Not only was the church weakened through emigration, in addition many lay people left the church for greater opportunity or out of loyalty to the revolution.[3] The membership dropped to 5,000 in the mid-1960s.[4] The membership continued to drop to the low-point of 1,800 in 1973.[5]

Nevertheless, there was a faithful remnant. The District Superintendent of Cuba’s Oriente region, Rev. Armando Rodriguez, had trained a group of young men and women to be lay missioners. As the churches were being left without pastors, he asked this group to replace those pastors who had left. Lacking theological education and experience, these young lay people heroically served those churches, often living on the premises, thus protecting church property from vandalism and confiscation.[6]

Not only had the U.S. missionaries been recalled, leaving a leadership vacuum, but the Cuban church was also facing a financial crisis. They had been receiving nearly 70 percent of their financial resources from the United States, and had also lost the income generated from Methodist schools after their nationalization by the Revolution. In July 1963, Rev. Angel Fuster, president of the Cuban Annual Conference, received the news from the head of the Latin America desk of the Methodist Mission Board, Dr. Eugene Stockwell, that financial support could no longer be disbursed due to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

In response the Cuban cabinet proposed three options: 1) lay off half the pastors (those who enjoyed less seniority), 2) ask the revolutionary government for compensation for the nationalized properties, or 3) request the local churches to send apportionments to the national church. The Cuban leadership valiantly chose the third option and sent pledge cards requesting all the members to tithe their support. They received 3,000 financial commitments within two months the national church was solvent.[7] The early enthusiasm and nationalistic spirit also influenced the church leaders’ desire to be independent.[8] Financial self-sufficiency prepared the groundwork for autonomy.

In late 1966 Superintendent Rev. Angel Fuster traveled to a World Methodist meeting in Ireland and stopped in Miami on his way home to visit two daughters. On January 5, 1967 he died in Miami from injuries sustained in an automobile accent. The following year, February 1-4, 1968, the Cuban church held its founding annual conference and honored Rev. Fuster as the first Cuban bishop elected posthumously. Then they elected Rev. Armando Rodriguez the first active bishop of the Cuban Annual Conference, but the Cuban government did not grant a visa to an outside bishop to consecrate him. Finally, a week later, Bishop Alejandro Ruiz was allowed to come from Mexico and consecrated Rev. Armando Rodriguez. All this was subject to the pending approval of the General Conference in April later that year.

In spite of losing most of its clergy to emigration, the financial crisis, decline in membership and tense church-state relations in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the Methodist Church in Cuba has not only survived, but has actually has thrived. Today the Methodist Church in Cuba retains its affiliated autonomous relationship to the UMC and has approximately 43,000 members, which is more than four times its 1959 membership and has 400 churches with 1,000 other mission sites.[9]

One of the concerns discussed about affiliated autonomous churches is that they would become so nationalistic that they would not want to relate back to the U.S. However, Cuban Methodism continues to have many partnerships with monthly Volunteer in Mission teams, and prayer partnerships with the Florida Annual Conference and many sister churches.

On Saturday, February 10th at 7:00pm there will be a celebration held at the Iglesia North Hialeah, 5559 Palm Avenue in Miami in honor of 50 years of Cuba Methodist autonomy.

[1] Clyde W. Taylor, Protestant Missions in Latin America: A Statistical Survey , Washington: Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, 1961, p.110.
[2] Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Cuban Methodism: The Untold Story of Survival and Revival, Atlanta, GA: Dolphins & Orchids, 2006, 67.
[3] Shawn Malone, “Conflict, Coexistence, and Cooperation: Church-State Relations in Cuba,” The Cuba Project, Center for Latin American Studies, Georgetown University, August 1996, 2.
[4] Clyde W. Taylor, Protestant Missions in Latin America: A Statistical Survey , Washington: Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, 1961, 110.
[5] According to church statistician Generoso Pérez. Email with Rev. Rinaldo Hernandez, February 1, 2018.
[6] Telephone conversation with Bishop Armando Rodriguez, Sr., February 1, 2018.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Linda Bloom, “Cuban Methodists Are Packing the Pews,” UMNS, January 31, 2017.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Phil Wingeier-Rayo: The work of the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS)

This is the first of a four-part blog by Rev. Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, that will discuss the work of the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the formation of The United Methodist Church.

