Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Daniel Bruno: Fifty years after the autonomy and the birth of the Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (IEMA)

Today's post is by Rev. Lic. Daniel A. Bruno. Rev. Bruno is a pastor of the Argentina Methodist Church and Professor of Church History. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) and appears here with the author's permission and in the author's translation.

"We retired, declaring that our holy aspirations are still standing ... maybe tomorrow we will return to the battle through new paths, according to the designs that God has prepared for us, since we have not been given to realize our ideals along the paths we have traveled so far" ... (1919)

With these words which expressed at the same time hope and frustration, one of the most conflicting and least known processes in the history of Rio de la Plata Methodism was closing. Between 1916 and 1918, a strong movement led by lay people and pastors had generated a public debate about achieving autonomy from the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The certainty of that movement was that “as long as our peoples reach the opinion that the Gospel we preach is an exotic doctrine, a religion of foreigners… the seed of the gospel will not develop, nor take root or bear fruit as we expect … ”

That nationalizing movement was a minority and was defeated at the beginning of 1919. But, as the proclamation that opens the article said, God had prepared other ways, although that old story`s leaders were no longer there to see them.

The sixties in the "south cone" of America 
Brazil and Mexico were the first Methodist churches to obtain autonomy in Latin America. For fifty years, both countries had the presence of two different Methodist churches in each country (northern and southern Methodism). Towards the end of the 1920s, American Methodism began a process of unification to overcome that division.

The merging of both missions made it necessary now to clarify which of the two mother churches would keep the relationship with local churches. For that reason, the best solution was to declare the new reunified missions to be autonomous churches. After a long process with their respective institutions, both missions achieved their autonomy in 1930.

The history and process in Latin America`s southern cone was different. The churches that came up from the first Methodist mission of the Southern Cone (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru) had to wait until the 1960s to reach that goal. Certainly, the emancipatory atmosphere of the ‘50 and ‘60 in political, religious and social fields had some similarities with the one that lived in 1916. However, the success of the process which culminated in the autonomies of those churches cannot be explained only by its own will and vision. The new shape that Methodism in the US was taking, its context and decisions, also should be taken into account in order to explain the process of autonomy in their missions abroad.

In the mid-sixties, two factors that facilitated the autonomy process came together. On the one hand, there was a progressive need of the missions of the southern cone to adapt the structure of churches to their contexts. They also needed their own space for political decisions out of the control of central interests. Many of their leaders, in clear harmony with that which had been expressed in 1917, claimed that "the effectiveness of their testimony could be annulled because of their historical and organic relationship with American Methodism." Which was true.

But, on the other hand, the structural needs that affected the US Church demanded a redefinition of its objectives and especially its budgets for missions. Since post war time, missions in Africa and Asia began to raise special interest. These were missions which had always been subject to greater attention and budget than that given to those in Latin America, and in this circumstance would be even more.

So, in this context the action of the Commission on the Structure of the Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) began to mobilize the idea about the need for missions in Latin America to separate from the mother church. That would be decisive for the realization of the autonomy process. COSMOS began its work in 1964 and officially concluded it in 1972; however, by 1968 its task was almost totally completed.

In that year, COSMOS sent a recommendation to the General Assembly of the Methodist Church to grant the request for autonomy that the churches in Chile, Peru, Argentina and Uruguay had been asking for.

So, in order to finalize the autonomy processes, these would need to be legitimized in local assemblies, which should create the new national churches. And so it happened: Chile, February 1969, Argentina and Uruguay, October 1969, and Peru, January 1970.

The Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina is born
The preamble of the IEMA Constitution declares:

"In Rosario de Santa Fe, on October 5th of the year of the Lord of nineteen sixty-nine, one hundred thirty-three years after the establishment of the Methodist Church in Argentina,
 •  "Grateful to God our Lord, whose Spirit`s work, through our parents in the faith, made us be born to the truth of the Gospel in the ranks of this Church, ……
 •  "Convinced that the present times demand all the fearlessness and creative capacity of a people rooted in the evangelical faith and energized by the power of the Holy Spirit for the fulfillment of the mission that Christ has entrusted to his Church
 •  "Wanting to give a more native and authentic character to our testimony for its greater effectiveness, and feeling the need to be endowed with more autonomy and freedom to give us legislation adapted to the needs and circumstances of our immediate situation,

We declare our willingness to establish autonomously, the ARGENTINE METHODIST EVANGELICAL CHURCH, whose life and action will be governed by the Constitution and General Regulations."

Autonomy with connexionality
It is important to note that because of this process of autonomy of the Methodist churches, the Council of Methodist Churches of Latin America (CIEMAL) was born in February 1969. In its first plenary, it declared:

"The time has come for Latin Americans to demonstrate greater responsibility, consolidating the unity of Methodism in Latin America, to avoid fragmentation, through the autonomy of the Churches of the continent."

The main objective of this entity was to prevent national autonomies from provoking the atomization of Methodism in Latin America. For this reason, the new council would try "to develop a structure that would allow Latin American Methodism to maintain its unity in the mission in a continent as vast and differentiated as ours" without implying that it would interfere with the legislation and politics of each autonomous church.

In the closing sermon of the Constitutive Assembly of the IEMA held in Rosario on October 5-7, 1969, Bishop Carlos Gattinoni said:

"We do not always see the way, but we see Jesus going forward with the great promise, 'just as the Father sent me, I send you.' There was great despair in the work of Methodism in the 30s, when they told me the Methodist church is about to be extinguished ... but it was reconstituted in the 40s and 50s, and it was proposed to extend ... There were new senses of march, new theological concepts, and new social awareness being displayed. But we are sure that we must move forward with more boldness through fields and cities. Our program will be given to us by Christ, because he is the right hand of God."

And that is still our prayer, after fifty years. Throughout this time new questions continue to open, such as those that unveiled the precursors of the beginning of the century. Surely, that process of questions will not stop and probably that is a good thing, for it lets us know that we are still a church in the process of autonomy.

This process manages to shape a church laid out and sustained based on an open mission tailored to the needs of the people, because "our program is given to us by Christ, because he is the right hand of God."

Monday, October 28, 2019

The UMC and Jared Diamond’s Upheaval, Part 1: Defining the Crisis

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 read Jared Diamond’s book Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. In it, Diamond examines a variety of national crises, historical and contemporary, and assesses those nations on twelve factors impacting a nation’s ability to resolve a crisis. Diamond has adapted these twelve national factors from individual factors identified by crisis therapists as relevant to whether or not individuals can successfully resolve personal crises.

