Monday, July 15, 2019
As a previous post explained, churches, annual conferences, and other groups in the United States provide significant financial, in-kind, technical, and personnel subsidies to churches, annual conferences, and other ministries in the central conferences. However, for a variety of reasons, those subsidies are likely to decrease, perhaps quite significantly, in coming years. The question then arises of what options central conferences have for their ministries in the face of reduced American subsidies.
It is important to state up front that some, perhaps many, of the decisions about subsidized ministries and programs in the central conferences will not be made by people in the central conferences themselves but rather by the Americans who are currently sending the subsidies. For those ministries and programs completely dependent on American or general agency support, it is effectively Americans and/or general agency boards and staff who will make decisions about the fate of ministries in the central conference, not the people from central conferences conducting those ministries.
Despite the ways in which American decision-making will impact those in the central conferences, central conference church leaders also have agency in this process. Thus, there are a variety of decisions they can make or strategies they can adopt in the face of reduced American subsidies.
Before getting to those decisions and strategies, it is useful to get a sense of what a central conference perspective on the ministries subsidized by US Americans might be. One might perhaps think of four categories of subsidized ministries:
1. Ministries that are a priority for Americans, but not a priority for those in the central conferences. Any decent development literature review will reveal that it is common for charitable projects to go forward, not because the intended recipients have any interest in the project or the goods it intends to produce, but because of the desire of the donor(s) to support that project. This practice occurs in US subsidies of central conference ministries as well.
2. Ministries that are a priority for those in the central conferences, but not a high priority. Here, one might think of ministries that provide incremental improvements in quality of life but do not impact issues of life and death nor the basic function of the church. Such ministries include upgrading functional if suboptimal equipment and facilities, expanding the scope of existing ministries such as health and education to reduce difficulties in accessing them, and adding new components to existing ministries.
3. Ministries that provide vital health, educational, or other services but that do not affect the basic functioning of local congregations. These include hospitals, clinics, schools, and the like. These ministries provide important, even lifesaving, services not just to United Methodists, but also to others in their communities. They may also form important parts of United Methodist witness in their local contexts. Nonetheless, local congregations could continue to function as worshipping communities without such ministries.
4. Ministries that are essential to the operation of local congregation. These include salaries and transportation for pastors, Bibles and hymnals for congregants, church buildings, and supervision by bishops and district superintendents.
With those four types of subsidized ministries in mind, here are the range of options that central conferences have in the face of reduced US subsidies for those ministries.
First, central conferences could simply reduce the number or extent of ministries offered according to the reduction in subsidies. Simply accepting ministry cuts as a consequence of US-decided cuts in the amount of subsidies for those ministries is most likely for the first two categories of ministries: those that are not a priority or are a low priority to people in the central conferences. Such cuts might be somewhat disappointing to those in the central conferences, but not devastating.
Second, central conferences could attempt to identify other partners who could make up for the reduced amounts of the subsidies. Attempting to expand existing partnerships is the easiest way to make up for those reductions, so central conferences are likely to ask more of their annual conference and local church partners in light of reduced general church apportionments, though given the threats to such relationships, that strategy may or may not be successful. Non-governmental organizations, either religious or secular, are also likely sources for new funding to make up for reductions in US subsidies. This strategy could work for any type of ministry, though it is more likely to be effective where there are existing partnerships that can be built upon and where the priorities of new funders or funders stepping up their commitments align well with the priorities of those in the central conferences.
Third, central conferences could increase the extent to which their ministries operate on a fee-for-service model. That is, they could charge the beneficiaries of those ministries for the services provided. This approach is most likely in education and health, where fee-for-service is a common practice and may already exist in some form in these ministries as they currently operate. Additional fee-for-service revenues can come either by charging those who had previously received services for free or by increasing the cost of already paid services. The extent to which ministries can successfully collect fees for services depends in part upon the economic capacity of the populations they serve and on the perceived quality and value of the services offered.
Fourth, central conferences could increase the amount of self-funding through apportionments and other giving collected from the churches in those central conferences. Thus, central conferences would attempt to raise more money locally to make up for reduced money (and other subsidies) from the US. Certainly, this approach, like fee-for-services, will be constrained by the economic realities of United Methodist members in those central conferences. This model is also likely to serve as the best indication of what a central conference’s priorities truly are. The operation of churches as worshipping communities and evangelism to start new churches are likely to be the highest priority on which central conferences are willing to spend their own money. Some health and educational services may also fall into this category.
In all likelihood, of course, central conferences will use a combination of these strategies to make up for reduced US subsidies. The exact mix of strategies will depend on the type of ministry, its priority within that central conference, the range of partnerships cultivated by that central conference, and the financial realities in that central conference. This component of the financial realities in the central conferences will be addressed in a future post.
Friday, July 12, 2019
One significant feature of the financial realities of The United Methodist Church is that the American (and Western European) branches of the church provide extensive funding, in-kind gifts, technical expertise, and human resources for a variety of ministries in the central conferences. This practice can be read as a just response to global economic inequalities, a commendable practice of charity, or a form of neo-colonial control. Whether such subsidies are good, bad, or indifferent is a case-by-case personal judgment, and this post will not attempt to make such judgments.
Instead, this post will briefly cover the ways in which American (and Western European) churches subsidize ministry elsewhere and why those subsidies are currently at risk. A subsequent post will explore what options central conferences have if/when those subsidies do decrease.
While the remainder of this post will focus exclusively on American subsidies of central conferences, it should be noted that United Methodists in Norway, Germany, and Switzerland also provide funds, in-kind gifts, technical expertise, and personnel for programs in the central conferences through the work of their mission agencies and church partnerships. Such assistance is real and valuable, though since it occurs at a much smaller scale than American subsidies, this post will focus primarily on subsidies from the US to the central conferences.
First, a review of the mechanisms by which American churches subsidize ministry in the central conferences. There are five main mechanisms:
1. Apportionment funds that are explicitly directed toward the central conferences, such as bishops’ salaries paid from the episcopal fund, the Africa University Fund, the Central Conference Theological Education Fund, etc. In 2018, 99% of apportionments collected came from US churches, so while a future post will examine central conference apportionments as a part of their overall finances, practically speaking, most apportionment funds are a form of US subsidy.
2. Programs, grants, and assistance from the general boards and agencies, which subsidize a wide variety of mission, health, education, social justice, evangelism, infrastructure, and other programmatic expenses in the central conferences. Since apportionments are a significant source of funds for the general boards and agencies, as are direct contributions from Americans, most general agency funds sent to the central conferences can also be regarded as a form of American subsidy.
3. Monies and in-kind gifts given by US annual conferences through direct annual conference-to-annual conference partnerships. US annual conferences often have on-going relationships with annual conferences (or episcopal areas or non-profits) in the central conferences. These relationships typically involve financial support and in-kind gifts and services for a variety of programs and expenses.
