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.
While General Conference 2019 was a divisive experience and the legislative results hotly contested, the one thing that everyone seems to agree on in its aftermath is that The United Methodist Church cannot continue in the same form it has. Our present ecclesiological system is unable to respond adequately to the challenges of our life together, and it is necessary to find new ways of being Methodist together, or quite likely, apart from one another.
It is entirely possible that if the UMC splits, the remaining parts would have no relation to one another. Yet there are many who do not want to give up on our global connections even while there is some form of separation. How then can these connections continue?
Robert Hunt, in a recent blog post, asserts that "true unity is found only in the world-wide mission of the apostolic church," but sees such an understanding of unity as compatible with "a global Methodist Church made up of autonomous annual conferences."
What would such a global Methodist Church look like? One possibility is that it would look a good deal like CIEMAL, El Consejo de Iglesias Evangélicas Metodistas de América Latina y el Caribe (the Council of Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean).
CIEMAL is an organization that brings together fifteen autonomous Methodist churches. It "acts as a convener, guide and director of the service and the testimony of Latin American Methodism."
The member denominations of CIEMAL are entirely autonomous. They are responsible for their own doctrinal standards, worship guidance, clergy credentialing, and structures of authority and accountability. They also each have internal structures for joint mission and ministry and for shared fellowship among their members.
Yet the denominations of CIEMAL recognize that they have something to gain through the joint mission, joint ministry, and mutual fellowship provided by the wider body. CIEMAL does such things as promoting coordination between member bodies, facilitating fraternal exchange among member denominations, mutually training cross-cultural missionaries, recognizing and supporting newly-forming Methodist churches in the area (such as Columbia and Venezuela), resolving conflicts between Methodist bodies (as in Venezuela), and engaging other Methodist bodies around the world (such as the Methodist Church in Britain). All this happens through a Program Commission, a Council of Bishops, a four-person Executive Committee, and an occasional General Assembly.
CIEMAL was formed in the late 1960s when United Methodist Church annual conferences in Latin America were becoming autonomous but wanted to avoid becoming insular and instead maintain some connection to one another and The United Methodist Church, which participates in CIEMAL through Global Ministries.
If The United Methodist Church breaks up into two or more autonomous bodies, there could still be a role for some organization to play in facilitating conversations between members of these bodies, coordinating mutual mission and ministry work, training and sending missionaries, and supporting the creation of new Methodist churches in areas around the world. Such an arrangement could provide current United Methodists with enough space from each other through autonomy without surrendering the global sense of mutual compassion and fellowship that at best characterizes our international body as it is.