This got me thinking: If Diamond could adapt these individual factors to examine how nations respond to their crises, could this set of factors be further adapted to examine how organizations respond to their crises? More specifically, what might these twelve factors tell us about The United Methodist Church as an organization and its ability to successfully resolve the crisis in which it finds itself?

The factors that Diamond identifies for nations are as follows (see Table 1.2 on p. 62), with notation on how I intended to adapt these factors to examine the UMC as a denomination, mostly by a simple substitution of denomination for nation:
1. National [denominational] consensus that one’s nation [denomination] is in crisis
2. Acceptance of national [denominational] responsibility to do something
3. Building a fence, to delineate the national [denominational] problems needing to be solved
4. Getting material and financial help from other nations [denominations or organizations]
5. Using other nations [denominations] as models of how to solve the problems
6. National [denominational] identity
7. Honest national [denominational] self-appraisal
8. Historical experience of previous national [denominational] crises
9. Dealing with national [denominational] failure
10. Situation-specific national [denominational] flexibility
11. National [denominational] core values
12. Freedom from geopolitical [financial, legal, and cultural] constraints

Diamond also raises several other questions regarding nation’s abilities to resolve crises (p. 66-7), which are worth quoting here:
•    "the crucial role of political and economic institutions
•    "questions about the role of a nation’s leader or leaders in resolving a crisis
•    "questions more generally about group decision-making
•    "the question of whether a national crisis leads to selective changes through peaceful resolution or through violent revolution
•    "the question of whether different types of national changes are introduced simultaneously as part of a unified program, or else separately and at different times
•    "the issue of whether a national crisis was triggered by internal developments within the nation, or else by an external shock from another country
•    "the problem of achieving reconciliation (especially after a crisis involving a war or mass killings) between parties that were in conflict – reconciliation either between groups within a country, or else between a country and its neighbors."
While I am not going to address each of these questions individually for the UMC, issues of leadership, decision-making, and conflict are relevant to my assessment of the factors for crisis-resolution.

Before turning to an analysis of how the UMC rates on the various factors for crisis-resolution, it is worth saying a bit more about what exactly the crisis in the UMC is, or at least how I am understanding it for the sake of this thought exercise.

It might seem obvious to many that the crisis in The United Methodist Church is the long-standing debate over the role of LGBTQ persons in the church, which has come to a head following the special called General Conference in 2019. Specifically, the questions at the heart of this debate are whether the church should ordain non-celibate LGBTQ persons and whether UMC ministers should perform gay weddings. Disagreement over these two questions reflects a larger set of diverging theological, cultural, and ecclesiological understandings. Yet it is debate over these two questions specifically that has led to the threat of a denominational schism.

While this issue is certainly the central issue in the crisis that the UMC is facing, it is not the only one. There are two other issues that I believe form important parts of the crisis that the UMC is experiencing and affect how the UMC responds to its debates over the role of LGBTQ persons in the church.

The first of these additional issues is the issue of the world-wide or global nature of the church. The UMC has members in four continents, several dozen countries, and many cultures and languages. Moreover, the number of members from outside the United States and their representation at General Conference has increased significantly in recent decades.

Members from outside the United States should by no means be blamed for the present debate over the status of LGBTQ persons, but it is fair to say that the process of resolving questions about the status of LGBTQ persons in the church, possible futures for the church, or any other issue is significantly complicated when people from multiple cultural, national, and linguistic backgrounds are involved in the decision-making process. Thus, another important aspect of the UMC’s present crisis is reflected in the questions: When shall we make decisions together across cultural, national, and linguistic boundaries, and when should decisions be made more locally? When we do make joint decisions, how should those decisions be made? The UMC’s current answers to these questions seem to many to be inadequate.

The final issue in the UMC’s crisis is the long-term decline in membership in the United States and associated impending decline in funding for the activities of the church. The United Methodist Church has famously been declining in its US membership, which is the largest bloc of its membership, since its formation in 1968. This long-term decline has heightened the stakes in the debate over the place of LGBTQ persons in the church for many Americans. For many, the debate is not just about justice, holiness, or ethics, but rather feels like it is about the very survival of the church.

Until recently, an increase in affluence among US members allowed the church to continue to expand its budget for joint denominational ministries, which is 99% funded by the US. Yet even prior to US churches and members withholding apportionments in protest of General Conference 2019, it was clear to observers that the UMC had reached peak apportionments, and the amount for joint mission and ministry would decline in the future. This factor of money also makes the debate over the role of LGBTQ persons much more complicated than it would be if the UMC were composed entirely of financially self-sufficient annual conferences, central conferences, and other bodies.

Thus, the UMC is facing a crisis over its future that is fueled by debates over the status of LGBTQ persons in the church, questions about cross-cultural and international decision-making, and fear and anxieties about declines in US membership and financial giving. It is perhaps worth noticing that all three components of this crisis are long-standing, even though the crisis seems to have come to a head following the special called General Conference earlier this year.

Having set forth the scope of the crisis that the UMC is facing, I will turn in subsequent posts to an assessment of how the UMC does on the factors impacting its ability to resolve the crisis.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Recommended Reading: US Regional Structure Proposal

The Connectional Table has put forward a proposal to General Conference 2020 (or perhaps more accurately, two proposals) to create a new regional structure for the United States. Pages are available online continaing an announcement of the CT's intention to do so, its announcement of having done so, the text of the legislation, a narrative description of the rationale for the proposal, and frequently asked questions about the proposals.

The CT proposes a two-stage process: first, the creation of a standing committee of General Conference that would be the U.S. Regional Committee, tasked with screening all GC legislation that primarily impacts the US. In this regard, it would be a cognate to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.

Then, eventually the U.S. Regional Committee would be replaced by a U.S. Regional Conference, separate from General Conference, that would take responsibility for making changes for the US context to adaptable portions of the Book of Discipline, as central conferences do in their contexts. Depending on how quickly the church moves to the second stage, the first stage may not be necessary for long.

This legislation is interesting for two reasons:

First, although its origins predate the called General Conference in 2019, it is usually talked about as one of the "plans" for GC2020 to take up in the wake of GC2020. That is not really correct, as it is neither a comprehensive plan for the future of the church nor a response to GC2019. But it is tied to or in harmony with some of the other plans for the church, including the UMC Next plan and the Filipino plan.

Second, this proposal seeks to change the long-standing, US-centric structure of the UMC by creating a structure for the US that would parallel some of the powers of the central conferences. Note that the legislation still leaves the US in a separate class of structure by itself; the US does not become a central conference. In part this is necessary because of the continued existence of jurisdictions under this proposal. Thus, the US still remains a unique, if somewhat less priviledged part of the church under this legislation.