4. Monies and in-kind gifts given by US local churches who have partnerships with local churches or entire annual conferences in the central conferences. These may be either one-time fundraising campaigns or on-going relationships that involve financial support and in-kind gifts and services.
5. Monies and in-kind gifts and services given by United Methodist-related para-church organizations. A variety of unofficial United Methodist groups, such as Good News, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and Reconciling Ministries Network, have historically or have announced their intention to fund ministries in the central conferences or provide services, including training, to central conferences. The funding for such para-church groups is overwhelmingly if not entirely American in origin.
While historically, significant amounts of funds and assistance have gone from the United States to the central conferences via these mechanisms, most of these mechanisms are currently under threat for a variety of reasons.
A primary threat to US subsidies for the central conferences is the threat of reduced apportionments. Some US churches are withholding apportionments to the general church because of their objection to some aspect of the current debate over gay marriage and gay ordination in the church. These withholdings have already made an impact in the amount of apportionments collected since General Conference 2019. In addition, the GCFA board has proposed a steep cut in the amount of apportionments collected from American churches in the next quadrennium. A potential church split would further reduce total collected apportionments. These reductions affect both apportionment funds that go directly to central conferences and funds from general boards and agencies.
The other primary threat is the discontinuation of direct relationships between US annual conferences and local churches on the one hand and annual conferences and local churches in the central conferences on the other. Anecdotal stories have already circulated about both progressive and traditionalist churches cutting existing funding relationships with overseas partners because of their objections to how General Conference 2019 unfolded. More such discontinuations of relationships are possible, and were there to be a church split, it would likely result in further ruptured relationships.
It is difficult to establish a dollar figure for the current amount of ministry subsidies sent by the US to the central conferences. Moreover, the size, scope, and focus of possible reductions in US subsidies of central conference ministries remain to be seen. Nevertheless, it is almost assured that US subsidies as a whole will decline, though the various proposed plans for the future of The United Methodist Church that will be mooted over the next several months will affect these subsidies in different ways.
Given such impending reductions, the question naturally arises, “What will the central conferences do?” A subsequent post will attempt to answer just that question.
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
The Almighty God and creator of humankind has engaged men and women in the past for the execution of His great programme of redemption. As He did in the past, so He is working through men and women today to show His great love to the lost. At creation, He made them male and female to compliment the effort of each other in the task He gave to them.
Having a purpose to accomplish on earth and having more work to do, God called men and women to be co-labourers with Him in the building of His church here on earth.
What is mission?
Mission means sending or to be sent. Christ came to seek and to save the lost, and He called His church to join Him in this. This is mission.
To be called to mission work is one of the highest callings one can receive. It is a sacred responsibility and should be considered a privilege to become partners with God.
The call to mission is not a preference among alternatives. It is a militant command that requires immediate action. It is usually clear and distinct. And those who are called have some knowledge about or are captured by something beyond human comprehension, e.g., Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3: 4-6), Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19: 9-15), or Saul’s encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 1-8).
Friends, the God who called in biblical times is still calling people today. From nothing, God made those called to be something, and those who were called were empowered for mission work. Their focus and emphasis in ministry remain unchangeable.
The role of women in the plan of redemption
Although the first sin came through a woman, yet to fulfill God’s plan for redemption, the Saviour came through a woman.
In the Old Testament, women were not relegated to the background of the home and domestic work. They held prominent positions in the church and society.
Deborah was a judge and prophetess in Israel (Judges 4:4). Hulda was a prophetess and spiritual leader (2 Kings 22:14). Esther was queen in Susa (Esther 4: 15-17). Abigail was a woman with brain and beauty (1 Sam. 25:3). All these and Anna (Luke 2: 36-38) are examples of women who influenced their generation positively.
In the New Testament, women also influenced prominent places and situations. In the gospel, we read of several women messengers who proclaimed the Good News (Matt. 2: 1-10; Luke 24: 9-12; John 4:28-30 and 20: 16-18).
In Romans 16, we have records of a number of women who served the Lord in various churches: Phoebe (Romans 16: 1-2), Priscilla (v3-5), Mary and Tryphena. Priscilla was specifically used of God to touch lives of people in Rome, Greece and Asia Minor. She housed Paul, led a home cell group and was assigned by Paul to disciple Apollos (Acts 18:21). Priscilla’s role in cross-cultural service was perceived by Paul as unique.
In contemporary times, women like Martin Luther King’s wife Coretta Scott King, Florence Booth and Mary Slessor have made remarkable positive influences on their husbands, their children and the entire world.
What is the role of United Methodist Church women in relation to this?
Since the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968, which led to the development of The United Methodist Church, women have been active in mission work. Many people agree that the more difficult and dangerous the work, the more women volunteer to do it, and The United Methodist Church and United Methodist Church women are no exception to this. They have demonstrated a holistic approach with emphasis on both evangelism and meeting human needs.
They have shown a deep commitment and concern to other women and children. Medical work and economic structures were commonly the focus of their work.
Today, some of the ministries of the women in The United Methodist Church include:
- Teaching, counseling and leading of other women (Titus 2:25)
- Women’s prayer meeting (Acts 16: 12-15)
- Ministry of visitation (Matt. 25:36; James 1:27)
- Ministry of hospitality (2 Kings 4: 8-10; Hebrews 13:2; Timothy 5:10)
- Ministry of singing (Ex. 15: 20-21)
- Ministry of soul winning (Matt. 28: 18-20; Mark 16:15; Joshua 4: 28-30)
For the purpose of reaching others for Christ, today’s women can emulate the women in both the Old and New Testament by using their:
- Meals: Friends and neighbours could be invited to our homes, during which we share our testimonies (Acts 2: 46-47).
- Homes: Women can offer their homes for meeting places.
- Talents: We can use our talents to help the poor and needy in the church by teaching them to do petty trading and craft to learn their living. Women can organize lessons for school children and illiterates as a minimal cost with the hope of winning them to the Lord.
- Substances: Women can use their money and materials to help pastors, believers and unbelievers.
The role of women in mission and the evangelization of Africa specifically is becoming more and more important as we approach the end of the age. These include:
- Ministry to children and youths. Many of the children and youths are wayward, drug addicts and prostitutes. Women of the church can volunteer to care for and teach others the way of salvation that will qualify them for leadership roles in the future.
- Ministry of hospitality, comfort and visitation. Women should provide care and comfort to the bereaved, orphans, widows, aged, poor and needy, sick and handicapped.
- Prison ministry. The women who are confined to the prison need our love and the gospel to set them free.
- Ministry to rural people. The primitive and illiterate who live in villages are more open to women than men. The woman can learn their languages and reach out to them.