1968 was a momentous year of change in recent history. The time of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., Black Power, and growing nationalistic independence and self-determination movements around the world. The Vietnam war was well underway with greater U.S. involvement. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in April and June, respectively, and the Soviet Union repressed a group of protesters in Czechoslovakia, which became known as the Prague Spring. It was also an important year of the space race with implications for the Cold War between the USSR and the USA. In Mexico a protest rally was met by the army killing 300-400 students on October 2nd, just 10 days before the world descended on Mexico for the 1968 Olympics. The Latin American Council of Roman Catholic Bishops met in Medellin, Colombia to interpret the changes of the Second Vatican Council to their context making a “preferential option for the poor.”

A lesser known, but nonetheless significant event in Methodist circles was the decision of Cuban Methodists to become autonomous from Methodists in the U.S. The first Cuban bishop, Rev. Armando Rodriguez, was consecrated 50 years ago on February 11, 1968.

This coming Saturday, February 10th at 7:00pm there will be a celebration held at the Iglesia North Hialeah, 5559 Palm Ave. in Miami in recognition of 50 years of Cuba Methodist autonomy.

An Early Vision of Autonomy for Mission Churches
Early missionaries and mission executives envisioned all international mission churches would become autonomous. Pioneer Methodist missionary to India, Bishop James Thoburn, wrote in 1893:

“We may accept it as certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that in every nation under the sun our Christian converts will want to assume the management of their own affairs as soon as they are permitted to do so…Accepting, then, a fact so obvious as this, it requires the highest wisdom on the part of all missionary managers to co-operate with the natural tendency of events on the mission field, and to develop our indigenous government of every Christian church as rapidly as possible.[1]

While Bishop Thoburn (1836-1922) was writing about Asia, his findings and beliefs were relevant for mission everywhere.

Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas
At the same time as the world was changing in the 1960s, the Methodist Church in America was also going through some internal changes. The denomination was having conversations internally to integrate the all-African American Central Jurisdiction and externally to merge with the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church. In addition to these eventualities, the 1964 General Conference commissioned the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) to “study the structure and supervision of the Methodist Church in its work outside the United States…and prepare recommendations as it considers necessary for presentation to the General Conference of 1968.”[2]

The COSMOS commission met in November of 1965 to plan for a major consultation in the fall of 1966. This larger gathering brought together 250 people including all the members of COSMOS, all American and overseas bishops, General Conference delegates from the U.S., the General Board of Missions, the Judicial Council, theological professors and representatives from the EUB Church, the World Methodist Council, and the World Council of Churches, among others.

The five-day gathering heard and discussed four main options: 1. Keep the present basic Methodist Structure, 2. Encourage Methodist units outside the U.S. to become autonomous churches, 3. Create a truly international Methodist Church that would have several Regional Conferences (the U.S. being one of several) and one General Conference with balanced representation between the U.S. and Central Conferences abroad, and finally 4. Organize a world fellowship of autonomous Methodist Churches. This gathering did not have the authority to choose one of these options—only to make a recommendation to the 1968 General Conference.

One of the problems facing the Methodist Church was the structure of the world church that covered 46 countries and very different contexts. In Cuba and elsewhere, opponents of Christianity attacked local Methodism as being an appendix of the United States. In a report prepared for the 1966 COSMOS conference, Lonnie Turnipseed wrote “…it is easy to see how persons opposed to the Christian faith can use them to brand the church as a foreign rather than an indigenous church.”[3] This concern was certainly a reality in Cuba among many people fighting for self-determination and the end of foreign interference.

COSMOS also recommended to 1968 General Conference the autonomy for the Methodist churches in Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Chile, Panama, Peru, Malaya, Sarawak, and Uruguay, in addition to the prior recommendation for Cuba. These were the first since the churches in Mexico and Brazil had become autonomous in 1930.

Besides these churches, the recommendations from the 1964-1968 COSMOS commission have largely not been pursued by General Conference. Methodism overseas was overshadowed by the efforts to incorporate the all-African American Central Jurisdiction and unite with the Evangelical United Brethren into the United Methodist Church. Nevertheless, the recent crisis on the United Methodist stance toward human sexuality and the deliberations of the Way Forward Commission have highlighted the ongoing importance of the worldwide structure and the influence of context on church effectiveness.

In the second part of this blog, I will examine how this process toward autonomy played out in Cuba. In the third and fourth parts to this blog, I will examine in greater detail the four suggestions for the international structure of the United Methodist Church and explore what happened in other regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America with implications for the current dilemma that the UMC is facing about organizational structure.

** This article was corrected from an earlier version that listed secular events as happening in 1968 that actually occurred in 1967 or 1969.

[1] Daniel Johnson Fleming, Devolution in Mission Administration: As Exemplified by the Legislative History of Five American Missionary Societies in India, New York: Fleming Revell Co., 1916, 72.
[2] The Journal of the 1968 General Conference, Nashville: TN, The United Methodist Publishing House, Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas, Report no.1.
[3] Lawrence Turnipseed, “New Structures for Methodism Overseas,” paper prepared for the COSMOS conference, February 10, 1966.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Two UM & Global Updates

Dear readers:

A quick note about two updates to the UM & Global blog.

1. As of this week, UM & Global will begin publishing pieces three times per week instead of the twice per week it has done in the past. It will publish articles Monday, Wednesday, and Friday instead of Tuesday and Thursday. While the days of week on which it publishes will change, this is an effort to bring more high-quality content to you.

2. As you will have noticed, I have freshened up the blog's look slightly. Most noticeably, I have reduced our side panels to better highlight our main content. That insightful content is the primary reason you come to this blog, and I want to make it visually easier for you to read.

David W. Scott,
UM & Global Blogmaster

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Robert Hunt: #MyHope4Methodism

Today's post is the second in a series that features United Methodist scholars and leaders from around the world reflecting on their hope for the future of The United Methodist Church as a global movement within the larger context of worldwide Methodism as a whole. Today's post is written by Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director, Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies at Perkins School of Theology.

My hope for Methodism is that we will understand that we are an inter-cultural church and not merely an international church.

The structures of Methodist and then United Methodist mission were formed by the social location of the church as a denomination among denominations, as an international church in a world of nations, and as a national church engaged in mission in the context of international colonialism. These structures attuned to the political realities shaping American and global society in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Today denominationalism, internationalism, and national church mission both mask and are out of tune with the complex cultural realities characteristic of the contemporary religious and political worlds. In order to fully engage God’s Mission within these emerging cultural and political realities the United Methodist church must revise its self-understanding. It must realize that it is primarily inter-cultural rather than international and understand its mission as the cultivation of a pragmatic inter-cultural dialogue on the meaning of the claim that Jesus is the Christ in relation to God’s Reign. This means that the single most important set of skills for the future of United Methodist leadership and mission will be the skills necessary for inter-cultural dialogue and collaboration.

In order to achieve a new approach to the mission of the church that is intentionally cross-cultural and dialogical in nature I believe we must revise our understandings of the world we live in and ourselves.

1)     The first of these revisions must be to re-engage the Biblical vision of mission as inter-cultural rather than international.

a)     The “nations” of the Bible were not nation-states, but people groups. The incarnation of the Risen Christ takes place in specific cultural settings and not merely socio-political settings. As importantly, each culture adds to the human understanding of the Gospel through its own distinctive premonition of God’s presence in its history. What emerges as the Biblical witness to Christ is God speaking out of an intense inter-cultural dialogue. An excessive focus on socio-political realities masks this dialogue and leads to an imbalanced understanding of the gospel message.

b)     Revelation should be understood as the movement of the Spirit in a multi-cultural community engaged with the apostolic witness to Christ. The Bible is the Church’s book so long as we recognize that the church was and is a Beit Midrash; a House of dialogue and discovery. This doesn’t mean that no definitive conclusions are drawn, only that we recognize that they are also culturally located and that through time and circumstance the Spirit of Christ will draw us back to re-engage the scripture.

c)     Moreover, the Biblical witness is a witness of people on the move to peoples on the move. As Israel discovered, and early Christian communities enacted, migration is both the context of Christian mission and a means for the spread of the gospel. Paul’s journeys, as well as the migrations of the groups to whom he and other apostles witnessed, led inevitably to the emergence of ever changing and often newly emergent Christian cultures. Thus, the appropriate inculturation and proclamation of the Gospel, the appropriate interpretation of the apostolic witness into words and deeds, is an emergent phenomenon even in scripture. As an intercultural church rather than an international church, we will need to read the Bible as a witness to Christ arising out of an inter-cultural dialogue whose meaning emerges in the context of multiple new cultural encounters.

2)     The second of these revisions in self-understanding is to recognize that our contemporary global United Methodist church must be understood as inter-cultural not merely international.

a)     By conforming its structures to the emerging colonial world of the 19th century Methodism gained a pragmatic advantage in that political world. And by shaping itself in conformity to an emerging international economy it gained a pragmatic advantage in that economic world. Yet it also thereby participated in the Enlightenment influenced colonial suppression of indigenous cultural resources for the ordering of both human societies and human institutions. This laid the groundwork for much of the divisiveness experienced today both within the United States and across the globe.

b)     The conflation of nation-state with national culture, something that Europe’s 19th century history made to seem natural, is extremely deceptive even in the European context. Our generation has seen the break-up of established European nations on the basis of cultural difference, including through civil war. My Austrian German teacher used to repeat the mantra: es gibt kein Europaer. Even little Austria had distinctive subcultures, multiple languages, and mutually incomprehensible dialects of German.

c)     In the context of US history and the history of the colonially created nation-states of the 20th century the idea of a single national culture is even more dubious. The voluntary union of the Methodist Episcopal Church North and the Methodist Episcopal Church South with the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939 hasn’t eliminated the cultural fault lines marked by the division of 1844. Rather, these have simply taken on more contemporary forms even as they represent much older cultural divisions than those around slavery. Only a structure and concept of mission that recognizes and puts on a dialogically engaged footing different cultures within nations and trans-national cultural movements among nations will allow us to live together as a single church.

d)     A reasonable first step in this direction was the 20th century creation of autonomous national Methodist churches gathered in the World Methodist Council, even if the existence of national church polities often masked cultural differences within their respective nations. However, there are social locations in which this degree of autonomy, or autonomy in the context of a nation-state, isn’t desirable or desired. In these situations, the UMC needs to both create new polities and allow a variation in polities so as to allow not only local churches, but districts and annual conferences to design governance structures that are both culturally relevant (including relevancy in a mixed culture context) and allow all the cultural resources for working together to be fully expressed.

e)     As importantly, the UMC needs to recognize that the ways in which the mission of the church is understood and executed should be determined by the cultural contexts of those engaged in mission as partners. The urgent needs of those both witnessing to the gospel and receiving that witness will vary between social contexts. And the perception of those needs and how they relate to the gospel will vary between cultural contexts. A congregation in the Philippines shouldn’t be bound to structures of mission organization that originate in the US. Nor should an annual conference in Africa be bound to strategies formulated for the Philippines.

f)      In short, the guiding principle of our polity needs to become the facilitation of inter-cultural dialogue rather than the supposed efficiencies created by replicating nested hierarchies. This kind of re-imagining of structures is already taking place within the inter-cultural business community. The value of such experimentation should not be lost on us.

3)     The third revision is to recognize that post-enlightenment North Atlantic culture, along with its many outposts across the globe, is a distinctly new human phenomenon.

a)     Theorists of Christian mission may find similarities between the urban societies of the 21st centuries and those in Greece and Rome of Jesus' time. But what is emerging today is actually unprecedented, as Charles Taylor has shown in his socio-cultural history A Secular Age. The distinction, indeed gulf between the modern and non-modern experiences of being human as well, as those in some form of transition, demands a new conceptualization of our mission in terms of complex inter-cultural engagements across this gulf.

b)     Our primary mission cannot be reduced to addressing reified understandings of non-modern religions or cultures, nor to making the gospel relevant to the detritus of modernity, nor even to making it relevant in whatever has been identified as the latest market for religion, whether it is boomers, gen x, or millenials. Rather our mission must account for the new cultures continuously emerging among us, whoever the “us” is, and across the globe. These are cultures whose contours are only now being discovered, whom we must engage out of our own multiple cultural contexts in dialogue over what it means in specific times, places, and social locations to proclaim and enact that Jesus is the Christ.

c)     Our mission is to discover among the people of these new cultures what distinctive apprehensions of God’s presence in the world are coming to light. And this requires that we understand both ourselves and others as bearers of culture and thus vessels of incarnation rather than rivals or enemies in the articulation of the truth about God.

Which means, and I come to my most important point, that the single most important set of skills for the future of United Methodist leadership and mission will be the skills necessary for inter-cultural dialogue and collaboration. These skills include awareness of our own culture and of cultural difference and its various dimension, the motivation to engage those differences, knowledge of the multiple dimensions of cultural difference, and the ability to form strategies and adopt new behaviors in order to effectively work in complex cultural environments.

These skills are not unknown, and indeed have been explored, defined, and placed in pedagogical frameworks for the last 50 years. What remains is for those of us who are leaders and who train leaders to make the acquisition of these skills our first priority.

In sum, these three revisions in our self-understanding suggest that we must move beyond the models of what it means to be Christian in society that have dominated Methodism since its beginning. We must rediscover the both distinctly Biblical and fully contemporary understanding of the Church as a body of cultural communities within societies that are culturally diverse and constantly changing. Put another way, we must recognize that our cult does not become, but is always embedded within a culture. And since God intends that cultural diversity be an enduring part of the human order, our church will always need to be inter-cultural if it is to be global.