A main reason (beyond the issue of jurisdictions) for calling the proposed US structure a "Regional Conference" instead of a "Central Conference" is because of sensitivities to the term "central," given the racist history of the segregated Central Jurisdiction. Certainly it is laudable to want to make a clear statement against racism and a clear break with the church's racist history.

Yet, if it is not okay to have Americans in a structure with the name "central," because the Central Jurisdiction was a separate structure for black and brown people, then why is it still okay to have separate structures for black and brown people with the name "central" in other countries? Why not change the name for areas outside the US, too? Do we as a church think that echoes of second-class segregation are okay for those outside the US? It seems to me that we must commit ourselves to anti-racist practices not just domestically, but internationally as well.

Aside from the issue of the name, while the proposed legislation does not make the US function in quite the same way as the rest of the church, it seems a step in that direction and an important way to give the US some more missional flexibility in adapting to its context. The proposal is thus well worth a read.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Robert Haynes: Toward a Wesleyan Biblical Theology for Short Term Mission

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism. It is adapted from excerpts from his book Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage (Wipf and Stock, 2018). It is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

As I have pointed out previously, there is a lack of direct engagement with scriptural teaching on mission used by United Methodist STM teams. When this occurs, that vacuum is filled by cultural influences. In a cultural that highly prizes touristic experiences, we should not be surprised that STM has been shaped, then, to resemble the American tourist culture in which it was founded.

There has been, largely, a void of theological work in STM. Training in STM is largely absent in seminary and theological education. As a result, that void has been filled with many well-meaning, faithful Christians who have acted without proper theological direction from their leadership.

Rather than simply treat some of the symptoms of STM, it is necessary to treat the root cause of the problem. Theologies shape motivations, and motivations shape actions. If we want to change the actions on a STM, a sound Wesleyan theology of mission must be taught at every level. Only then can lasting change occur.

Such a work begins with a careful examination of the Scripture’s teaching on mission. It must move beyond a simple proof-texting of the “Great Commission” in Matthew (though the command to make disciples is important) as an excuse to leave the country. Rather, the whole narrative of Scripture, that points to Jesus’ example and command for self-abasing, cruciform love and service must be embodied.

Two accounts of Jesus’ teaching on mission, and the disciple’s role in mission, provide a starting place for this missional discussion. The first is in Luke 4:16-30. This passage is the central teaching on mission in Luke’s Gospel. This declaration of the centrality of Jesus' ministry to the poor, the setting aside of vengeance, and the mission to the Gentiles is primary.

In this announcement of Good News to the poor, he has in mind not just the financially disadvantaged, but also those deemed as pariahs by many in First-Century society, namely women, tax-collectors, and Samaritans. In a radical departure from the religious and societal barriers of the time, Jesus includes positive treatment for these otherwise shunned groups. Such is the declaration of Jesus' mission. For Luke, the category of "poor" is not limited to financial position, but it is a social category that can be used to describe the disadvantaged, spiritual blind, oppressed and captives as illustrated in the discourse in the synagogue in Nazareth.

A second passage helpful for our discussion is found in the fourth Gospel. John's Gospel illustrates not only what the disciples are to do when demonstrating Jesus' teaching, but also how to do so. John records Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to the disciples and his announcement to them about this new reality of life: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.'" (John 20:21) To understand the church’s role in mission, it is important to realize the “as” of Jesus’ message as a command to emulate his example as the disciples are sent forth.

Missiologists often see three key points in this commissioning: 1) Jesus showed them the scars from his crucifixion wounds. As such, missioners, like all other Christian disciples, should not draw back from human suffering. Such suffering could not be as profound as the suffering Jesus endured.

2) It is significant that the disciples are sent "as" Jesus was sent by the Father. They are to go in the same way God sent Jesus. The disciples are now sent by Jesus. That means that his followers are to do the things he did, teach the way he taught, and to the people he sought.

3) Jesus breathed on the disciples as they received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who will empower them to teach, to suffer, and to serve as he has just commanded. From fulfilling the Old Testament admonishments in Micah to love mercy, do justly, and love God to the commission of Jesus to "go" and serve "as" the Father sent him, Christians must respond to the needs of others. This must be done not only in transnational contexts, but in local contexts as well.

Wesleyan theology embraces the all-encompassing focus of the Gospel of Matthew: that believers have a responsibility to share in the work of Christ in bringing a message of hope in this world, not just waiting for the next. The assertion that Luke's evangelism to the rich and poor alike should be a part of the missionary message is another area of intersection. John’s proclamation of the work of the kingdom and Paul’s notion of the urgency of the timeliness of mission are both important premises for a Wesleyan mission theology.  Such biblical motivations are foundational to Wesleyan mission. Leaders of STM should actively, consistently, and robustly engage a biblical theology of mission to shape all of their practices. Only then will the current practice of a personal and communal pilgrimage, framed as a STM trip, be replaced with a lifestyle of mission that reflects Scripture’s teaching.

I am not suggesting that people stop traveling, stop serving, or stop learning. Quite the opposite.  However, STM is failing to realize its potential due to a lack of robust theological reflection by its leaders and participants. When the practice moves away from pilgrimage towards a more biblical practice of mission, it can begin to embrace such possibilities. Mission, including STM, properly understood and practiced, takes place when every self-abasing desire of the individual Christian, every program of the church, and the orientation of her leaders is consumed by the Mission of God.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Filipino UMC Link Between Revival, Unity, and Mission

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.

In a previous post, I recounted the story of the Lito Tangonan-led split in the Philippines UMC in the early 2010s. I argued that politically this split has made those in the UMC more committed to the global church and more averse to the possibility of further splits in the UMC in the Philippines.

Yet there has also been a significant theological development that has come out of the aftermath of the Tangonan split. For the Philippines UMC, revival, unity, and mission go together. One can best see the connection between these three theological concepts in the Revive events held in the Philippines.

The first Revive event was held in November 2012. It was a revival gathering of 8,000 United Methodists from across the Philippines. It was organized by lay Methodists, especially retired Philippines Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

The event was intended as a direct response to the Tangonan split. Puno referred to the event as an attempt to heal “our wounded church,” a reference to wounds incurred during the split.

The event also came just two weeks before the Philippines Central Conference met to elect bishops. 16 out of the 26 candidates for episcopal election spoke at the event. I am sure that part of the reason for holding a revival and prayer meeting at which the episcopal candidates spoke was to ensure that the Spirit would guide delegates two weeks later in making good choices of episcopal leaders, thereby avoiding another harmful saga like that set off by Tangonan’s election four years earlier.