- Ministry to social misfits. Singles, mothers and prostitutes get discouraged and frustrated because of the hardship and harshness they are exposed to. Church women are more suited for ministering to this category of persons.
- The population of women is about half or more of the population of the world. Multitudes of these women have peculiar needs that attract special attention, which can best be handled by women.
- Women by nature have caring, compassionate qualities and experience, which better provide them the opportunities to counsel on sensitive areas in the lives of women.
- The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh shows that God will not waste His gift on women if it is not needed (Joel 2: 28-29).
- Women are better equipped with love, gentleness, tenderness and knowledge needed to reach millions of children in the world and lead them in the right direction of Christ.
Monday, July 8, 2019
One result of that consultation is the statement "God Is On The Move: A Call to Be the Church in a New Way."
The statement speaks very positively about migration and migrants and affirms the importance of ministry with migrants and ministry by migrants. It also lays forth a set of principles for ministry collaboration between migrant and host Christian communities. The document and the principles are well worth a read.
Wednesday, July 3, 2019
The Role of African Women in Mission, Today and Tomorrow
Women are the strength and vitality of the churches of Africa by their great number, their drive and their constant availability. They are the bold energy of God, indispensable today as they have never been, capable of provoking a change. They are everywhere and interconnected.
They keep the flame of faith awake, especially in the most remote areas. They transmit the faith to children, who are the face of the future generation of the church of tomorrow.
Despite the zeal of the male missionaries, their efforts do not produce sufficient fruit if they are not helped by women.
For example, consider M. Louis and Madame Deschact and Marc Nelis and his wife, missionaries among the teachers at the United Methodist station of Mulungwishi. They cannot fulfill this ministry themselves. Only women can freely approach pagan women, maintain with them loving relationships, heal their evils, touch their hearts.
It is thus that the doors open wide before women, not only those of preaching but also those of female education, pastoral coordination, the ministry of evangelization, medical work, as well as the exercise of the hospitality.
Africa is a continent characterized by wars, violence, discrimination and poverty. Several African women have decided to lead a fight for a better life through an evangelistic and pastoral ministry. Consider these cases:
- Reverend Joaquina F. Nhanala, first woman United Methodist Bishop on the African continent, serving in Mozambique;
- Reverend Kabamba Kiboko, first woman pastor in the South Congo Annual Conference. Currently head pastor of Forest Chapel United Methodist Church in the city of Cincinnati, OH;
- Reverend Jacqueline Ngoy Mwayuma, first woman Assistant to the Bishop in the North Katanga Episcopal Area in the Democratic Republic of Congo;
- The Reverend Mutombo Kimba, first female Methodist pastor in the North Katanga Episcopal Area, subsequently working in the South Congo region and Zambia;
- Ms. Leymah Gbowee, a Methodist woman from Liberia who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her role in the management of a women's peace movement;
- Mother Odette Kalangwa and Ngoie Mutwale, missionary women from northern Katanga and Tanzania.
Nowadays women have a strong influence, especially in social work, education, technical training, etc.
The future of the mission of The United Methodist Church in Africa is to increase evangelization in difficult to reach areas. We must use all the means available to achieve our objectives, with a single goal of strengthening and extending the trust of the mission. This is based on the church's main mission, which is to put faith into action by making all nations disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the whole world.
With God's help, I wish that all mission activities continue, for Jesus said in the Gospel according to John (10:10b) that he came to give a life in abundance. It would be better that the people who will be brought to Jesus enjoy this life in the church of God. The church must open its buildings and systems to persons with disabilities, orphans, widows and widowers, must welcome those who have mental and psychological difficulties and work in a way that integrates each person.
And then the church is called to reflect the love of one’s neighbor by reassuring them of their basic needs such as food, clothing, housing, education, health care etc.
Jesus himself was the example. Wherever he went proclaiming the word of God, he was not indifferent to the sick, nor to the hungry (Luke 7:21), nor to the suffering. In the Gospel according to Matthew (15:31), the crowd was in awe to see that the mute spoke, that the crippled were healed, that the lame walked, that the blind saw. All glorified the God of Israel.
As a church, all these activities should not be separated. They must evolve simultaneously.
Since it is the primary activity, evangelism must be the main purpose of a church for the transformation of the world, bringing lost souls to Christ (Matthew 28:19).
The Church must support all activities without regarding one as more important than the other.
The Church must ensure active participation in all activities, according to the organization, in order to contribute to its development.
The Church must expand the ministry of compassion to needy people, because faith and social work go together hand in hand. This leads us to say that the relationship between these activities must be regarded as an equal one.
To do so, it is appropriate to give the woman all the necessary training so that she is able to regain her dignity and improve her condition of life in the church. Education is necessary because it allows her to play her full part and ensures greater integration into the structure of the Church in the decision-making process.
We affirm that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). All human beings are endowed with an equal degree of the same dignity. In the Lord, the woman is no different than the man, and the man is no different than the woman.
For just as the woman was taken out of the man, so is the man born by the woman, and all come from God (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). What is important is to encourage African women to bring their stone to the building of the church, that they are not only necessary in the field of the family, that they have ecclesial positions like men because of the educational and transformative power of this equality for a church of tomorrow.
Women’s potential must be taken into account by entrusting them with responsibilities in the ministry of evangelism because they are very present and very engaged in the daily life of the communities. Without the contribution of women, the Africa of tomorrow will not succeed in its evangelizing mission.
Monday, July 1, 2019
One of the reasons why the COSMOS proposals for an International Methodist Church or a World Methodist Council of Churches never really got off the ground was the existence of the World Methodist Council (WMC) as an alternative avenue for relationship. At the same time, some United Methodists now have suggested that the WMC could be a means for maintaining relationships in the likely event of a breakup of The United Methodist Church. Thus, it is worth describing what the WMC is, how it is structured, and what is does.
The World Methodist Council is made up of over 70 participating Methodist, Wesleyan, and United denominations. Some of these are autonomous Methodist churches in the British Methodist tradition. Some are autonomous Methodist churches in the American Methodist tradition. Some are world-wide churches in the African-American Methodist tradition. Some are world-wide churches in the American Wesleyan/holiness tradition. Some are nationally-based united churches that were formed from the merger of Methodist and other Protestant churches.
One very important member denomination of the WMC is The United Methodist Church. The UMC is the largest participating denomination in terms of membership, and it provides a lot of the personnel, organizational structure, and drive that enable the work of the WMC.
