Wednesday, September 12, 2018

On the Methodist Church in Britain, CIEMAL, and learning from our global partners

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 recently saw a surprising flyer put out by the Methodist Church in Britain. The flyer was for an advertisement for a new program to assist with evangelism that the Methodist Church in Britain was offering. This itself was not surprising.

What was surprising to me was the program itself: the Methodist Church in Britain was offering for local churches in Britain to receive missionaries from CIEMAL, the Consejo de Iglesias Evangélicas Metodistas de América Latina y el Caribe (Council of Methodist Church in Latin America and the Caribbean), who would assist these British churches with their evangelism programs over the course of three years.

The Methodist Church in Britain pointed out that Methodism is growing in many places in Latin America and the Caribbean and left unspoken the contrast that Methodism is shrinking in most places in Britain. If Methodism is growing in Latin America and the Caribbean, might not Latin Americans and Caribbeans have something to teach the British?

That seems logical enough, but what was surprising was the embrace by the Methodist Church in Britain of a very different sort of relationship with some of its descendant churches than the one it traditionally had. Don't get me wrong - I think the shift is very laudable, but it is still surprising.

Traditionally, the Methodist Church in Britain was the one exporting missionaries elsewhere. Those missionaries went out and told other people how to do their evangelism. British Methodists did not receive missionaries or need anyone else to tell them how to do their own evangelism. They were the ones with the money, the power, and the answers.

That attitude has been changing for some time in Britain. The post-colonial and post-Christendom British church realizes it can no longer expect to project itself as the center of money, power, and knowledge, among Methodists abroad or within its own society, in the same way it used to.

Yet this recent flier represents a further step, and a necessary one. There is a progression - from "we will go out as missionaries with the answers," to "we will go out as missionaries in partnership with others, where both sides have answers," to "we may still go out as missionaries, but we also need to receive missionaries and answers from others."

Some of my surprise, I am sure, comes from being an American. It is difficult enough to get many American Christians to shift from the first mindset to the second on the above continuum. That denominational leadership would promote the shift to the third mindset seems unthinkable. What would be the reaction if The United Methodist Church offered to deploy Congolese evangelists in the United States? How would US churches respond to the suggestion that they needed to place themselves under the tutelage and leadership of Africans?

Yet that is the direction that Western Christians should go. We must recognize that it is not only us who go as missionaries, nor only us who have the answers, nor only others who have problems with which they need help. All Christians are called to mission. All Christians have knowledge to share. And all Christians, including Western Christians, have problems with which they need help. We, too, must be willing to listen to others who have aspects of the gospel to share with us so that we can hear them with fresh ears. We, too, must be willing to receive from others just as much as we seek to share with them. The church in the United States may not be at that point yet, but I pray it gets there.


  1. Thanks for calling attention to the collaboration between British Methodists and CIEMAL in recruiting evangelists to serve growing Hispanic populations in Great Britain. It brings to mind the experience within the UMC.
    For several quadrennium the Book of Discipline charged the Board of Missions (Global Ministries) with facilitating the recruitment of clergy personnel from conferences / church partners beyond the U.S. for service within U.S. Conferences. It was never a major program thrust backed up with staffing or financial resources needed to implement. Then the Increased flow of migration from the global south brought credentialed and non-credentialed Methodist church personnel to serve growing immigrant populations in the U.S. Most of these congregations were organized independently without recognition or support from the annual conferences within which they were located. Meanwhile the great migration of African Americans from south to north within the U.S. impacted urban areas created racially transitional communities and the demand for additional leadership which many conferences recruited from English speaking Caribbean Methodist churches. Those clergy coming from Korea and Latin America without formal invitations from U.S. conferences were faced with a struggle to get their status credentialed and their churches recognized by annual conferences. Those from the Caribbean were usually granted standing in conferences but limited in appointment possibilities to churches in racially changing contexts. It was not until the 1976 General Conference approved the Missional Priority for Strengthening Ethnic Minority Churches that a church wide focus and resources were finally cultivated to grow the UMC presence among these communities.
    In reflection, church leadership ought not assume that all that is needed are representatives from growing churches abroad to plant and grow churches in ethnic contexts in the U.S. Evangelistic gifts are essential but connectional readiness, commitment and support are crucial to success. Also to be remembered is the impact upon the sending churches and conferences. The Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas experienced the loss of significant talent that was difficult to replace. Finally, there is no substitute for a highly motivated initiative of nurturing and developing leadership from within these new communities of faith to sustain long term benefits locally and denominationally.
    Robert Harman

    1. It's interesting to hear more about the experiences with immigrant clergy in the mid- to late-20th century. My historical study of Methodist ministry with immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th century has led me to the conclusion that one of the strengths of Methodist outreach was the ease of transferring clergy between foreign mission fields and the corresponding domestic immigrant groups. Such transnational ties helped Methodism grow throughout ethnic networks, regardless of location. Your comment strengthens my suspicion that part of the challenge for The United Methodist Church in its ministry with more recently immigrant groups is that there hasn't been the same ability to transfer clergy back and forth across national boundaries, especially since many of the churches from which immigrants have come are now autonomous.

  2. Yes David, clergy transfers from autonomous churches faced more rigorous entry requirements by the receiving annual conferences, so much so that the Korean Methodist Church has actually established a denominational structure in the US. to accommodate its emigrating personnel and congregations. Barriers to full UM clergy connection/recognition included additional academic coursework fulfilled in UM related seminaries and English language proficiency. Minimum membership and financial standards for admitting congregations established by immigrant Korean clergy were also in place. Cuban pastors in exile from Castro's government received favorable consideration thanks to prevailing anti communist political sentiment. But connectional relationships to Central Conferences did not make transferring credentials or gaining standing for newly established racial ethnic congregations in US. conferences that much easier. Race was not a factor in the culture and institutional life of the denomination during the late 19th and early 20th century European immigration patterns. And, the formation of self directing national/language conferences made for smoother transfers from European conferences. But the confrontations of the Civil Rights Era uncovered tensions awaiting later arrivals from anywhere in the global south. The churches and conferences reflecting their regional surroundings remained defensive and reticent to offer hospitality until the racial equality movement impacted them directly and constituencies were organized around advocacy for change. In the first few years of the Missional Priority on Strengthening Ethnic Minority Local Churches, some annual congregations actually distinguished themselves as "not having any." Much, of course has changed, but many challenges to becoming diverse, welcoming and ultimately multi-cultural bodies remain.
    Robert Harman