The event drew on and sought to reignite Filipino Methodist holiness piety, which have its roots in a holiness theology shared among the Philippines and the US in the early 20th century, one that has proven to be more enduring in the Philippines than in the US. Yet in addition to the focus on holiness, there was also a focus on unity, an important theme for an event organized to respond to the Tangonan split. American speaker Scott Kelso, one of the main presenters, spoke about “praying for healing and unity.”

Unity continued to be a main focus for Revive 2, held in November 2016, just before the next meeting of the Philippines Central Conference. That event was even more popular than the first, drawing 10,000 Filipino United Methodists, including participants from across the Filipino theological spectrum. The theme for Revive 2 was “Go in Faith, Go in Power, Go in Unity,” making even clearer the connection for Filipino United Methodists between revival, unity, and mission.

Reynato Puno was again a major organizer of the event, and he again connected it to unity in the wake of the Tangonan split. In a UMNS interview for the 2016 event, he explained the origins of the event in 2012 by saying, “Some of the churches were breaking away because of some issues not being reasonably resolved. As laymen, we thought that the proper response to the crisis was to have a revival.”

And although the church was past the worst of the split in 2016, the issue had by no means faded from memory. In testimonies by current bishops shown at the revival, Bishop Rudy Juan, then bishop of the Manila Episcopal Area, mentions the AIMP split in his description of the challenges and goals in the work of his episcopal area (see minute 13).

Nor was Puno the only one to make the connection between revival and unity. Several videos were produced for the event, including interviews with retired Filipino bishops. The opening video for the event includes several retired bishops speaking of the connection between revival, unity, mission, and evangelism.

A history of the UMC in the Philippines produced for the event (worth a watch in its own right) concludes with remarks by retired Bishop Soriano linking unity, revival, and mission. In those remarks, he specifically mentions the debate over sexuality as an issue of disagreement, but one that need not preclude unity for the sake of mission.

Moreover, there is evidence that this theological linking of revival, mission, and unity has continued to have currency among Filipino (and Filipino-American) United Methodists since the Revive events. In announcing the formation of the Global Filipino United Methodists Movement earlier this year, Rev. Edgar De Jesus again made the connection between revival, unity, and mission, saying “This [mission] movement is a wakeup call to the people called Methodists to keep the main thing the main thing — the centrality of our faith in Jesus Christ, the humble servant and the risen one, who draws us into profound community with one another in love and unity.”

To grasp the significance for the UMC connection as a whole of this linking of revival, unity, and mission by Filipinos, consider some of the American alternatives.

For American centrists, there is a strong link between unity and mission, but that linkage typically lacks the inclusion of revival. Thus, unity is primarily understood in structural terms – we as United Methodists are united because we are part of one organization. For Filipinos, however, unity has less of structural connotation and more of a spiritual one – we are united because of our connection in Christ and our love for one another. That spiritual dimension to unity is evident in de Jesus’ quote above.

For American traditionalists, there is a strong link between revival and mission, but instead of these two being linked to unity, they are linked to purity. American traditionalists believe that revival will lead to mission, especially in the form of evangelism. But American traditionalists believe that for such revival to occur, the church must be pure, especially pure in its teachings around sexuality, which is to say, of one mind about those teachings. For American traditionalists, purity leads to spiritual power, whereas for Filipinos, unity with one another leads to spiritual power.

American progressives are less likely to use language of revival and mission, though they do have a vision of a future church where cherished spiritual values are in greater abundance (revival) and in which the church has an impact on social issues in the world around it (mission). They are, however, often antagonistic to language of unity, seeing it as a term used to justify continued oppression. It is clear that for progressives, as for traditionalists, purity is the theological virtue that will lead to the church they want, not unity. For progressives, this purity means a church that is pure from anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

There are also different understandings of mission among American centrists, American traditionalists, American progressives, and Filipinos. Centrists are most likely to think in terms of charity, traditionalists in terms of evangelism, and progressives in terms of social justice. Filipinos are more likely to have a wholistic view of mission which encompasses all three, since all three have been important to the UMC in the Philippines, not just through separate constituencies, but through overlapping concern.

Thus, the Philippines again represents a different starting point from which to think about the nature of the global church, one that could potentially lead to different conclusions about the future of that global church, were others willing to listen to Filipino theology and history and see where thinking alongside them might lead.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Recommended Viewing: History of the UMC in the Philippines

The Philippines Central Conference put together this 13 minute video of its history in 2016. That history is recounted (mostly in English, some in Tagalog) by retired bishops of the Philippines Central Conference. Thus, the history is presented from a Filipino perspective, both in terms of narrators and producers.

The video recounts major events within the UMC in the Philippines and does an especially good job of linking the development of the UMC in the Philippines to the political history of the Philippines, including US colonialism, World War II, and the contest between dictatorship and democracy.

It would serve as a good resource for college or seminary classes or church study groups seeking to learn more about the history of this branch of the UMC.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Robert Haynes: Why Aren’t Short-Term Mission Teams Using the Bible?

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism. It is adapted from excerpts from his book Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage (Wipf and Stock, 2018). It is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

As a part of my in-depth research in the United Methodist short-term mission (hereafter STM), I interviewed teams to learn more of their motivations for mission service. One question I asked was about the biblical passages and/or verses that informed their mission service. When I posed the question, I expected it to be one of the easiest for team leaders and team members to answer. However, the question brought a level of discomfort for many.

None of the teams in my field research, all of whom were sponsored by United Methodist Churches, reported using an intentional Bible study or mission curriculum before, during, or after their trip. Even some seasoned veterans had trouble providing common passages associated with mission. This trickled down to their team members in terms of the lack of intentional Bible study for their mission teams.

This lack of Scripture in explaining mission is very telling and reflects problems with denominational resources. Consider that the UMVIM Team Leader Handbook does not offer a section on biblical or theological reflection of mission, only a suggestion to download a twenty-five-page devotional guide from their website. In the list of "best practices," the recommendation of "Spiritual Formation" is listed last behind logistical considerations.[1]

A comparable resource offered for volunteers is similarly problematic. A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers is the resource offered from The United Methodist Church's chief mission agency: the General Board of Global Ministries. This work should be commended for utilizing Scripture more so than the Team Leader Handbook. The material does attempt to articulate a theology of mission aimed at the level of the STM practitioner.