The UMC also contributes the largest amount of funding to the WMC. The UMC contributes about two-thirds of the total dues from participating denominations, which collectively make up 83% of the WMC's operating budget. Put another way, the UMC is responsible for over half (57%) of the WMC's total budget. This doesn't include indirect subsidies, such as the UMC covering the expenses for representatives from autonomous churches to attend the World Methodist Conference. Any future in which there is less UMC money to support shared ministry is quite likely a future in which the WMC takes a substantial financial hit and is less able to facilitate shared ministry.
There are several means by which the WMC promotes intra-Methodist relationships and shared ministry. Perhaps the most visible is the World Methodist Conference, which happens every five years. The origins of the WMC as an organization lie in the World Methodist Conferences, which have been meeting periodically since 1881. The next Conference will be in 2021 in Sweden. This group has no legislative power over participating denominations. It focuses on fellowship, worship, electing officers for the WMC, and overseeing the WMC's committee structure.
Carrying forward the work of the WMC in between conferences are a council president (currently J. C. Park of South Korea), a very small staff led by the General Secretary (currently Ivan Abrahams of South Africa), a steering committee, and a system of program committees.
Because of the extremely limited personnel resources in the WMC itself, much of the work that the organization does, it does through its program committees. Yet the committees vary greatly in the extent to which they function effectively and facilitate significant shared ministry among participating denominations. More effective committees are often dominated by a few strong individuals with clear ideas about what they want to accomplish and an understanding of the WMC as a salutary way to accomplish it.
In addition to the committee structure, the WMC serves as an umbrella for "affiliate" programs, which are operated mostly independently, but which have at least a nominal connection to the WMC. That connection can help draw in a wider variety of Methodist/Wesleyan/United participants to these programs and can also serve as evidence for or a justification of the "world-wide" nature of such programs. In reality, much of this programming originates in, is led by, and is funded by (mostly United Methodist) Americans or British Methodists.
The work that the WMC carries out generally falls into a few categories: education, evangelism, ecumenism, history, and peace-making. In education, the WMC is the origins of the International Association of Methodist School, Colleges, and Universities, which is mostly supported by GBHEM of the UMC, and other affiliate scholarly programs. In evangelism, the WMC serves as an umbrella for World Methodist Evangelism and the World Methodist Evangelism Institute, both American organizations with origins in the work of Eddie Fox and Maxie Dunnam. In ecumenism, the WMC operates the Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome and the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem (funded and staff mostly by Americans and Brits) and represents Methodists in discussions with other world faith communions. In history, the WMC maintains the World Methodist Museum in Lake Junaluska, NC, and has connections to some other affiliate programs. In peace-making, the WMC awards the annual World Methodist Peace Award.
As one can see, the WMC is often dominated financially and programmatically by The United Methodist Church and its American members, but in ways that often depend upon the current structures of apportionments and boards and agencies. Moreover, this domination by American United Methodists causes tensions with other participating denominations, who may resent this dominance or may have a different sense of what world-wide Methodist priorities should be.
Thus, there are three main challenges to the WMC serving as a means of continuing currently internal UMC international relationships in a post-UMC world. First, without the UMC as it currently exists, the WMC is likely to be a less robust organization that is less able to facilitate relationships and shared ministry. Second, if (post-)United Methodists try to remake the WMC for their own purposes, this could encounter strong resistance from other Methodist/Wesleyan/United denominations who already to some extent resent UMC domination of the WMC. Third, the priorities that the UMC might have for the WMC in serving as a means of continuing relationships may clash with priorities other denominations (some of whom already have internal international collaboration) may identify for the organization.
Friday, June 28, 2019
1. The Church throughout the world is one family and is under compulsion to seek to live a common family life. Jesus Christ is enough to maintain this unity, as well as to support the diversity that must exist within the family.
In terms of structure this will mean an autonomous church in the “locality” which is open at both ends: towards Church Union in the locality and towards participation in an international community. Indeed, no structure must be created, and no posture adopted which will make more difficult the quest for Church Union going on in different parts of the world than it is already. Particularly, financially strong churches must remember that they can unwittingly create a situation in which it is felt that gratitude for financial aid must be expressed by accepting policies which will please the donor churches.
2. A Church has no meaning apart from its task in Mission. In some countries the weakness in secular terms of the Church there is its main missionary asset. An international church structure must never be intended or used to destroy this asset.
A further factor is that a church engaged in mission has to be mindful of how it looks to those to whom it is seeking to commend the gospel. It is important, for instance, whether the Buddhists in Ceylon [Sri Lanka] think of the Church in Ceylon as belonging to Ceylon or as part of what to them looks like a religious empire. (The Roman Catholic Church is increasingly facing this problem. The Doctrine of Collegiality of Bishops is an attempt to meet this problem within the context of the Doctrine of the Primacy of Peter. There is no reason why Churches in the Reformed tradition cannot find a more satisfactory solution.)
3. The problem of autonomy is misconceived when the issue is raised, either in the form “we must be autonomous in our several countries”, or in the form “autonomy is a dangerous state into which you can trust only certain churches”.
The question always is a double one.
(a) What kind of autonomy must a church have in order that it may most effectively discharge its task and mission, maintain its image in the eyes of those among whom it is set and be conscious of its own selfhood?
(b) To what extent can a church in one region be a governing authority over a church in another region without distorting its own life? The necessity to govern raises as many problems as the necessity to be governed.
4. The truest safeguard against the dangers of nationalism in church life lies in strengthening the missionary movement. Churches live and work in countries. Countries have their own political and social dynamism. Churches must therefore be free to make their witness where they are. Otherwise they are deprived of an essential condition for obedience. But, at the same time, the church in the region must itself be an international community. This is one of the results achieved by the missionary movement.
It should not be forgotten that internationalism as such is also of various kinds. A colonial structure is also an international structure. In other words, true internationalism in a church structure cannot be achieved by side-stepping the autonomy issue.
5. There is an essential part which confessional groupings of churches can play and have to play in the search for Church Union, in the quest for contemporary re-statements of the Faith, in pressing forward the Christian Mission, and in helping their related churches in their various regions to maintain living contact with their particular spiritual heritage. Distortion arises only when confessional loyalties are so structured as to make the quest for local Church Union seem like a deviation or to make the attainment of autonomy seem like a lapse into isolation.
6. Also, the structure that is agreed upon, whether for the region or for the world, must be such as to be open to the future. It must be realized especially in the contemporary scene that not only are the present structures of church life under theological criticism, but that they are also being seriously corroded by the pressures of social change.
7. Whatever structure is agreed upon, provision has to be made for the Methodist Churches in the several countries themselves to become members of the World Council of Churches.