Yet, problems remain. The biblical material seemed to point to the enticement for "Volunteer Mission Experiences and Spiritual Transformation."[2] For example,

"United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) Experiences offer a unique context for spiritual transformation.... [W]e often become so immersed in our busy schedules and the noisy demands of our daily lives that we neglect to care for our souls. The act of going to a different place and leaving our ordinary lives behind may open us to hear God speaking to us."[3]

Such sentiments are firmly couched in the idealization of STM as personal edification. Service billed as mission but aimed at self-fulfilling spiritual growth does not conform to a biblical Wesleyan theology of mission. However, it is interesting that no teams in my research reported using these materials but echoed these sentiments.

A Mission Journey should be affirmed for seeking to articulate a theology for all of mission, including STM, with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries' Mission Theology statement. Though this statement does include language that alludes to biblical messages, there is no explicit instruction to use Scripture as a directive for mission. Additionally, the "Best Practices for UMVIM/VIM (Sending and Hosting Teams)" only lists logistical and cultural concerns, not a directive for scriptural engagement.[4] Even in The United Methodist Church's key mission agencies' statements of mission, biblical engagement was not primary.

Since the Bible is not a significant part of mission training for team leaders or their team members, it may be expected that STMers had difficulties discussing their work with biblical motivations. When teaching a biblical theology for mission is not the primary task for mission leaders and their team members, cultural influences will take over the space theology should occupy. As a result, the wide-spread practice of crafting a meaningful experience for the participant, so predominant in American touristic culture, becomes the driving force for service activities done in the name of mission. Such is the danger of allowing cultural influences to shape ecclesial practice when something other than Scripture becomes the driving force in these activities. Yet, a proper understanding of the role of church, mission, the Kingdom of God, and the missio Dei cannot be found outside of Scripture.

Perhaps the ongoing Wesleyan/Methodist movement can embrace the lessons of its origin to catch a glimpse of its participation in the missio Dei and to do so in the mutual accountability of clergy and laity. Key components of the work of the missio Dei in the current context will include a biblical understanding of a radical solidarity between the missionary and those served, an embracing of the world as the parish, and a recognition that all are poor in some way. This is particularly true for the growing movement of United Methodist STM. Its leaders must assess their priorities in formation of the laity to admonish John Wesley’s call to "labour to do of the ability which God giveth."

In my final post in this series, I will suggest a Wesleyan biblical theology of mission that STM leaders can use in shaping their congregations’ engagement in STM.

[1] Team Leader Handbook (Birmingham, AL: United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, 2015), 6-7; Lyons, R. G. Preparing for the Journey: A Devotional Guide for Teams, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2016.
[2] Jones, U. and J. Blankenbake. A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers (Nashville, TN: Upper Room, 2014), 17.
[3] A Mission Journey, 19.
[4] A Mission Journey, 145-49.

Monday, October 14, 2019

UMC Schism and the Philippines

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.

Given how focused US United Methodists are on the possibility of a split in the UMC in the United States, it may come as a surprise to many that the UMC has already experienced splits in other countries in the last 15 years. In 2018, both Nigeria and Burundi reconciled previous schisms within the UMC, and those are just the reconciled schisms.

These splits have been unrelated to the current US debate on sexuality. Nonetheless, they do provide some perspective on just how Amero-centric is our fear that the UMC might split. It already has, and for the most part, nobody outside the country in which a schism happened has noticed. It is a sign of American privilege in the UMC that we expect a US split to be of central importance to the rest of the church. Certainly, an American split would have financial ramifications for the rest of the church, but that just reinforces the point about how Amero-centric the UMC is.

I would like to share the story of one particular recent split – the Ang Iglesia ng Metodista sa Pilipinas (AIMP) schism in the Philippines. This story is important for understanding current Filipino attitudes toward the UMC, which as I have suggested before, may be pivotal in determining the outcome(s) of GC2020. It also hints at how ugly church splits can get, though certainly a split in the US would play out differently than in the Philippines because of different legal and cultural systems.

Much of the information presented here comes from Chapter 4 of Scotty McLaughlin’s 2015 PhD dissertation at the University of Michigan, “The Boundary Indefinite: Schism and the Ethics of Christian Strategy in the Philippines,” corroborated with other sources, including articles by Linda Bloom ([1] and [2]).

In November 2008, Rev. Lito C. Tangonan was elected bishop in the Philippines Central Conference and assigned to the Manila Episcopal Area. Tangonan was serving as a district superintendent prior to his election and was an outspoken proponent of autonomy for the UMC in the Philippines and critic of the global structure of the UMC.

Within a year after Tangonan became bishop, charges of misconduct were brought against him. While denominational records kept the details of the charge confidential, it became known, at least in the Philippines, that he was accused of sexually assaulting a female assistant. Tangonan denied the charges, referring to them as a “smear campaign.”

In December 2009, the Philippines College of Bishops placed Tangonan on paid leave as his case was considered, a decision whose legitimacy was affirmed by the Judicial Council in April 2010. Retired Bishop Daniel Arichea was assigned to replace Tangonan as interim bishop, starting in January 2010.

However, rather than accept his suspension and Arichea’s replacement of him, Tangonan continued to try to exercise the functions of bishop. While barred from the episcopal office building, he called annual conference meetings in areas where he had strong support. This resulted in several competing annual conference meetings, wherein one was held by Tangonan, and one was held by Bishop Arichea. The Judicial Council ruled against Tangonan and for Bishop Arichea five times (once in 2010, three times in 2011, and once in 2012) in determining which annual conference meeting had been the validly constituted one.

In the midst of this dispute, the executive council of the Council of Bishops added their own suspension of Tangonan in July 2011 after he did not attend a meeting with Bishop Goodpaster in Georgia that was aimed at resolving the conflict. Instead, Tangonan released a public letter to Goodpaster, calling his suspension “illegal,” refuting the right of the Philippines College of Bishops or the UMC Council of Bishops to oversee him, and referring to himself as “the legitimate elected bishop.”

Around this time, Pangonan, working with supporters, began to lay the groundwork for leaving the UMC and forming an autonomous denomination with himself as the head. Tangonan officially resigned from the UMC later in 2011. Paperwork to register the new denomination – the Ang Iglesia ng Metodista sa Pilipinas – as a corporate entity was filed on Dec. 7, 2011. Tangonan was then elected as bishop of the new denomination.

Approximately 130 churches and 2000 members left with Tangonan, according to the AIMP’s own reporting, though some of those churches have been returned to the UMC and control of others remains disputed. These numbers represent about 7% of churches and 1.5% of Filipino UMC members at the time. However, the defections were not spread evenly across the Philippines, with the majority in the West Middle Philippines, Middle Philippines, Philippines – Cavite, and Palawan Annual Conferences.

Because Tangonan and his followers did not use formal UMC procedures to leave the UMC and because they sought to take local church properties with them, conflict soon ensued between the UMC and AIMP over control of property, including both church buildings and parsonages. Some of that conflict was legal – there were a couple of lawsuits between Tangonan’s camp and the pro-UMC camp over whose was the legitimate meeting of the West Middle Philippines Annual Conference. Despite the UMC Judicial Council ruling on the subject, Filipino courts decided in Tangonan’s favor in a process that some pro-UMC people believed was influenced by corruption.

But conflict extended beyond the legal to the physical. In some instances, the different camps attempted to lock their opponents out of church buildings. Pastors refused to vacate parsonages. In some cases, there was even physical violence between the two different camps. It was not pretty.

There is not much online about the AIMP from the last six or seven years, so it is unclear to me where that group stands currently. The UMC was successful in reclaiming some properties and probably some members after the initial schism.

But it is clear that, whatever the status of the AIMP, this experience of schism has affected those who have remained in the UMC, both theologically and politically. I will talk about the theological effects in a subsequent piece. Politically, the Tangonan split had two effects:

First, it reduced the long-standing drive for Filipino autonomy from the UMC. In part, it did this by siphoning off those pastors and churches that were most pro-autonomy and anti-UMC. In part, it did this because those remaining in the UMC felt less free in taking pro-autonomy stances, since they did not want to be associated with Tangonan’s party. And in part, it did this by showing some of the value of the larger UMC structures: the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council consistently sided with the pro-UMC group in the Philippines in ways that served to increase the legitimacy of the actions taken by those in the Philippines UMC opposed to Tangonan.

Second, the experience of the Tangonan split showed United Methodists in the Philippines just how messy a church split could become, not just legally but also interpersonally, as some resorted to violence to try to resolve issues of control of church property. I presume this is not an experience Filipino United Methodists would like to repeat.

These two political lessons from the Tangonan split are important for understanding the Philippines’ current stance within the current global UMC debates about structure and sexuality. It makes sense that the Philippines bishops and other Filipino leaders would advocate for the continued unity of the church, since one of the effects of the Tangonan split was to make the remaining Filipino United Methodists more pro-global UMC.

It also makes sense that Filipinos would want to avoid messy church splits over the issue of sexuality. While most Filipinos are traditionalists on issues of sexuality, there is a sizable progressive minority. The Filipinos’ proposal to grant more regional autonomy within the global UMC preserves some of the international structures important to the Filipinos (the Council of Bishops and Judicial Council), allows them more leeway in addressing their own disagreements about sexuality in a less conflict-driven manner than Americans, and helps ensure that any splitting that does happen will be confined to an American region that is a bit more separated from and therefore less likely to influence the Philippines.

While it is easy to read the statement of the African bishops and that of the Filipino bishops as saying essentially the same thing – they want continued unity of the global UMC – it is important to understand that the two groups are saying what they are saying for different reasons with different points of reference in mind.

Thus, the interests and strategies of Filipino delegates as a whole will be different from those of African delegates as a whole at General Conference 2020. Understanding those interests and strategies will be key for any Americans who want to successfully work with the Filipinos in crafting the future of the church.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Recommended Reading: European Methodist Council Adopts Climate Pledges

The European Methodist Council (EMC), a consortium of the Methodist, Wesleyan, and related United/Uniting churches in Europe, including The United Methodist Church, met last month on Sept. 14-17 in Italy. One of the main outcomes of the meeting was the adoption of a set of "climate pledges" ("Klimaversprechen"). These promises, entitled "Hope in God's Future"/"Hoffnung auf Gottes Zukunft," represent ways in which both the Council and its member denoninations pledge to reduce their impact on the environment. The promises are available both in German and English. German delegates to the EMC have written (in German) this article about the meeting is a whole.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Robert Haynes: Short Term Mission, UMVIM, and Pilgrimage Experiences

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism. It is adapted from excerpts from his book Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage (Wipf and Stock, 2018). It is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

The People Called Methodists have a long and rich history of missional evangelism. Today, hundreds of thousands of United Methodists, lay and clergy, participate in service projects at home and abroad each year. However, the minority do so under the purview of official United Methodist agencies. Whereas John Wesley sought to organize and oversee his followers in mission service, it would appear that utilizing denominational connectivity is not a priority for many American United Methodist churches today. In 2012, more than 500,000 American United Methodists reported serving in mission at home or overseas. However, less than 11 percent of them did so through the guidance of agencies affiliated with The United Methodist Church, such as United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (hereafter UMVIM).[1]

The reasons for this are not entirely clear, and they raise several questions. Why are these large numbers of lay people forgoing official United Methodist agencies? Do they do so under the guidance and example of their pastors? Are the laity serving in mission by engaging with the Wesleyan practices of accountability? Is this a new movement of the missio Dei that is designed to equip the laity for mission which should be embraced by church leadership, or is something else going on?

Current mission patterns in United Methodism seem to be indicative of the larger American mission movement. An increase in service by the laity, a move away from the power of centralized organizations to local congregations, and the increasing influence of a "market state" rather than nation state can all be seen in United Methodist mission. Additionally, there is a perceptible move away from a designated international missionary who is supported by local congregations and supervised by leaders within a missional hierarchy.

Instead, international mission work is becoming increasingly centered in the local congregation. One indicator of such a movement to the local congregation is the evidence that more United Methodist congregations are not utilizing the denominational connections available to them. The laity, with various levels of training, preparation, and oversight are deploying themselves to bring their understanding of mission and ministry to nearly every continent, rather than being deployed through denominational channels.

Such a shift away from denominational ties is just one challenge of United Methodist mission. This shift toward focusing on local and individual desires in organizing STM correlates with a shift toward an understanding of mission as a pilgrimage experience undertaken primarily for the benefit of those going, and not connected to the impact on receiving communities or larger denominational priorities.

My research revealed that there was significant evidence that STM participants used their time, money, and service to purchase an experience of pilgrimage. My interpretation of the narratives I collected points to the conclusion that some United Methodist churches, in part or in whole, have developed STM programs with the primary goal of consuming an experience for the implicit, and sometimes explicit, benefit of the participants.

Those congregants who had participated in STM previously wanted to do so again in hopes of recapturing something they had lost since the last experience. First-timers were seeking to experience what they had seen in the veterans. All of them seemed to be ready to consume mission activities for personal growth.