The fact must remain that there is serious questioning of the theological validity of creating a world-church which is at the same time a denomination. In the COSMOS plan [for an international Methodist church], the contrast is made between the de-centralized nature of this church and the nature of the Roman Catholic Church. The whole point is that no Roman Catholic will accept that his Church is a denomination. The issue is not as between centralization and de-centralization. The issue lies at a much deeper level. If the church is in the world and for the world, then the question must be squarely faced as to what secular realities should be taken into account in determining the churches’ structure. This is not the place to argue this question. The point has simply to be made that, however satisfactory the constitutional adjustments may be, there are those who cannot conscientiously belong to a world-church which is also a denomination.
The COSMOS plan, it is suggested, is to give to churches “overseas” a choice between two alternatives – autonomy and participation in a truly International Methodist Church. Here again the problem is that the matter is thought of in constitutional terms. What is needed is not a choice between two alternatives but a “both and”. Autonomy for a church is not a choice. It belongs to its very nature. It is simply one of the quirks of history that the modern discussion of autonomy for churches is following the same lines as independence for countries which once belonged to a colonial set-up. Both autonomy and internationalism must go together. It seems much more prudent, therefore, to try to achieve what is intended and what is agreed to generally is needed, i.e. churches effective in their regions which are at the same time safe-guarded against the dangers of nationalism and isolation by the creation of a structure which is theologically plural. This will have the advantage of drawing together the two main streamsof Methodism, British and American, from the very beginning, without having resolved what must remain an on-going theological debate.
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
“The Lord says a word, and the messengers of good news are a great army.” This text from Psalm 68:11 has often encouraged me as a woman in missionary work in Africa.
In all the history of the world, God needed humans to accomplish his salutary mission for the whole of humanity. The history and mission of The United Methodist Church in Africa is very important to me personally as a clergyperson because I am part of it.
I was called from a young age to serve God, something that is not easy. In this society, the primary roles of women were agriculture, child-care, caring for cattle, and housework. God freed me from this hold through The United Methodist Church in order to be a valuable tool in the primary mission of the Church.
After graduating with my degree in theology in 1984, I served in the following positions:
From 1984 to 1999, the Church entrusted me with a great responsibility at the level of our Episcopal region, that of coordinator of women's work. In that role, I took charge of technical, spiritual and literacy services for women in several ecclesial districts. After two years, the supervised women were able to manage their small businesses. Because they mastered basic concepts of reading and arithmetic, this work was successfully accomplished.
I worked in a newly established parish that had fewer than 60 members. After two years, more than 200 souls were won for Christ. God used me for the healing of a sick woman whose arms could not make any movement. Thanks to prayer, she was healed.
From 2000 to 2005, after having had an accelerated training in the field of basic community healthcare in India, the responsibility for basic community healthcare was entrusted to me.
Several seminars were organized in villages near the city of Kamina on preventive medicine with the motto, “Better to prevent than to heal.” In order to support this work financially, the wife of the missionary Tom Rayder of Kamina gave sewing equipment to upgrade the workshop as a basic community health care production unit.
From 2006 to the present day, several responsibilities have been entrusted to me among others:
I was circuit superintendent, that is to say, the head of several parishes. My duty of visiting them was indispensable to the clergy there. I travelled long distances varying between 50 and 60 kilometers by bicycle to achieve these objectives. A few years later, we planted five churches using the greatest strategy of prayer and door-to-door evangelism. Following this growth, the Bukama circuit became an ecclesial district with a District Superintendent.
As I journeyed in ministry, I did not cease to plant new churches and build new schools (Bukama, Luena, Lubudi, Kabalo) and to urge young people to serve God as clergy. That is how I have ten clergy as my spiritual children, including my current Superintendent in the Kalemie district where I work.
I was appointed superintendent of a rural district destroyed by wars, with responsibility for 11 pastors, 5 local preachers, and 10 heads of establishments (directors and prefects). Nine churches were rehabilitated, and six were built. Five new schools were built, and seven were rehabilitated. The membership statistics in the District of Kabalo increased from 326,540 to 912,693 members.
In view of this experience, the church has entrusted me with another great responsibility, that of being the Assistant to the Bishop.
In short, this mission has had a great impact in my life as a clergyperson and as the second female pastor in the North Katanga episcopal region and the first in our Annual Conference of Tanganyika.
Monday, June 24, 2019
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.
Questions and uncertainties about the future of The United Methodist Church as a world-wide denomination are swirling at the present moment. But this isn't the first time United Methodists and their predecessors have wrestled with such questions. In the 1960s, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) tried to discern how the Methodist Church should structure itself across national and regional boundaries in the future.
The time in which COSMOS operated was in many ways different than our own. Those discussions were heavily influenced by pressures for more autonomy from Asian and Latin American branches of the church, operating in parallel with processes of political decolonization. The expectation of increasing ecumenical unity up to and including denominational merger, both in the US and elsewhere, significantly influenced the contours of the discussion as well.
Nevertheless, perhaps there is something to be gleaned from the varying models of world Methodism considered by COSMOS. Questions of the tensions between connection and autonomy, concerns about rising nationalism, and debates over what types of decisions are best made at which levels of the church characterized discussions then as they do present-day discussions.
Here are links to descriptions of the four main alternatives that COSMOS considered. The text is taken from a COSMOS document generated in 1965. The original is held by the General Commission on Archives and History in Drew, NJ.
COSMOS discussed these alternatives in a series of meetings throughout the 1960s, most notably at a consultation held in Green Lake, WI, in 1966. That consultation included 250 participants from around the world, including representatives from the Evangelical United Brethren.
Although there was a Congress held in Atlantic City, NJ, in 1970 to consider forming an International Methodist Church, that proposal never came to fruition. Instead, The United Methodist Church took both of the first two approaches: full autonomy for those Asian and Latin American annual/central conferences desiring it, and a continuation of the central conference system for those who stayed in The United Methodist Church.
Americans were not convinced of the value of a reworking of structure and questioned whether COSMOS even had the authority to suggest such a new structure. Many were preoccupied with finishing the work of the 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren. Many outside the US who had pushed for a rethink of structure had become autonomous by 1970, and organizations like CIEMAL and the World Methodist Council provided other avenues for collaboration in the absence of an International Methodist Church.
That has led us to where we are today as a world-wide denomination. Yet where we are was not inevitable, as COSMOS shows us. Nor is the future ahead of us inevitable, either.
Alternative IV: A World Methodist Conference of Churches by D. T. Niles
In this proposal, the United States would become one of eight or ten regional or central conferences. There would also be regions made up of the present autonomous churches which have grown out of both the British Methodist and the American Methodist tradition.
There would be a world general conference of Methodist and Methodist related churches composed of some five hundred delegates elected by the churches in the regions. This body would presumably meet in the various regions. It would have sufficient power to provide for the unity of its member churches and to deal with world matters facing the churches. It will not be a legislative body. Such a world conference would be a consultative body, a court of reference and an executive organ whenever its member units desire to act together.
There would be found commissions of this world conference: a theological commission – a commission on law and discipline – a commission on social and international affairs – and a program committee.
Each region would hold its own conference at such time and such intervals as it may determine in order to deal with matters pertaining to its own region. Each region would, in effect, be an autonomous Methodist Church.
There would be sufficient unity in the structure so that it is a true organ of world Methodism. This is provided in the following ways:
1. A doctrinal basis embodying the historic tenets of Methodism shall be a part of the constitution of the conference in each region.
2. The General Conference will be a delegated body in which every annual conference or district synod, as the basic unity of the Church, is represented.
3. (A) There will be, relating together the conferences in the American Methodist tradition, a Council of General Superintendents (Bishops) in which body every member would be recognized as an equal and as a General Superintendent in the whole Church as well as of the electing unit. This Council will meet at such intervals as it may determine.
(B)There will be also, relating together the Conferences in the British Methodist tradition, a Council of Presidents of the Conferences, on which body every President will be recognized as an equal and as having standing as President in the whole Church as well as of the electing unit. This Council will meet at such intervals as it may determine.
(C) The Heads of the United Churches into which Methodist[s] have entered and which churches are member units of the World Conference shall be members of the Council of Presidents.
4. There will be written into the constitution of the conference in each region provisions giving effect to the Methodist tradition of a connexional system the itinerancy of its ordained ministry and its General Superintendents and District Chairmen [sic].
Alternative III: Decentralized International Methodism Church
This proposal is an effort to see what would be involved in the United States becoming a Central Conference – or a Regional Conference – alongside other central or regional conferences. The United States would become one of eight or ten regional conferences. There would be an international general conference composed of approximately four hundred delegates, elected by the annual conferences in all of the regions. This conference is intended to provide for the unity of the church and to deal with international problems and inter-regional relationships. It will be a delegated body. Each annual conference would have at least two delegates, one minister and one layman [sic]. Additional delegates would be elected at large from each region, so that the membership will be approximately one half of the United States and one half from other regions.
The general conference would have legislative power over matters distinctly inter-regional and international. It would establish the boundaries and number of the regional conferences; provide consultative boards and agencies for the work of the church; establish a judicial system; provide for the raising of funds for international and inter-regional responsibilities; and suggest standards for church membership, ministry, for ritual and worship; and offer its aid in other aspects of the work as requested.
The eight or ten regional conferences would meet quadrennially and deal with matters primarily relevant to the regions. Each regional conference would: (1) Formulate its statement of faith within the Methodist heritage; (2) Establish standards of church membership; (3) Provide for the organization and administration of the local church; (4) Set standards for the ministry; (5) Provide for a general superintendency of the region, including the designation of the title by which the general superintendent would be known (Bishop, general superintendent or president); Determine the number of superintendents, their term of support, compensation, powers, duties, privileges, and Methodist support.
The unity of the church would be provided for in several ways: (A) Common Methodist heritage in doctrine, ritual, policy; (B) The regional conferences would be bound together within a single constitutional framework. Within this framework greater or less power could be given to the general (international) conference or to the regional conference. (C) The international general conference would be a world forum with what other powers the church as [a] whole might choose to give it; (D) A council of general superintendents all of whom are equal. This council would meet at least once in each quadrennium and plan for the general oversight and promotion of temporal and spiritual interests of the entire church and for carrying into effect the rules, regulations and responsibilities prescribed by the general conference; and (E) An itinerant ministry and general superintendency.
Several questions have been raised concerning this proposal. Is there sufficient unity at the center of this organization? Is it a church? Does it provide adequately for unity or Methodist Churches in difference [sic] parts of the world? Does this proposal undermine efforts toward church union?
Alternative II: Encourage Developments Toward Autonomous and/or Union Churches
For the Methodist Church, consideration of autonomy as the goal toward which we should move in our structural relationship was given fresh impetus at the Asian Consultation in Park Dickson, Malaysia, November 1963. This consultation said:
“We believe that the Methodist Churches in Asia are called to give serious consideration to becoming autonomous churches or, in some countries, where it seems to be God’s will, uniting with other churches to become united churches. Development of Methodist autonomy will still be in the direction of church union which is an autonomous state. Any changes which contemplate autonomy will prepare the way for union. Such a step will also make eventual union easier to achieve be removing many of the present hindrances in our policy.
“Autonomy does not mean severance of our ties with Methodist churches in other lands or an unbiblical accommodation of the church to nationalistic sentiments present in some of our countries. It does not mean becoming self-supporting immediately or breaking the close relationship our churches have had with the Board of Missions in the U.S.A.
“Autonomy does mean becoming fully responsible for administration and legislation, for faith and practice with the Central Conference or its equivalent as the supreme governing body. The Methodist Church would become free to have, under God’s guidance, that form of church structure through which the mission of the church can be served best in each country. Realizing self-hood through self-government, an autonomous church will become more able to accept its place alongside other churches in the area and be free to establish church to church relationships throughout the world, participating fully in the ecumenical movement. With roots in the soil and a structure suited to the people, the autonomous church would be able to work and witness more effectively in its national and cultural environment.”
Autonomy is seen as necessary in order that people in each nation may visualize the church as an indigenous body—in order that the church may adequately fulfill its mission to and responsibilities for the life of the people in that particular nation—that the church is not seen as a foreign body. It is seen as a means to further church unity at the local level. It is the expression of a genuine maturity in the life of the church, and therefore the proper goal in church-mission structural relationships. It was suggested that autonomy is necessary “in order that Christ’s presence shall be truly and fully realized in each place where his body is.”
Alternative I: Modification of the Present System.
The Methodist Church now has a world-wide structure. This is in keeping with its heritage, its emphasis upon universal grace and its missionary drive. This structure has proven useful and fruitful in carrying the gospel to other parts of the world and in bringing together new Christians into churches. We ought not lightly to disregard a rich heritage if for no other reason that that it may be a structure with value to bequeath in due season to the whole church.
Now is no time to dismantle a world-wide structure. During a period of such extreme nationalism, is it wise to put aside an international fellowship? At a time when at political and economic and social level [sic], we are seeking ways and means to embody a world fellowship, is this time for the church to dismantle what world ties it does have. Do not isolated churches run the risk of becoming their tools of nationalism? Is it not possible that there is a danger in exchanging one form of disunity for another – that is national for denominational?
Methodism and its structure has [sic] been flexible in its approach to problems arising from its world-wide connections. The initial creation of the central conferences inaugurated for India and China in 1884, was an effort to deal creatively with the demands for greater freedom on the part of churches in each area and yet within [a] framework it [that?] maintained world-wide relationships. Therefore, now that there are further strains upon the connection, is it not possible to make further modifications as we have in the past to meet the needs? Where there is demand for greater freedom to write a discipline, would it not be possible under [the] present system to meet this need? Other objections would also be met through similar modifications. It may well be too late to consider such a drastic re-organization of the Methodist Church as is envisioned in the proposal for a decentralized international church. However the central conference can be modified at any meeting of the General Conference. Further the church is not prepared for such a drastic move. Would it not be better to maintain the present system until such time as the way into larger ecumenical union is seen more clearly?
Has the Methodist heritage made its larger and fullest contribution to the ecumenical movement? Is confessionalism necessarily inimical to church union? It may well be argued that Methodism has not yet finished its task, and it may be a betrayal both of Methodism and of the universal church if we dissipate our heritage before presenting it in its fullest form to the ecumenical movement.
But the aim and goal of all this is that Methodism may present itself more fully and more completely to the larger ecumenical movement and may work for this unity and pray for it.
Friday, June 21, 2019
The American Methodist Church has investigated the question of our global structure and representation several times throughout recent history. Rev. Bruce W. Robbins in his 2004 book, A World Parish? Hopes and Challenges of the United Methodist Church in a Global Setting, outlined the first two major investigations of an improved global ecclesiology by the UMC.
The first was shortly after the inaugural Central Conference episcopal election in 1930. The Committee on Central Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) returned with three options for possible ways forward:
1) The Central Conferences could all be developed into independent General Conferences, giving each church autonomy for self-governance without oversight, but not demanding that missional commitments between Conferences end.
2) Form a Central Conference in the United States as a regional body. All the Central Conferences would then relate in a smaller General Conference to maintain the connection and handle Methodist relations with other church bodies.
3) Maintain the structure as it stands with the American General Conference as the final authority and the Central Conferences as mission bodies of the “mother church”
The Committee claimed the voices of Central Conference representatives spoke most strongly for the final recommendation, to maintain the current polity (option #3) for the time being until more transition could take place in the organization of the Central Conferences.
It does us well while reflecting on this first discernment process to remember that American missionaries were often the representative delegates from the Central Conferences they were serving during this era of Church history, and it benefited the missionaries to remain connected to the American processes. Whether this was an implicit preference or an explicit act of colonialism we can not know, but it resulted in retention of an American-centric system into the next era of Methodism.
In 1948, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) replaced the Committee on Central Conferences in managing the connections of the international Methodist Church post-World War II. The decolonization process saw a preference for ecclesial autonomy, as peoples in newly established countries sought to have their churches reflect developing nationalism.
In 1951, the World Methodist Conference, started by the British Methodist Church, responded to decolonization by reorganizing as the World Methodist Council and relocating its headquarters to the United States.
But economic stability did not follow political independence for much of the world, making autonomy financially inviable, and political tensions between Capitalist and Communist powers added further tensions to international loyalties.
Responding to the changing climate of international governance, COSMOS began a major investigation of international structures in 1960. For the first time in 1964, Central Conference representatives were invited to partake in every meeting of COSMOS, rather than just the meeting preceding General Conference.
With the unification of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) at the 1968 Conference, an unprecedented 25 international Annual Conferences requested autonomy, a majority from Latin America.
The COSMOS recommendations to the 1968 Conference proposed familiar options for the future structure of the UMC:
1) Encourage autonomy for international conferences
2) Support regional General Conferences in the place of Central Conferences, each of which would create their own Discipline and organization, including a Regional Conference for the United States
3) Create a World Conference of the autonomous General Conferences for discussing global needs and continued mission partnerships
All of these suggestions were adopted by the 1968 General Conference and consultations were planned for the development of the World Conference.
However, by 1972, somewhat inexplicably, COSMOS reported its belief that the World Methodist Council would become a sufficient body for handling the connectional needs of global Methodism and that the establishment of a separate World Conference should be discontinued.
COSMOS also proposed its own discontinuance and the reestablishment of a Committee on Central Conference Affairs to deal with legislation relating to the Central Conferences and Autonomous Affiliating bodies. Over a decade of study, conferencing and relationship building between the most diverse decision making body of the UMC to date was simply dissolved. Additonal information on COSMOS will be provided in future posts.
A new directive to study the Global Nature of the United Methodist Church was given by General Conference in 1992, yet few substantive changes have been seen at the General Conference over the last seven quadrennia.
The Committee on Central Conference Affairs was re-established in 2008 as the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, chaired for the first time by a Central Conference Bishop, and has begun to undertake global investigation with a seriousness resembling the broad study initiatives of COSMOS in the 1960’s.
The designation of a Global Book of Discipline was established in 2012, and the Standing Committee is working in consultation with groups of clergy and laity across the connection on further revisions and simplifications to make the BOD more accessible and applicable cross-culturally.
Previous inquiries into the global structure of the church seem to have held an underlying assumption that the church in the United States would always maintain the majority at the General Conference, thus creating no need for the American Church to be designated as its own Central or Regional Conference. While it was recognized by members of COSMOS that issues at General Conference were unfairly weighted on American issues, this was not impetus enough to modify the structure. The focus on American issues at General Conference was considered an inconvenience for the 10% of delegates from outside the United States. The members of COSMOS likely could not have imagined that in just over 50 years 42% of delegates would come from outside the United States.
This global expansion is of course to be celebrated, but it has created a structure that may now be threatening the missional activities of the church in the American context. The Central Conferences maintain autonomy to modify decisions made by General Conference in their local context. No such process is afforded to the UMC in the US.
Within a few more quadrennia, the American UMC may become the minority at General Conference. Without a serious resurgence in action to reconsider the global structure, this could result in a flipped disadvantage where the mother church is left to carry out decisions made by her children, with no autonomy of her own.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Introduction and History
In debates about "feminism," too often one confronts abstract and simplified theses. It is worth the trouble of going to the field to see how things went yesterday and go today. Despite their marginalization, African women are creators and actors in several sectors: social, economic, political, religious and cultural. A woman’s identity is more determined by roles in the secular social that limit her rather than by her understanding and acceptance as a child of God who can exercise ministry in the world.
Most of the statistics available today report the presence of three women among every five missionaries, all countries considered together. That is to say, that the role of women in the mission is far from negligible. However, it has not always been so, as a quick historical glimpse highlights.
During the post-Reformation period, Christian missionaries emphasized the family. Women going out in mission had, as their primary responsibility, to care for their homes and to support their husbands in prayer (1 Corinthians 14.33 -36).
The difficulties faced by women in the mission of the church in Africa start with the fact that the acceptance of the missionary woman was not easy in the society where she worked.
Within African society, in a traditional approach, women could neither teach men nor exercise any authority over man. Another more current approach states that the woman could teach, but she was not allowed to occupy a position of authority.
The woman was poorly perceived by those around her, which points to discrimination on the part of men. Women encountered serious depression in the face of cultural arrangements where women in primitive society were considered second class.
On the one hand, knowing that a leader is necessary and that one has the gifts for assuming this function, but that the leadership role has not been offered because one is a woman, led to a lot of frustrations.
On the other hand, accepting such a position in a cultural situation where the woman did not usually occupy a place of leadership can cause strong tensions that will often be very difficult to manage. A woman assigned to a leadership position in mission can easily be judged badly, even by her own colleagues. If she makes an error, it will be judged more severely than a male colleague occupying the same position. If under her direction certain aspects of the work are not as satisfactory as expected, the fact that she is a woman will often be blamed, sometimes quite wrongly.
After several decades, the missionary movement had a great impact in Africa, where women played a large role in this mission, in accordance with the opinion that men and women are equal according to Galatians 3:28.
Men and women, youth and adults, rich and poor, all have understood their baptism as the basis for service in the Christian ministry. Historically, the Methodist movement has given women the opportunity to assert their callings to their duties and to ensure roles of ecclesial leadership for them.
Thus, The United Methodist Church in Africa involves women in all activities – evangelical, spiritual, material, financial and social. Therefore, in Africa, women perform all the same functions as a man; they are actively involved in the functions with which they have been entrusted, according to their gifts.
Over time, the opinion that men and women are equal in the church is spreading more and more nowadays, especially within the major denominations: Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran, and others. This is how John Wesley, the organizer of the Methodist movement, used the biblical foundation to encourage all people.
The church is aware of the importance of the contribution of women to its mission in Africa, which would be less dynamic, less ready to welcome education and generous service without them. They have helped the African church to clarify the understanding of proper service due the power of evangelism. This is particularly true from the point of view of dedication, self-giving, welcoming, listening, concrete attention to people small and large, rich and poor. It is a perspective capable of helping people to challenge certain mental patterns, prejudices or ways of understanding and to organize ecclesial life.
The challenge today in Africa is to give many more places to women in the management of ecclesial affairs. The voice of women continuing the mission must be heard in the same way as the voice of men, because the church is not for men only but also women, especially in Africa where our churches are 70% filled with women.
Mady Vaillant, “Les femmes dans la mission,” Fac-Réflexion 49 (1999), 24-36.
Ruth A. Tucker, “A Historical Overview of Women in Ministry,” Theology News and Notes (Fuller Theological Seminary, March 1995), quoted by Dr. Saphir Athyal.
E. M. Braekman, Histoire du Protestantisme au Congo, (Bruxelles: Librairie des Eclaireurs Unionistes, 1961).
Delia Halverson, Kabamba Kiboko, M. Lynn Scott, and Laceye Warner, Women Called to the Ministry: A Six-Session Study for The United Methodist Church, (Washington, DC: General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, The United Methodist Church, 2015).
Leevy Frivet, “Femmes pasteurs et femmes de pasteurs: Porte-voix des femmes,” Gender Links (March 30, 2013), https://genderlinks.org.za/classification/themes/femmes-pasteurs-et-femmes-de-pasteurs-porte-voix-des-femmes-2013-03-30/
The United Methodist Church, Le Quotidien du Défenseur Chrétien, Vol. 2: Ministères Globaux (Nashville, TN: [n.d.]).
Monday, June 17, 2019
In the wake of the Special General Conference in St. Louis, American United Methodists, particularly the laity, are talking about the global structure of our church with new vigor. This has led to a lot of questions and confusion about how we arrived at the current global structure, which gives some rights and privileges to Central Conferences outside of the United States which are not afforded to the American Church.
One primary question is how the Central Conferences are able to make adaptations to the Book of Discipline for their local context, yet adaptations to the Book of Disicpline which the American church must live under can only be made at the General Conference, with the influence and vote of global voices. There is currently no structure for the American church to make missional or cultural adaptations to the Book of Disicpline with the influence of only American voices.
Posts over the next several days will explore how this current situation came to be, and how we might approach our Global Structure moving forward.
Central Conference structures outside of the United States pre-date the uniquely American Jurisdictional structure as the level of regional organizing between the Annual and the General Conference. In the 1880’s, the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) had two active Annual Conferences in India, which interacted with each other in an official capacity only when together at the General Conference meeting in the US. The missionary and national Indian leadership created a regional delegated meeting to encourage cooperative ministry in their context.
In 1884, the General Conference of the MEC recognized this gathering as a Central Conference. Additional Central Conferences were created, and General Conference permitted these regional bodies to elect their own bishops beginning in 1928. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS) first adopted the designation of Central Conference in 1934, allowing for the management of church organization by missionaries and nationals in the field, with relatively little oversight from General Conference.
When the branches of American Methodism reunited in 1939, the expanded rights of the Central Conferences from the MECS tradition were added to the MEC tradition of supervised episcopal election. The rights of Central Conferences came to include electing bishops (under supervision and direction of General Conference); setting the length of tenure for bishops; providing courses of study; making adjustments to the BOD to reflect local ministerial needs, legal structures and land ownership; and allowing the Central Conferences to fix the borders of the Annual and Mission Conferences within their region. The main duties (and restrictions) created in 1939 remain in our current BOD, including the ability to make adaptations to the Book of Discipline for local application.
A representative Committee on Central Conferences proposed the addition of the Autonomous Affiliated designation in the 1940 Conference. Autonomy had become the best course of action for some missions outside the United States for reasons including political circumstance which required separation from any American relations (Mexico in 1930), the need for a national unified front (Japan in 1907 and Korea in 1930) complicated by the the separation of the Northern and Southern American Churches prior to 1939, or the desire for greater local control than the parameters of the Central Conference structure allowed (Brazil in 1930).
These Autonomous churches sought to maintain amicable and missional relationships with the “mother church,” and so the Board of Missions managed relations, and the churches honored non-voting delegates at their respective General Conference meetings.
Autonomous Affiliated Churches and United Affiliated Churches still maintain representative delegates to General Conference with full rights of the floor except for the right to vote. Today there are over 50 Autonomous Affiliated bodies related to the UMC.
Both of these designations, the Central Conference and the Autonomous Affiliated Church, were unique contributions to Methodist polity by American Methodist mission work. Yet they also created new complications. The majority view of missiologists throughout most of modern mission history has been that mission work in international settings should be undertaken with the goal of establishing local churches which are self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.
What was unclear in the early development of Central Conferences and Autonomous Affiliated churches was whether the establishment of “three-selfs” churches was still the intention of American Methodist missions overseas when maintaining Central Conferences with American oversight, rather than encouraging autonomy, or if this new connectional polity might be of greater benefit for the spread of the Gospel.
Our next post will investigate several attempts in our history to alter the global structure to wrestle with the competing goals of autonomy and maintained connection.