When the personal experience becomes primary, as it has in many STM efforts, the central goal of Christian mission is hidden from view. Mission must be grounded in a biblical theology. Activities that are done in the name of mission but are designed, either implicitly or explicitly, for the primary benefit of the participant do not have a biblical precedent.

Trips designed primarily for the benefit of the participants can be called “learning trips”, “church-work trips”, or “educational tours”, but they should not be called “mission.” The issue is much more than mere semantics.

As a result of this fundamental misunderstanding, STM is not living up to its full potential. Many, though not all, leaders of STM continue to incorrectly and unbiblically frame these service trips, designed primarily for self-edification, experiential tourism, and personal pilgrimage, as “mission.” The tension in doing so is increasingly evident in both local churches who send these teams, the churches who receive them, and the world that watches from the outside looking in.

In subsequent posts, I will examine how this problem is related to the lack of a biblically grounded Wesleyan theology of mission and how that problem might be overcome.

[1] According to reports complied by the General Council for Finance and Administration. Since that time, the reporting format for mission participation has changed and, as such, the data are no longer available in this format.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Defining Mission: Conversation

The following post is based on excerpts from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

In Crossing Boundaries, I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news.

While a full understanding of that definition and its practical implications for mission work in congregations is best grasped by reading the book, this series of blog posts briefly examines the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation. This post will examine the component of conversation.

Previous posts in this series have described how mission involves cultivating relationships across boundaries. Yet we cultivate those relationships not just for their own sakes, but for the sake of understanding the good news.

Understanding that good news is a process of mutual learning, not a monologue in which we seek to unload our information on others. You can’t have a true conversation if only one person is talking, or if one person is not listening when the other person talks. True conversation only happens when both sides talk and both sides listen.

Thinking of mission in this mutual way is a challenge for many Christians engaged in mission. Whether we think of mission as helping or mission as evangelism, there is a tendency for Western Christians to think of mission as a one-sided process. All too often, the attitude of Western Christians to their mission partners is “We have money, schools, medicine, etc., which we will give to you. We have the right understanding of God, which we will give to you. We do not need to receive anything from you.”

To see mission in this one-sided way is to misunderstand mission for a whole host of reasons. To be in mission, we must be willing to listen and receive, not merely talk and give. Listening and receiving recognizes the worth of others and the assets that others have. It affirms the genuineness of our relationship with them. It even helps us better understand the work God is doing and calls us to do in mission.

Listening to others recognizes the ability they have to discern the ways in which God is at work in their contexts (and perhaps ours, too!). Because mission begins with God, not with us Christians, God is already at work in all contexts before any missionaries show up. Missionaries never bring God to a context; they always go to join in what God is already doing.

Especially when our mission partners are Christians (which they often are, both domestically and abroad), we should expect them to have the same ability to perceive God’s action in the world as we do. Their level of material wealth, health, education, etc. in no way limits their ability to perceive God at work. The ability to perceive God is a spiritual ability, not an economic or social ability. Indeed, sometimes being more vulnerable or marginalized allows people to notice God in ways that those who are distracted with security or privilege overlook. One’s economic or social standing does not indicate one’s standing with God.

Regardless of assets, privilege, or religious affiliation and belief, we should expect everyone to have a unique view of God and God’s actions in the world that will be different than our own. This conclusion follows because everyone’s view of God is shaped by his or her unique life experiences and by his or her particular context.

While others may not be able to see God in some of the same ways we do, they will also be able to see God in ways that we cannot. Thus, there are things we will have missed about God and God’s action that they will have seen from where they are sitting. We can learn from those insights.

Thus far, I have talked about conversation as taking place between two sets of participants—us and our mission partners. This two-sided model needs expanding, though. for two reasons. Mission involves conversations between all mission partners, and between humans, the Bible, and human contexts. We should not presume that all those going out in mission nor all our mission partners have the same things to contribute to a conversation. Each person involved in mission has their own unique contribution to make to the conversation, whether missionary or mission partner.

Moreover, the conversation of mission does not just take place between people. The conversation of mission is also a conversation with God and with human contexts. God is an important part of the conversation because the conversation is about God’s good news. If we want to know more about God’s good news, then we should be willing to listen to God and share our understandings, hopes, fears, and confusions with God.

The conversation is also a conversation about the meaning of God’s good news in particular contexts. Thus, we need to pay attention to how our mission partners’ contexts and our own contexts shape the conversation in ways that go beyond the viewpoints of particular individuals. The previous post in this series discussed the significance of contexts.

Chapter 6 of Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission is dedicated to helping congregations and individuals engage in such conversations about God’s good news with their mission partners. It includes practices to incorporate into good conversations, spiritual temptations to avoid in conversations, how actions can function as a form of conversation, and specific models of organizing mission-related conversations.

It is my prayer that the definition of mission laid out in this series of blog posts and the practical guidance in how to implement this definition that is given in Crossing Boundaries itself will help congregations and individuals engage in mission with renewed confidence and enthusiasm and to experience the rich spiritual blessings that come from doing so.

Friday, October 4, 2019

David Markay: Learning to be a Multicultural Church

Today's post is by David Markay. Rev. Markay is a United Methodist minister and former GBGM missionary who currently serves in the British Methodist Church's Southwark & Deptford Circuit, London.

Bong, bong, bong….
Zzzt, zzzzt, zzzzt…

Each August morning of the Institute for Multicultural Ministry, we were awakened by the bells of a nearby church and the arrival of a construction crew to an adjacent worksite. For our group gathered at the Germany UMC’s Educational and Training Center (BBZ) in Stuttgart, these two recurring sounds -- the chimes of tradition and the buzz of construction -- provided an appropriate audio background for our group’s discussions.

Do old models of church fit emerging congregations? What dismantling, what building needs to be done to offer the Gospel in today’s changing world? Does the Missio Dei include building plans for an increasingly diverse church? What is the church’s role amidst rising ethnocentrism and populist politics? For those searching a homeland, what kind of home does the church of Jesus Christ offer?

We’d come to Germany from some twenty countries – pastors and lay leaders of multicultural congregations, representatives from the GBGM (who organized the Institute), GBHEM and GBCS, theologians from Reutlingen, Boston and Wisconsin – all bound by a vocation that makes us “fellow builders” (I Corinthians 3:9) of new types of Christian community. For many of us, the call to “offer hospitality to the stranger” (Hebrews 13:2) comes often and urgently, the line between guest and host is not always clear, the stories of Babel and Pentecost are being re-interpreted and re-experienced. Sweden is meeting Syria. Lampedusa is impacting Linz. A Sierra Leonian pastor serves in Ireland. Ghanaian Twi echoes in a church in Parma. The Spirit is stirring things up.

As an alternate metaphor for the church in changing times, one speaker reminded us of the ancient image of the tent. Our God is no stranger to uprooting and transplanting. Abraham and Sarah would have known the disorientation and uncertainty of pulling up stakes and setting up camp in a new land. But even on the road, the doors of their own tent became a place of encounter with the very strangers who would bring them a message from God. Ours is a God who “pitched his tent in our midst” (John 1:14, adapted), and from the heavenly modus operandi, we get some clues for our own marching orders.

Tent-builders need to be agile, flexible, light on their feet, and creative. They are called upon to choose the essentials to be carried from place to place, and the baggage which simply weighs them down. If mission, as the theologian David Bosch suggests, is not so much about expanding the church as it is rebuilding the church in every culture, how is that done? In multicultural Christian communities, these decisions are complex and arise almost daily, often without blueprints or prior training. It is no accident, one participant reminded us, that 70% of all international ventures fail because of inter-cultural mistakes. Tent-builders may have been taught their trade in Tarsus or Tottenham, but they continue to learn and grow by sharing counsel with one another around the campfire.

Part of our group’s education was to meet congregations around Stuttgart who have had to shift, pivot, and be willing to risk everything when strangers have appeared at the door of their tents. Some opened help-centers. Others have provided sanctuary. Others run cafes or work ecumenically to offer hospitality. Many long-time church members belong to congregations their parents would no longer recognize. Bi-lingual reading of scripture, animated cross-cultural conversation, quick Google translations from Farsi to German, an uncommon combination of lunch dishes, all are commonplace. And often, what began as an act of mercy has completely transformed the ministry of the entire community. God’s Mission has found them, and they are not the same.

All these changes do not come without difficulty. To the jarring rattle of the jack-hammer from the nearby construction, the group grappled with the issues of intercultural conflict, shared case-studies of how gestures and words can be misinterpreted, how distant civil wars can erupt in church council meetings, how past trauma becomes an acute pastoral care need. We named some of the potential pitfalls and blessings of ‘shared space’, how hosts and guests can be both generous and jealous, how church structures can both support and inhibit emerging realities, how the necessary sharing and shifting of power do not come without friction. We acknowledged that pastors of multicultural congregations can feel the exhilaration of a vibrant community, and at the same time feel socially isolated. That we could talk about all these things over coffee, on walks, and around the table was a true blessing.

Each morning we gathered for worship, singing in different tongues, learning new blends of music and screen, symbols and senses, movement and stillness. One day, somewhere into our sung prayers of intercession, our worship leader paused, touched his ear, and pointed towards the sound of concrete being chiseled. Instead of hearing a cacophony of sound, he asked, how might we incorporate a new rhythm into our song? And with a little encouragement, a bit of adjustment, and some creative thinking, we did.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Una Jones: From Short Term to Long Term and the Difference!

Today’s post is by Una Jones, the Director of the Mission Volunteer Office at Global Ministries. It is part of a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.

UMVIM short term mission has expanded over the years to engage individuals seeking to serve beyond the 8- or 10-day mission volunteer. This is the story of long term mission volunteers.

This program originated in the SEJ UMVIM office, way back in the early 1990s. The program eventually was centralized sometime in 2000 within the Mission Volunteer office (MVO) at Global Ministries (GM).

The first consultants who managed the program were, Rev. Walter & Betty Whitehurst. They wrote an amazing book, Following God’s Call: Individual Volunteers in Mission, known as a “kaleidoscope” of stories capturing individuals, couples, and families who engagement in God’s mission around the world. Following the Whitehursts, there were numerous consultants, but since 2010 the MVO staff continues to manage the entire program with the support of the five UMVIM jurisdiction offices. 

This program expanded again by changing its name to Mission Volunteers (MVs), recognizing individuals, but also couples, who apply to serve. The age range is 18 years and up.

The program evolved into a detailed structure and specific protocols similar to what is expected from GM global missionaries. However, the biggest difference between MVs and GM global missionaries is that volunteers fund themselves, and GM funds all global missionaries. But at the end of the day, they are all missionaries.

The MVO screens and prepares all MVs to serve. Here are some of the protocols:
•    Online application (For any assistance, email
•    Virtual interview
•    Training
•    Placement opportunities

All participates accepted into the program are expected prior to the training to read two books and review the MV Handbook. Here are the titles of the two books:

•    A Mission Journey, A Handbook for Volunteers, developed by the MVO. This book is used both for short-team and for long-term volunteers. This book is also recommended to local churches to use as a Bible study or book study.

•    Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood, serving the World in Christlike Humility. The same book is required reading for all GM missionaries.

MVs are trained to be engage in accompaniment mission with partners by sharing their support and expertise. More importantly, volunteers are inspired to work “with” and not “for” partners. As the saying goes, “all missionaries should work themselves out of a job”. It is vital to bring about sustainability and equality by recognizing local gifts and talents. Therefore, service time can range from a minimum of 2 months to as long a year or more. Also, service times can be repeated at the same placement, or MVs can explore new placement opportunities. 

The MVO works very closely with other units/departments at GM, e.g. Global Mission Connections, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Global Health to cultivate placements that meet the criteria of sharing their ministry needs but even more importantly, in seeking partners to strengthen mission relationships. 

The MVO provides four trainings per year and approximately 60 MVs are trained. However, we place at least 100 MV per year because so many MVs return serve again. These training are also open to UMVIM or Disaster Response leaders, who become great advocates of the program.

Upcoming Training Dates:
February 5 – 8th, 2020
Seashore United Methodist Assembly
1410 Leggett Drive
Biloxi, MS 39530
Nearest airport – Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT)

April 22 – 25th, 2020
Lake Williamson Christian Center
17280 Lakeside Drive
Carlinville, IL 62626
Nearest airport – St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL)

September 2 – 5th, 2020
Episcopal Church Center of Utah
75 South 200 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Nearest airport – Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

December 2 – 5th, 2020
Nazareth Retreat Center
1814 Egyptian Way
Grand Prairie, TX 75050
Nearest airport – Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Finally, the MVO launched an eleven-part MV video series, narrating a synopsis of the program and the varied components of the training. Every two weeks, since August 31, 2019, a set of 3 videos have been released. This will continue until all 11 videos are completed. If you missed it, be assured it will be repeated, and by the end of November 2019, all 11 videos will be available at any time.

Web link: