Friday, May 20, 2022

Recommended Reading: Filipino United Methodists Plan Episcopal Elections

The Philippines College of Bishops has announced a special session of the Philippines Central Conference, to be held Nov. 24-26. The main task of the conference will be to elect new episcopal leadership for the Philippines and to certify the retirement of all three current bishops. Additional central conference officers will also be elected. The Philippines had previously indicated an intention to hold episcopal elections before General Conference next meets in 2024, but this is the first instance in the UMC where the election of bishops has officially been announced in what is a world-wide need to replace retiring bishops. The fact that all three bishops will retire is significant as well. Whatever clergypersons are elected as bishops will collectively have a big responsibility for steering the Philippines Central Conference through a tumultuous time in the global church and in Filipino society.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Staying Stuck in UMC Conflict

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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.

When it was announced in early March that General Conference would not meet until 2024, but the Global Methodist Church would launch on May 1, 2022, few people were happy, but there was at least for some a sense of relief, even if mixed with disappointment.

Followers of the UMC had been waiting for months to find out whether General Conference would meet in 2022 as previously indicated, or whether there would be yet another delay. That period of waiting was marked with tension and increasing conflict. When the Commission on General Conference's decision was released, at least it was something, rather than continued uncertainty. People could now get on with making plans.

Traditionalists were deeply disappointed that they would not get a chance to pass the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation in 2022. Traditionalist leaders decided, though, that it was best to commence with formation of a new denomination now rather than engage in more waiting for 2024. And among some Traditionalists and some Centrists/Progressives, there was a sense that it was time to get the separation over so as to move on and be able to focus on each group's own ministry rather than continued conflict.

Conflict, however, can be be a hard habit to break. In the two and a half months since the news broke that General Conference was not meeting until 2024 but the Global Methodist Church was launching this year, the UMC has shown itself to be locked in conflict.

There was immediate debate over how (US) congregations should leave the denomination. Centrists and institutionalists have used their control of procedure and process to make departure difficult and expensive for Traditionalist congregations in an attempt to prevent them from leaving. Traditionalist leaders have leaked negotiation documents, derided bishops, and sought polity work-arounds to yield more favorable terms for departure. African episcopal leaders associated with the Traditionalist movement have said they will stay in the UMC until at least 2024. The WCA also announced that it would continue to advocate in the UMC until at least 2024. The Judicial Council has ruled that annual conferences cannot unilaterally leave the denomination. And when the Global Methodist Church launched on May 1st, the only group everyone was sure was joining was Methodists in Bulgaria.

In short, the announcements of further General Conference delay and formation of the Global Methodist Church have done no more to resolve the conflict in The United Methodist Church than did the 2019 General Conference or the Commission on a Way Forward or any of the other many prior attempts to move past denominational conflict.

With harsh attitudes by all sides towards each other, good faith negotiation is difficult to find. The Protocol was a hard won compromise, initiated by a unique figure in Bishop John Yambasu and led by one of the top negotiators in the world in Kenneth Feinberg. After COVID prevented it from being voted on in May 2020, neither side has really been interested in returning to the negotiating table, and there is no visionary African bishop or world-renowned mediator to help this time.

And with US United Methodists unable to solve their conflict, Africans and others around the world who have been enlisted on one side or another of the fight are left to wait to figure out their own fates, yet again relegated to the status of supporting characters in a narrative centered on the United States.

Therefore, the UMC is facing the prospect of a 2024 General Conference (however constituted with whatever delegates attending and whatever legislation before it) that will be just as focused on conflict around the slow-motion separation of the denomination as it would have been had it met in 2020 or 2021 or 2022.

This is all painful to watch and does little to serve the gospel of Christ. There are real consequences to this on-going conflict, too. The structures of the denomination have already been battered by the COVID-necessitated delays in General Conference. There will be especially big consequences if the next General Conference, when it finally does meet, is unable to pass any major legislation, which remains a real possibility. It will lead to the further hollowing out of the denomination and many churches that are part of it.

But conflict is a strong drug. It can be a very difficult addiction to kick. There are practices and strategies that leaders throughout the denomination could implement to move beyond conflict. But right now, it doesn't look likely that the UMC will be doing so anytime soon.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Plan Now: Ukraine Webinar

The Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference is hosting a webinar at 12pm EDT on Friday, May 27th entitled "A Faithful Response to the War in Ukraine: It’s Impact and What Makes What Peace?" The webinar will feature Rev. Oleg Starodubets, the UMC district superintendent for Ukraine; his wife, Rev. Julia Starodubets, also a UMC pastor in Ukraine, and Rev. Bill Lovelace, a UMC missionary in Europe, current assigned to work with migrants, formerly serving in Lithuania, Ukraine, and Russia. The webinar will be of interest to United Methodists who have been following events surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the church's response. Registration is free but does require the creation of an account.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Recommended Reading: Ukraine Moved To Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area

The Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference met in special session on Saturday, April 30th to consider a request from the Ukraine-Moldova Provisional Annual Conference to be temporarily moved from the Eurasia Episcopal Area, overseen by Russia-based bishop Eduard Khegay, to the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area, overseen by Denmark-based bishop Christian Alsted.

The Ukraine-Moldova Provisional Annual Conference had requested such a move prior to the start of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, but that development has made the request more pressing. Bishop Khegay and delegates from elsewhere in the Eurasia Episcopal Area had indicated their opposition to the move and boycotted the meeting.

As a press release issued after the meeting indicates, the participating delegates in the Northern Europe and Eurasia special Central Conference voted overwhelmingly to approve the change, 48-0-1. The delegates noted Khegay's objection to the change, but "choose to place decisive emphasis on the wishes of the annual conference in question."

The move has implications not only for United Methodist polity, but also for the provision of aid to Ukrainians during the war. Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference, whose office has led United Methodist aid coordination efforts, presided during the vote. Bishop Alsted has already been working with relief efforts in the annual conferences previously under his jurisdiction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Creating a Respectful and Fair Separation

Today’s post is a translation of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Trennung respektvoll und fair gestalten,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. The translation is by UM & Global’s Dr. David W. Scott.

Three United Methodist bishops responsible for European Central Conferences wrote an open letter to the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). The reason for the criticism voiced therein was the handling of the recent withdrawal of the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference from the UMC and the simultaneously declared joining in the founding of the Global Methodist Church (GMC).

Open letter criticizes WCA leadership
Christian Alsted, bishop for Northern Europe and the Baltics, Patrick Streiff, bishop for Central and Southern Europe, and Harald Rückert, bishop for Germany, criticize the behavior of the WCA leadership in the public letter.

The conservative lobby group, which is based in the United States and now active worldwide in the UMC, describes itself in its own words as a " global connection of local churches, laity, clergy, and regional chapters that seeks to partner with like-minded orthodox Christians to build a new global Methodist church." In line with its objectives, the WCA supports individuals, groups, congregations, and conferences in many places in their efforts to separate from The United Methodist Church.

The intended withdrawal of the Bulgaria-Romania Annual Conference had only been announced shortly before the conference session. Patrick Streiff, the presiding bishop for the conference, declared the request inadmissible in the form submitted because it disregarded the regulations laid down in the Book of Discipline of the UMC. The conference members did not want to wait for a clarification offered by the bishop through the Judicial Council, the highest judicial body of the UMC. Without the chairmanship of the presiding bishop, it was unanimously decided to withdraw from the UMC and to join the Global Methodist Church, effect on the founding date of the new church, announced for May 1 this year.

Against this background and given subsequent commentaries about the events by WCA and GMC leaders, the European bishops chose the unusually public form to express their criticism and disappointment: "We would have expected the Wesleyan Covenant Association and Good News to uphold the discipline and promote respectful ways of separation."

In view of the situation in which the worldwide UMC has found itself, especially since the special General Conference in February 2019, paths to the separation of the church are foreseeable. As bishops, they have therefore “established documents laying out the different decision-making processes on central conference, annual conference and local church level for separation.” As bishops, they are "committed to the United Methodist Church", but "equally" to those "who think differently." According to the three authors of the open letter, this attitude was even appreciatively described as "stellar leadership " in a blog post from Good News Magazine.

Separation: “fascinating” and “courageous”
From the perspective of the three European bishops, the leaders of the WCA and the emerging Global Methodist Church have in turn lacked respectful leadership behavior. Tom Lambrecht, UMC pastor from Wisconsin and vice president of Good News, who had highlighted the "stellar leadership" of the European bishops, commented on the departure of the Romanian and Bulgarian Methodists from the UMC as a "fascinating account". In a blog post, Chris Ritter, a member of the WCA council, described the "recent actions of the Bulgaria-Romania Conference" as a "spunky persistence of traditional, Methodist, Christian faith."

Respect and fairness
Such reactions, in the opinion of the European bishops, raise questions about the leadership behavior of the leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and the Global Methodist Church. It is not about the fact of the separation per se, but about creating the ways to a respectful and fair separation. They want to still be committed to this goal, "even if we are disappointed by what we have experienced."

Judicial Council will clarify the case
In the meantime, the decision of the Bulgaria-Romania Provisions Annual Conference and its circumstances have been forwarded by Bishop Streiff to the Judicial Council for clarification of legal matters in accordance with the Book of Discipline.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Robert Hunt: Methodism Unraveling

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert A. Hunt. Rev. Dr. Hunt is Director of Global Theological Education and Director of the Center for Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. This post was originally published on Hunt's blog, The Crossroads of Christianity and Culture, and is republished here with permission.

Polity will never give you unity.

The current United Methodist polity is in crisis, the result of a failure to adopt to emerging global realities. The General Conference is once again delayed, congregations are departing, and denominational finances continue to fall. Most importantly, in the very practical matters of institutional maintenance we face unprecedented hurtles: http://www.umglobal.org/2022/03/what-now-episcopal-elections.html.

Methodism was born on the cusp of the creation of the current international order. As it grew beyond England and the United States, its polities reflected that order, with an organization based on both emerging national boundaries and the essentially colonial nature of the new order. The structures of the American Methodist church were fundamentally colonial, with ecclesial colonies (mission annual conferences within larger mission central conferences) managed by American bishops, run by American missionaries, and reporting to the General Conference funded and dominated by the United States.

The long end of the colonial era offered American Methodists two choices for continuing as a world wide organization. The first would be to develop into a kind of commonwealth of autonomous national Methodist churches related by a common heritage, pledged to mutual support, and engaged when possible in common missions. Such a structure fit well into a decolonizing world, even if it would have its own difficulties related to financing the newly autonomous national churches.

All of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia followed this pattern, and annual conferences became autonomous affiliated national Methodist churches. These churches have thrived, formed their own associations and cooperative ministries, and generally enjoyed the fruit of independence while remaining affiliated with the Methodist and then United Methodist Church.

However, the American Methodist church didn't require or encourage autonomy, and some Methodist central conferences chose to remain part of the Methodist Church and its successor, the UMC. They would elect their own bishops and appoint their own clergy, but remain dependent for both their polity and their funding on the UMC structures, with only minor changes possible. Churches in the Philippines, Europe, and Africa went this route.

There were reasons. In the European social setting, isolation from an international church polity invited being dismissed as a mere sect. You needed to be historical and international to be taken seriously. In the Philippines, long ties to the US of many types, not least a common language (English) for those with a tertiary education and patterns of migration, made staying part of the UMC seem a natural choice.

(The entire story of the complex formation of the central conferences can be found at: https://www.umc.org/en/content/central-conferences)

Yet these central conferences (with the possible exception of the Philippines) possessed neither national nor cultural integrity. They were international without having ever been national; multi-cultural without ever having had a culture of their own. And in Africa they were intermixed with autonomous Methodist churches out of a British Methodist tradition.

Most importantly, as the report on episcopal elections above makes clear, they remained financially dependent on US funding for every aspect of not just ministry, but organization. United Methodist business would always be international business and conducted at the same great expense and uncertainty as international business. The COVID pandemic has made this clear.

As Europe rebounded after WWII, European Methodists were largely able to fund themselves. Exceptions in Eastern Europe remained, but stronger Western European economies and the formation of the EU made the European central conferences a more organic expression of unity than in Africa. It also gave them far greater autonomy vis-a-vis the United States.

Africa -- Here we see the real fallout of the failure to create autonomous national Methodist churches. It is almost perfectly characterized by this map. https://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/who-we-are/documents/africa-central-conferences-map-revised.pdf Only the Congo Central Conference possesses national integrity, and that spread over a geographical and cultural area 1/3rd the size of the continental United States. While French is the language of government, there are four other national languages and 400 spoken.

The other African central conferences are each a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-cultural hodgepodge lacking geographical integrity or a common history. What unites them is the fiat of organizational convenience, funding by American Methodists, and the rubric of a global United Methodist Church. These central conference structures possess no organic relationship to their pastors, congregations, and people.

Small wonder then, that with the combined crisis of division within the UMC and the COVID pandemic they are becoming organizationally dysfunctional. And look what happens when they don't function! An American bishop has to be brought in to supervise (in name at least) peoples and congregations he scarcely knows. Colonialism redux.

The idea of a global UMC was misconstrued, based on the false understanding that polity creates unity.

Polity will never give you unity.

As we see even within the US, a common Discipline binds no hearts together and works only so long, and no longer, as it provides political and financial benefit to those who embrace it. When the money and power are gone, and even before, those who can leave, will.

As the UMC now unravels, we are beginning to see what really makes for unity: long established relationships of cooperation and mutual love that manage to transcend and make room for theological disagreement. The unity of the Methodist movement will depend on these, not an outdated and untenable polity held together by American dollars.

Instead of clinging to an unworkable "global" structure we should instead work, at whatever institutional level we are able, to establish real patterns of co-working and cooperation among those of the Methodist tradition.

The General Conference will face the hard task of restructuring the UMC in a way that is financially and organizationally tenable. The recent Christmas Covenant plan offered by the central conferences is certainly a good start, particularly since it comes from those most affected by disunity, most in need of better solutions, and most desirous to build real partnership across differences.

But while we wait for the General Conference, we do not need to wait to build Methodist unity. That must be rebuilt from the bottom up, seeking joint projects and more intimate institutional relationships than can be either managed or even supported by General Conference agencies.

In theological education, where I have been involved for 40 years in both autonomous national Methodist churches and the central conferences, the need is clear. Instead of ad-hoc admission of "foreign students," US seminaries should seek direct partnerships with leaders of United Methodist seminaries in the central conferences to both strengthen those local seminaries and craft the kinds of degree programs and admission standards that best serve particular churches and regions.

The era of a "global" UMC is ending. Let us pray that an era of genuine Methodist unity will begin.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Recommended Reading: Liberia to stay in UMC at least until 2024

Liberian Methodist journalist E. Julu Swen published a piece last Saturday indicating that "Bishop Samuel J. Quire, Jr. said the United Methodist Church in Liberia will remain a United Methodist Church until after the decision of the 2024 General Conference. 'We will not be a part of the Global Methodist Church, but we will pray for them.'" Moreover, General Conference delegate Jefferson Knight is quoted as saying, "There is a possibility that the church in Liberia will remain a United Methodist Church beyond 2024."

This story, which should be read in its entirety, represents one of the most significant developments in United Methodism since the further delay of General Conference to 2024 and the launching of the Global Methodist Church on May 1 were announced at the beginning of March. The Liberia Annual Conference, which is the oldest branch of The United Methodist Church outside the United States, was widely seen as the part of the African church most likely to join the Global Methodist Church. This decision thus likely has implications across Africa.

Moreover, as both Bishop Quire's and Jefferson Knight's quotes indicate, there is still some uncertainty about what Liberia will decide to do come 2024 or even what the range of options will be. Certainly, some of that depends on the actions of General Conference in 2024. But this story is a reminder that the future of United Methodism remains to be written, and the pivotal decisions will happen in Monrovia, not Minneapolis, Memphis, or anywhere in the United States.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The World Is Not My Parish

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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.

One of the most beloved John Wesley quotes for many of those engaged in international Methodism is “I look upon all the world as my parish,” which is often recast as “The world is my parish.” The quote continues, “Thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.”

I recognize that this is me being contrarian, but I think there are issues in the unreflective use of this quotation, and I want to explain why.

First is the issue of historical intent. The line comes from a letter by Wesley, excerpted in his journal in an entry dated June 11, 1739. The full letter and the context of the journal entry make it clear that Wesley is trying to justify to himself and the recipient of the letter his irregular (by Church of England standards) practices in service of leading the Methodist revival movement, most notably his decision to preach in parishes where he was not the priest in charge. Despite some rhetorical references to other areas of the world, Wesley was not at all talking about international mission.

Actually, other than his very early and rather painful experience in Georgia, Wesley was not that interested in international mission. He was focused on the revival in England. He was initially reluctant to send preachers outside of England. He was skeptical of the international missionary enthusiasm of Thomas Coke, the real father of international Methodist mission.

And that’s okay. We don’t need Wesley to have been a strong supporter of international mission to see that practice as genuinely Methodist. We certainly don’t need to take Wesley quote out of context to feel that there is value in international mission connections among Methodists today.

But the real issue I have with the quote is not the way in which it is used outside of its historical context. The real issue I have is in how the possessive pronoun used – my – has the potential to reinforce some unfortunate tendencies among US Methodists.

Put succinctly, if the world is my parish, then my understanding of the world is centered on me, my ministry, and my actions. It is a view of the religious landscape of the world in which I am the most important actor.

This sort of attitude on behalf of Western Christians is exactly what colonial mindsets are made of. If Western Christians regard their own ministry as the most important thing about global Methodism, if the rest of the world is just a screen onto which to project their own proclamation of the gospel, that ignores and devalues the deep and real faith of non-Western Methodist (and other Christian) leaders and church members. Westerners thinking of the world as their parish perpetuates notions of Westerners as the heroic saviors of the rest of the world.

That does not necessarily mean that there is no valid insight from or application of this Wesley quote. Wesley was saying that mission ultimately overrides structure. This is a point that I wholeheartedly agree with, and this blog has posted numerous articles that make that point, both by me and by others.

But if we accept that mission trumps structure, then we must ask “whose mission”? Here, I point to the slogan Thomas Kemper popularized among United Methodists: “Mission is from everywhere to everywhere.” In this day and age, mission cannot be just regarded as the mission of Westerners or of US Americans.

Nor should it be thought of as an individual’s mission. Mission is God’s mission, which God calls Christians to participate in as a body, not merely as individuals. We each have unique roles in God’s mission, but mission as a calling is shared.

Therefore, if we are going to talk about a world parish, we should say, “The world is our parish.” Yes, let us lift up the value of international mission connections. Let us affirm that mission is more important than structure. But let us recognize that God’s mission is one to which Christians from around the world are called to participate in together.

And, we can also look for other quotes to inform our understanding of and imaginations about our participation in God’s mission. The quote from early Methodism that I most like to use for mission is from Thomas Coke, the person most responsible for early international Methodist mission efforts. He said, “Oceans are nothing to God, and they should be nothing to his people, in respect to the affection they bear one another.”

This quote is perhaps less snappy than “The world is my parish,” but Coke was actually talking about international mission here. Moreover, this quote emphasizes mutual love and affection among Christians, rather than centering one’s view of the world on one’s own sense of ministry. Affirming that “Oceans cannot limit the affection we have for one another” emphasizes the relationship and mutuality that is at the heart of modern missiology.

Ultimately, a good Methodist understanding of mission goes beyond any quick slogan. It looks to inspirations from our Methodist heritage, including the ministries of the Wesleys, Coke, Asbury, and other early leaders, but it also takes seriously what Christians collectively have learned about mission in the several centuries since. Nor does it need to collapse our contemporary understandings of mission with that of our eighteenth-century predecessors. It recognizes that God’s calling continually pushes our understandings of church practices in new, more expansive directions, which after all, was Wesley’s point, wasn’t it?

Monday, May 2, 2022

Øyvind Aske: Bishop Yambasu’s Driver

This piece is written by Rev. Øyvind Aske, Secretary of Metodistkirkens Misjonsselskap (the Mission Society of The United Methodist Church in Norway). The Norway Annual Conference has a long-standing partnership with Sierra Leone Annual Conference. This article originally appeared on the website of Misjonsselskapet. It has been translated by UM & Global’s David Scott and is republished here with permission.

One rainy Sunday morning, August 16, 2020, Bishop Yambasu was on the way to a funeral outside Freetown. The evening before, he had called Abdul Kamara, his driver, and asked him to drive. He had chosen not to drive together with others who were going to the same funeral the day before.

There was little traffic on the road. On the way north, not far outside the city, the unthinkable happened. A car traveling in the opposite direction on the four-lane divided road hit the median, which is at least 20 cm (8 inches) high, bounced up in the air, hovered over the left lane, and hit the bishop’s jeep in the right lane. We know the tragic outcome: this accident caused Bishop Yambasu’s all too early death. Abdul emerged from the accident with serious injuries in his head and leg.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we from Norway had not visited Sierra Leone in mission for over two years. Only now, in March 2022, were we able to see the accident site, meet with Bishop Yambasu’s widow Millicent, visit the grave site, and get to see Abdul Kamara.

Abdul was born in September 1987 and has worked with CELAD (Community Empowerment for Livelihood and Development, The Sierra Leone-Norway Partnership) for several years, most recently before 2020 as the bishop’s driver. His education beyond primary school is some car mechanics. There was a good relationship between them, and the bishop put great value on Abdul, who lined up at all hours of the day.

He was a skilled driver. That fateful Sunday, he held a steady course until he saw the shadow of something come in abruptly from the left. The car that came flying met the left side of the bishop’s car with enormous force. The driver’s side door was knocked in, met Abdul, and knocked him unconscious.

He lay unconscious at the hospital a long time but woke up and survived. His vision in the left leg is impaired, and his left leg was broken in several places. The doctor explained that he could no longer drive a car. Abdul has in addition struggled with guilt after the accident. It was he who was the driver for the bishop who died that day.

The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone has not turned its back on Abdul. After the treatment at the hospital, he has gone back to his old workplace and “hung out” with his colleagues. They have tried to take care of him even if he can no longer drive a car. Eventually he got a job as an office assistant and does odd jobs for $100 a month.

On Sunday, March 20, after church service, we traveled up to Leicester Peak where the bishop is buried. The grave is covered with a roof and has brick and mortar walls and a gate that is locked. We had the CELAD staff with; Anne, Tove Odland, and I were there, and Abdul was also along. It was a very emotional moment.

Abdul knelt by the grave and afterwards fetched water and a cloth and washed the grave of dust and dirt. Andrew led the little ceremony. Joe sang, and we Norwegians said some personal words. We finished with the Lord’s Prayer and a blessing. Farewell, Bishop John K. Yambasu. Thanks for all the good memories. Rest in peace, and we will meet again in the heavenly home!

As for Abdul, he offers thanks for all the prayers and support from Norway. He himself says that he is now strong enough in his leg that he can drive cars again and hopes to be able to get the doctor’s statement on this eventually. He has a clear mark on the left side of his face, a dent that he thinks will heal eventually. What about his eye? He does not have the means to seek out an ophthalmologist or optician.

We may continue to pray for Abdul – a fellow human being with extra large challenges in our sister church in Sierra Leone.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Nazarenes Plan Regional Caucuses before General Assembly

The Church of the Nazarene recently announced plans related to their upcoming 30th General Assembly in 2023. The General Assembly is the denomination's highest body, analogous to The United Methodist Church's General Conference.

General Assembly had been scheduled for 2021, but the Nazarenes announced in June of 2020 that, due to travel difficulties and visa restrictions, General Assembly would be postponed until 2023. Like the UMC, the Nazarenes determined that an electronic or virtual meeting would not allow them to accomplish what was required by their Manual (the equivalent of the Book of Discipline). At the time of the postponement, they named "significant global participation via attendance and an appropriate emphasis on the health and safety of visitors and delegates" as goals for holding General Assembly.

In their recent update about General Assembly, the Church of the Nazarene acknowledged that, even though General Assembly is still over a year away, visa delays will prevent some delegates from attending. Delegates to General Assembly come from a very wide range of countries. The Church of the Nazarene will, however, continue with plans to hold General Assembly in June 2023, and still does not believe a virtual or distributed conference is feasible. Nevertheless, the Nazarene leadership emphasized that representation of all districts is important.

Fortunately for the Nazarenes, their Manual allows for several solutions: It provides more latitude for districts to select alternate delegates who already have visas. But more importantly, the Manual allows for early regional causes. Therefore, Nazarenes in regions outside the United States will gather by region before General Assembly meets to deliberate on the business of the General Assembly, make nominations for denomination-wide positions, and convey the results to the General Assembly via the delegates that can attend. While voting on final legislation is not possible at the regional caucuses, the recommendations will be taken into official consideration by the relevant legislative committees.

The Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene recognizes that this arrangement is still "not ideal." Nevertheless, it is a way to balance the stated value of global participation and the need to hold a General Assembly.

This plan is only possible, though, because the provisions of the Nazarene manual allow for it. The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline does not make similar provisions for early regional caucuses. Thus, this is not an alternative that the UMC could have taken to allow General Conference to meet in 2022.

But, it is a model that the UMC would be wise to keep in mind as it continues to develop its polity. I have previously suggested that regionalization would have prevented some of the problems with delaying General Conference 2020. The Church of the Nazarene shows that greater regionalization can also help address issues around equality of representation at denominational gatherings.

While the UMC cannot go back in time to prevent some of the problems associated with a delayed General Conference 2020, it can and should take steps to ensure that the next time General Conference is unable to meet or to meet fully--whether that is because of a future pandemic, war, climate disaster, or other reason--the church is able to be more flexible and respond better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

European United Methodists emphasize connectionalism

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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. This piece originally appeared as a commentary on the United Methodist News Service site and is republished here with permission.

The war in Ukraine has brought renewed worldwide attention to Europe and, among United Methodists, to branches of The United Methodist Church there.

The denomination’s presence in Europe is small but significant, diverse and distinctive. It includes around 50,000 members across two dozen countries grouped into 20 annual conferences in four episcopal areas and three central conferences.

One of the important factors influencing both United Methodist responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and debates over the future of The United Methodist Church in Europe is a commitment among European United Methodists to connectionalism as a church principle, especially in the form of connections among Methodists within Europe.

Connectionalism is a fundamental theological and practical conviction for Methodists around the world, emphasizing that the church’s nature is primarily rooted in the connections among local congregations, not within local congregations themselves, and pointing to partnerships for collaboration in ministry, mission and mutual accountability.

Yet the history, context, structure and relationships among European United Methodists have given understandings of connectionalism in Europe a distinctive European spin. Given the centrality of connectionalism in how Europeans think about what it means to be Methodist and the importance of that principle for current developments in European Methodism, this piece will dive into the historical context that has shaped this emphasis on connectionalism in European United Methodism.

Intra-European Methodist connectionalism has its roots in the origins of continental Methodism. Given the multitude of countries and denominational traditions involved in the current shape of The United Methodist Church in Europe, it is not possible to recount all the details of the origins of Methodism in each European country. Repeatedly, though, Methodism spread to new places in Europe through the efforts of other Europeans. Europe is a continent largely self-evangelized when it comes to Methodism.

Some of those historic roots include British Methodist outreach to the continent in France, Italy, Germany and elsewhere. Another very significant set of European Methodist origins lie in the influence of Germans and Scandinavians who emigrated to the United States, encountered Methodism there, and then spread it back home, either through writing to relatives, sending missionaries back to their homelands or return emigration. The spread of Methodism through these transatlantic migrant networks meant that a strong, indigenous form of Methodism was established in Germany (through the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Association) and in Denmark, Norway and Sweden (through the Methodist Episcopal Church) in the middle of the 19th century.

From these bases in Germany and Scandinavia, Methodism spread to other areas of Europe, carried by European Methodists. It spread from Germany south to Switzerland and Austria and then east to Hungary and Serbia. It spread east from Scandinavia to Finland and then Russia and the Baltics (in the first wave of Methodism to appear in these areas, prior to the world wars). Even recently begun work in Albania and Croatia has its roots in connections to Germany.

This pattern stands in marked contrast to the development of The United Methodist Church in most other areas of the world, where the driving force was American missionaries sent out by missionary societies in the United States.

There are a few areas of Europe where American missionaries were important to establishing Methodism: the Methodist Episcopal Church began work in Italy, Bulgaria and what is now North Macedonia in the 19th century; the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, began work in what was then Czechoslovakia and Poland in the 1920s; and the post-Soviet extension of Methodism to Romania and revival of Methodism in Russia, Latvia and Lithuania was led largely by Americans, though Estonian Methodism also played a crucial part in the redevelopment of Methodism in Latvia and Lithuania.

Despite these few American counterexamples, the majority of European United Methodists live in areas where Methodism was first introduced by Europeans and developed through European initiative and European solidarity.

Already by the end of the 19th century, Europe had become such a missionary powerhouse within Methodism that European Methodists were not just carrying Methodism to other parts of Europe but around the world, working with missionaries from the United States and elsewhere to extend Methodism in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Europeans continue to serve as missionaries (or mission partners) in Asia, Africa and Latin America through both Global Ministries and European Methodist mission societies in Germany, Switzerland and Norway.

Although Methodism spread far throughout Europe, it never developed a large following, due in large part to social and political opposition from state churches (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox), which historically dominated Europe. Methodist preaching and gatherings were initially illegal in many places and frequently harassed in others. In this context, Methodism was one of the early forces pushing for religious freedom in many European countries. Beyond government policies, many individual Europeans looked at Methodism as a strange and unwelcome religious intruder. In light of this widespread political and social opposition to Methodism, connections among European Methodists gave them strength and succor, both at the beginning of European Methodism and still to this day.

For Methodists in Eastern Europe, the importance of such supportive connections only increased behind the Iron Curtain after World War II. In some places, such as Russia, communism wiped out Methodism. In other places, Methodism was barely able to hang on, despite government hostility, confiscation of buildings, harassment and other obstacles. Connections among European Methodists were an essential means of support for those Methodist congregations that were able to survive under communist rule.

European Methodism was thus largely born through intra-European connectionalism and sustained by intra-European connectionalism. It remains committed to intra-European connectionalism in a variety of forms today.

When many in the United States hear the term “connectionalism,” they think of structures created by United Methodist polity: conferences, agencies, apportionments and bishops. These structures exist in The United Methodist Church in Europe. Three central conferences bring together United Methodists from various national and cultural backgrounds. Various committees continue the work of those bodies between meetings. The bishops play a large role in coordinating within and across central conferences.

The structures of Methodist connectionalism extend beyond those listed in the Book of Discipline, though, and many of them embrace Methodists from other denominations. The European Methodist Council brings together multiple Methodist denominations and reflects ongoing important connections among United Methodists, British Methodists and Methodists elsewhere in Europe. The Methodist-related Theological Schools in Europe also operates interdenominationally, though the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry is a key supporter. Theological education through Reutlingen School of Theology and the Methodist e-Academy is another significant ministry that brings together mainly United Methodists from various national and cultural backgrounds.

The Fund for Mission in Europe is a major means by which European Methodists across countries and denominations cooperate to financially support the ongoing mission and evangelism work of fellow European Methodists. Through an annual list of projects, the fund collects donations from Methodists across Europe and distributes them to Methodist ministries in Europe. The latest project book emphasizes that the purpose of the fund is to “keep connected across national borders” and create “solidarity among Methodist churches in Europe.”

Beyond these formal ties, connectionalism subsides in the personal connections among European Methodists — both United Methodists and those from other Methodist denominations. These connections may be forged by joint participation in conferences, committees, mission work and theological education, but they are sustained as friendships, a sense of Christian sisterhood and brotherhood, and a shared identity among what is, in the end, a rather small group of people.

In recent years, migrants from around the world have added another layer to this sense of connectionalism as being about relationship and identity. As Methodists from elsewhere, especially from Africa, have moved to Europe as students and migrants, they have become connected to Methodist congregations there and even started some of their own. These students and migrants bring with them a sense that Methodism means something more than just polity structures. It is a fellowship that extends across geographic distance.

Connectionalism is deep in European Methodists’ roots and central to the European Methodist ethos today. It is a connectionalism that sustains a sense of common identity and theological discourse that crosses linguistic, cultural and national boundaries. It is a connectionalism that is closely tied to mission and to mutual support. It is a connectionalism that has thrived through regional initiative and independence.

Whatever forms European Methodism takes in coming years, it will carry this heritage of connectionalism with it. And for those willing to receive it, this understanding of connectionalism is a gift that European Methodists offer to their sisters and brothers elsewhere around the globe.

Monday, April 25, 2022

UMVIM Experiences Newness of Mission After COVID

Today's post is jointly authored by the jurisdictional coordinators of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM). Those coordinators are named at the bottom of the piece.

The COVID pandemic interrupted ministry all over the world. Churches were forced to ask, “how do we worship without being together physically?” Mission projects saw an increased need all over the world but were unable to gather volunteers to meet those needs in person. COVID changed how we thought about ministry, what it meant to serve those in need, and how we live out our call as Christians.

For many years, mission teams shared in global journeys every year through UMVIM. Projects in Haiti, Panama, Alabama, Alaska, Malawi, and more, hosted these teams and forged strong relationships as they worked together to show Christian love in action. COVID changed all that. Almost overnight, those strong relationships were tested.

Yet, UMVIM volunteers, staff, and partners have remained faithful through it all, and many mission projects are now experiencing newness as people continue to recognize the importance of being in partnership as we serve in God’s mission. The pandemic created new ministries and new ways of doing old ministries.

Connections and relationships established over many years have not been eliminated during this liminal time. Some have been strengthened as missionaries share virtually with small groups and read scripture in worship. Project site directors are creating partnerships with organizations in the community to provide greater resources for people in need. God is moving in new ways and guiding the church in new learnings.

UMVIM helped connect projects and teams during the pandemic through Virtual Missions. Churches, missionaries, and projects in the US and abroad were brought together to share culture, language, food, and their vulnerabilities with one another. Individuals who rarely engaged in physical mission explored new ways to form relationships and help their neighbors.

Many Virtual Missions have been celebrated over the past two years. The jurisdictional United Methodist Volunteer in Mission (UMVIM) coordinators work to assist team leaders and project site hosts in this new format of being in mission. People who were unable to travel as part of a team can now connect via Zoom and learn about the God-work happening in places like Liberia, Cambodia, Honduras, Palestine, Mexico, and Laos. Ministries on the border are sharing the important work of assisting refugees and disaster response depots, Sager Brown and Midwest Mission Distribution Center, share the news of kits and meal packs sent to many places domestically and internationally.

New in-person projects have been added to the lists. Waverly, TN is a new long-term recovery site assisting survivors of flooding with housing rehab. Cass Community Social Services in Detroit, MI, and the Fuller Center are new projects for Mission Volunteers.

Youth groups traveling to Daytona Beach, FL for Youth 2023 have the opportunity to stop on the long drive and be in mission. Stefanie Williams, the Youth2023 team leader, is making connections with project sites to host these groups for one day or several days before or after the big event. She looks forward to presenting the places and ways youth can do the Jesus thing in the Jesus way.

Teams were challenged to continue disaster ministries as more and more disasters affected many more people throughout the country. Survivors face the challenge of the loss of their homes on top of living through their own COVID story.Faith-filled volunteers worked in their own communities and at nearby long-term recovery sites to help rebuild homes.

Work did not stop. It was just done differently. One strategy was for the project to be managed in one 6–8-hour day. These ‘done in a day’ VIM Teams brought their tools and lunches, wore their masks and social distanced, and completed the task. The next day a team from another area would be on site to continue the work from the previous day, all with the vision of serving Christ. Teams did not travel to their partners in mission in other countries, yet they were still able to serve and make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.

Ray Yarnall joined the UMVIM coordinator team this spring as the Northeastern Jurisdiction coordinator. The collaboration of the jurisdiction coordinators provides many opportunities to share in Mission Academies and trainings, connect with project sites around the world, and encourage teams to serve safely, always building relationships and partnerships. New Team Leader Trainers are ready to empower team leaders as teams begin to move into the world and serve as the hands and feet of Christ.

The mission piece that remains the same is the focus on relationships and partnerships. COVID remains a huge hurdle for ministry, yet it helped those who call themselves Volunteers in Mission see ministry in a new way. Something emerged because of the pandemic: the realization that despite the number of bricks laid, the amount of money given, or miles traveled – the love and relationships are what truly matters. It is about the people, not the projects.

Please visit https://www.umvim.org/ to see all the possibilities!

Ronda Cordill, wj@umvim.org Western Jurisdiction

Karen Distefano, scj@umvim.org South Central Jurisdiction

Rev. Matt Lacey, sej@umvim.org Southeastern Jurisdiction

Gray Gambrell, sejinfo@umvim.org Southeastern Jurisdiction

Ray Yarnall, nej@umvim.org Northeastern Jurisdiction

Rev. Tammy Kuntz, ncj@umvim.org North Central Jurisdiction

Stefanie Williams, y2023@umvim.org North Central Jurisdiction

Friday, April 22, 2022

Recommended Reading: Bishop Wenner on World Methodist Peace Prize Winners

Rosemarie Wenner, retired UMC Bishop for Germany and current Geneva Secretary of the World Methodist Council, wrote a recent reflection for the European Methodist Council about the World Methodist Peace Prizes recently presented. Because of pandemic-related delays, prizes from the last several years were all presented in March. Two of the three winners are European, and the third was Wenner's fellow UMC bishop, the late John Yambasu. In her post, Wenner reflects on the work of peacemaking in light of the Methodist tradition and in the context of the current war in Ukraine. Her words are well worth a read.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Caleb Kanyimb Mbaz: You Give Them Something to Eat

Today's post is by Rev. Caleb Kanyimb Mbaz. Rev. Kanyimb Mbaz is the head of the South Congo and Zambia Episcopal Area Disaster Management Office. This post is part of a series on food and mission.

Text: Matthew 14:16: “But Jesus said to them, ‘There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.’”

In my evangelism course at Africa University, the late Professor Kurewa defined mission as a set of activities that accompany the gospel, including the establishment of schools, vocational centers, hospitals, orphanages, nutrition centers, women's mentoring centers for culinary programs, farms and so on. In this article, we will dwell on the relationship between mission and food. The Bible speaks to us through this text of a case of lack of food to feed 5000 people, not counting women and children. Food insecurity is a great and formidable weapon that is decimating our communities in these days.

Food insecurity
The food insecurity of the masses was sometimes in the Bible one of the great opportunities that God seized to convey his message of salvation in ancient times. It could go so far as to make people a refugee or even a slave of others because food is one of the basic necessities of life. A community can only become settled and productive when it reaches self-sufficiency in general and in particular with respect to food. Science proves to us that a population, a family or even a person who cannot feed themselves becomes unstable mentally and also physically.

Our country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is classified among the food deficient countries. According to the latest IPC (Integrated food security Phase Classification), published on November 10, 27 million people in the DRC experience high levels of food insecurity between September and December 2021, which represents approximately 26.5% of the Congolese population.

According to the World Food Program, the number of people in a situation of acute food insecurity amounts to 27 million, making access to food a daily struggle for a significant part of the Congolese population. An estimated 3.4 million children suffer from acute malnutrition. It is possible for more people to eat only once a day compared to the three meals intended for each person. And often the meal on the table does not reflect good nutrition. The DRC is one of the biggest hunger crises in the world.

What then is the role of the church and its mission in the world where these symptoms are raging? What were the contexts of the introduction of the Christian religion in our communities?

Mission
In our villages at the entrance of the missionaries, certain commodities such as salt and sugar were effective means of clearing the way for the gospel. During our first food distribution in Kapanga to survivors of the Kamwina Nsapu conflict, done with a grant from UMCOR, we were faced with an indescribably large crowd that let us see the need, the lack, and the hunger. We had distributed the rations for the planned 3 days and people came from distant villages to come and get food, and we had neither the time nor the desire to preach because the distribution of the rations was itself the preaching.

In the United Methodist Church world in Africa, agriculture, however crucial, was one of the major programs that rarely responded to food or nutritional emergencies, on the one hand because of weaknesses including inadequate road infrastructure, low production in the face of overpopulation, as well as the lack of sustainability. All this has not made it possible to convey the gospel with full success and thus strengthen the mission of the church. We need many more programs with activities to nurture our communities and this seems to be one of the great responsibilities of the church in mission. These programs must be direct in terms of food production by strengthening agro-processing or establishing distribution points for those who cannot do agricultural activities. Because it should be mentioned that the elderly, children, pregnant women, the sick, those with disabilities, and even old widows cannot go to cultivate or work for their survival while social security is almost non-existent. What is the message we preach to the hungry?

Resolving urgency leads to sustainability
For some time, preaching has centered its message on work, saying that he who does not work does not eat. This is a very good thing because God has blessed the work of humans. However, in a context where famine is acute and creating malnourished people in our communities, can we still talk about work in the foreground? Which precedes the other – eating or working? For a community with a large percentage of minors versus a low percent group of men and women capable of looking for work? These are the questions our communities face and need to be answered. But then, it happens that many preachers talk about work, forgetting to mention that in order to work, one must have eaten. I find this theology discriminatory because it targets a class of people and encourages them to do better, forgetting those who are not physically able to work. Food cannot be a slogan, neither a promise nor an incentive in our communities but an urgent reality of putting it on the table first, after which the production program can follow.

You give them something to eat
However, there is a connection between mission and food. A link that has nothing to do with food intervention as corruption but as a need to be filled because “a hungry stomach has no ears,” as they say. In our experience, this connection is direct. Christ then said to them with these words: " You give them something to eat."

It is these gospel terms that speak to the connection between mission and food. In reference to our experience in responding to disasters, food was the most appreciated intervention in all the communities where we intervened, including environments considered agricultural. All this because food is not only precious, but also difficult to find considering the cost of living. In both rural and urban areas, the population has difficulty obtaining food that can bind together the two ends of the month. According to statistics, in Congo and in Katanga province, people could go for a long time without eating because of lack, and this is so horrible. In relation to the question of human rights, food is first on the list of basic needs, and we talk about adequate food.

A punctual intervention of food to the needy not only reinforces the mission of the church but also maintains its continuity. In a purely food-deficient context, as shown by the biblical text quoted above – “You give them something to eat.” – an emergency imposes itself; it does not wait for an agricultural program so that it is very important and sustainable though. The food emergency in our community is glaring. It is like the hunger of a child who will not wait for his father to go to work to come back to him with something to snack on, but demands an intervention that is here and now, "Hic and Nunc.” We found in the territory of Kipushi families who take turns eating; that is to say when some eat today, tomorrow they will not eat and so on.

The way forward
We would like to encourage programs not only on food production through agriculture but also to strengthen the mechanisms for the availability of basic food products through specific programs, among others, for street children, widows, orphans, those displaced from wars, food refugees and so many others because even asylum seekers living in the Congo end up suffering in one way or another from food insecurity.

The United Methodist Church needs to take the initiative to train nutritionists and to mentor and equip them to help our communities not only to select nutritious foods but above all to follow programs that support adequate and tangible food interventions.

During the Global Ministries agricultural forum held in South Africa in Johannesburg, the resolution to seek arable land for sustainable agriculture programs is to be encouraged, and yet it requires another element, that of initiating at the base the idea of cooperatives of small farmers, especially for women. This should be done because women will be able to participate in their own development by responding immediately and directly to their food needs and those of their families, since in Africa women are still at the center of the domestic economy. It is also desirable to be able to design food education awareness programs and thus include food programs in our schools, as in the old days when food was offered in schools and training centers to strengthen the health of students. With this program hunger is fought at the source in favor of those who have left home without having had the chance to eat something.

We cannot end our remarks without mentioning some reflections that support our contribution based on our experience in the context of food insecurity. "Cultivating a field is good, but starting by feeding yourself is better." "A hungry producer cannot produce to eat.” And when he produces, he assures his sustenance, but when he eats, he ensures his survival. Making food available to the hungry is more than a spoken gospel.

So, food is the servant of the mission. It is still in our communities the feet of the gospel. Christ used it to convey the message of salvation by commanding his disciples. “You give them something to eat.” In the practice of disaster response in our context, food comes first – available food, not the seed, because the population could die with the seed in the ground or in the house while waiting for the rainy season in this context of global warming. Thus, the best mission is the one that takes action to preserve the community from hunger. The mission of the Church is based not only on preaching but on the response to vital needs and in our context, it is daily food for daily strength.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Caleb Kanyimb Mbaz: Donnez-leur Vous-même à Manger

Le message d'aujourd'hui est du révérend Caleb Kanyimb Mbaz. Le révérend Kanyimb Mbaz est le chef du bureau de gestion des catastrophes de la zone épiscopale du Sud-Congo et Zambie. Cette écriture fait partie d'une série sur la nourriture et la mission.

Texte: Matthieu 14:16 “Jésus leur répondit: Ils n’ont pas besoin de s’en aller; donnez-leur vous-mêmes à manger.”

Dans mon cours d'évangélisme a Africa University, le défunt professeur Kurewa a définit la mission comme un ensemble d'activités qui accompagnent l'évangile, entre autres la création des écoles, des centres professionnels, des hôpitaux, des orphelinats, des centres des nutrition, des centres d'encadrement des femmes pour les programmes culinaires, des fermes et j'en passe. Dans cet article, nous allons nous appesantir sur la relation entre la mission et la nourriture. La bible nous parle à travers ce texte d’un cas de manque de la nourriture pour nourrir 5000 personnes sans compter les femmes et les enfants. L’insécurité alimentaire est une grande et redoutable arme qui décime nos communautés en ces jours.

L’insécurité alimentaire
L'insécurité alimentaire des masses a été quelques fois dans la Bible l'une des grandes opportunités que Dieu a saisies pour bien véhiculer son message du salut dans les temps anciens. Elle pouvait aller jusqu'à faire d'un peuple réfugié ou même un esclave des autres car la nourriture fait partie des nécessités fondamentales de la vie. Une communauté ne peut devenir sédentaire et productrice que lorsqu’elle atteint sa suffisance en général et dans le cadre alimentaire en particulier. La science nous prouve qu’un peuple, une famille ou meme une personne qui n'arrive pas à se nourrir devient instable mentalement et aussi physiquement.

Notre pays, la République Démocratique du Congo, est classée parmi les pays à déficit alimentaire. Selon le dernier IPC (Integrated food security Phase Classification), publié le 10 novembre, 27 millions de personnes en RDC connaissent des niveaux élevés d'insécurité alimentaire entre septembre et décembre 2021, ce qui représente environ 26,5% de la population congolaise.

Selon le PAM, le nombre de personnes en situation d'insécurité alimentaire aiguë s'élève à 27 millions, faisant de l'accès à la nourriture un combat quotidien pour une partie importante de la population congolaise. On estime que 3,4 millions d'enfants souffrent de malnutrition aiguë. Il est possible pour un plus grand nombre de personnes de ne manger qu'une seule fois par jour par rapport aux trois repas prévus pour chaque personne. Et souvent le repas sur la table ne reflète pas une bonne nutrition. La RDC est l'une des plus grandes crises de la faim dans le monde.

Quelle est donc le rôle de l’église et sa mission dans le monde ou ces indices font rages? Quelles ont été les contextes de l’introduction de la religion chrétienne dans nos communautés?

La mission
Dans nos villages à l'entrée des missionnaires certaines commodités comme le sel y le sucre étaient des moyens efficaces pour frayer le chemin de l'évangile. Lors de notre première distribution alimentaire a Kapanga des survivant de Kamwina Nsapu sur subvention de UMCOR, nous avons été face a une foule très grande indescriptible qui nous laissait lire le besoin, le manque et la faim. Nous avions distribué les rations pendant les 3 jours prévus et des populations venaient des villages lointains pour venir chercher à manger et nous n’avions ni le temps ni l’envie de prêcher car la distribution des rations était elle-même la prédication.

Dans le monde méthodiste en Afrique, l’agriculture pourtant crucial fut un des grands programmes ayant rarement répondu aux urgences alimentaires ou nutritionnelles d’une part à cause des faiblesses incluant les infrastructures routières inadéquates, les faibles productions face aux surnombres des populations ainsi que l’absence de la pérennité. Tout ceci n’a pas permit de véhiculer a plein succès l’évangile et ainsi renforcer la mission de l’église. Nous avons besoin de beaucoup plus de programmes avec des activités pour nourrir nos communautés et cela semble être l'une des grandes responsabilités de l'église en mission. Ces programmes doivent être directes en termes de production alimentaire en renforçant l'agro-alimentaire ou en établissant des points de distribution pour ceux qui ne peuvent pas faire d'activités agricoles. Car il faut mentionner que les vieillards, les enfants, les femmes enceintes, les malades, ceux avec deficience et même les veuves avances en âge ne peuvent pas aller cultiver ou travailler pour leur survie alors que la sécurité sociale est presque inexistante. Quel est le message que nous prêchons aux affames?

Résoudre l’urgence, conduit à la pérennité
Depuis quelque temps, la prédication a centré son message sur le travail, disant que celui qui ne travaille pas ne mange pas. C’est une très bonne chose car Dieu a béni l'œuvre de l'homme. Cependant, dans un contexte où la famine est aiguë et que celle-ci crée dans nos communautés des malnutris peut-on encore parler du travail au premier plan? Qu’est-ce qui précède l’autre; manger ou travailler? Pour une communauté avec un grand pourcentage de mineurs, d'adultes contre un faible pourcentage d'hommes et de femmes capables de chercher un logement? Telles sont les questions auxquelles nos communautés sont confrontées et auxquelles il faut répondre. Mais alors, il arrive que de nombreux prédicateurs parlent de travail, oubliant de mentionner que pour travailler, il faut avoir mangé. Je trouve cette théologie discriminatoire car elle cible une classe de personnes et les incite à faire mieux, oubliant celles qui ne sont pas physiquement aptes à travailler. La nourriture ne peut être ni un slogan ni une incitation mais une réalité qui consiste à mettre de la nourriture sur la table en priorité, après quoi le programme de production peut suivre.

Donnez-leur vous-même à manger
Cependant, il existe un lien entre la mission et l'alimentation. Un lien qui n’a rien à avoir avec l’intervention alimentaire comme corruption mais comme un besoin à combler car « ventre affame, n’a point d’oreille » dit-on. Selon notre expérience, cette liaison est directe. Le Christ leur dit alors par ces mots: "Donnez-leur vous-même à manger."

C’est ces termes de l’évangile parlent du lien entre la mission et la nourriture. Par rapport à notre expérience dans l’intervention des catastrophes, la nourriture a été l’intervention la plus appréciée dans toutes les communautés ou nous sommes intervenues inclus les milieux considérés comme agricoles. Tout ceci parce que non seulement précieuse, mais la nourriture est aussi difficile à trouver par rapport au coup de vie. Dans les milieux ruraux comme urbains la population a du mal à se procurer à manger pouvant lier les deux bouts du mois. Au Congo selon les statistiques et dans le Katanga, rester beaucoup de temps sans manger à cause du manque est un fléau. Par rapport à la question des droits humains, la nourriture se trouve sur la première liste des besoins de base et on parle d’une nourriture adéquate.

Une intervention ponctuelle de la nourriture aux nécessiteux non seulement renforce la mission de l'église mais aussi maintien la continuité de celle-ci. Dans un contexte purement déficitaire en alimentation comme nous démontre le texte biblique ci haut cite: « Donnez-leur vous-même à manger. » Une urgence s'impose, elle n’attend pas un programme d'agriculture si bien que celui-ci soit très important et pérenne. L’urgence alimentaire dans notre communauté est criante. Elle est semblable à la faim d'un enfant qui n’attendra pas que son père ailles au travail pour lui revenir avec de quoi grignoter mais il demande une intervention qui se veut ici et maintenant, « Hic et Nunc. » Nous avons trouvés dans le territoire de Kipushi des familles qui mangent à tour de rôle; c’est à dire quand les uns mangent aujourd’hui, demain ils ne mangeront pas ainsi de suite.

La voie à suivre
Nous voudrions encourager les programmes non seulement sur la production alimentaire à travers l'agriculture mais aussi de renforcer les mécanismes de disponibilité des produits alimentaires de première nécessité à travers des programmes spécifiques, entre autres, aux enfants des rues, aux veuves, aux orphelins, aux déplacés de guerres, aux réfugiés alimentaires et tant d'autres car même les demandeurs d'asile vivant au Congo finissent par souffrir d'une manière ou d'une autre de l'insécurité alimentaire.

L'Eglise Méthodiste Unie a besoin de prendre l'initiative de former des nutritionnistes et dès les encadrer, les équiper afin d’aider nos communautés non seulement à sélectionner des aliments nutritifs mais surtout à suivre des programmes qui soutiennent des interventions alimentaires adéquats et palpables.

Au cours du forum agricole de GBGM tenue en Afrique du Sud à Johannesburg, la résolution, celle de chercher des terres arables pour des programmes d’agriculture durable est à encourager et cependant, elle nécessite un autre élément, celui d’initier à la base l’idée des coopératives des petits agriculteurs visant les femmes. Car celles-ci pourront participer à leur propre développement en répondant immédiatement et directement à leurs besoins alimentaires et ceux de leurs familles étant donné qu’en Afrique la femme reste encore au centre de l’économie domestique. Il est aussi souhaitable de pouvoir concevoir des programmes de sensibilisation à l'éducation alimentaire et ainsi inclure des programmes alimentaires dans nos écoles, comme dans l’ancien temps ou la nourriture était offerte dans les écoles et centres de formation pour renforcer l’immunité des apprenants. Avec ce programme la faim est combattue à la source en faveur de celui qui aurai quitté sa maison sans avoir eu la chance de manger quelque chose.

Nous ne pourrons finir nos propos sans mentionner certaines réflexions qui soutiennent notre contribution base sur notre expérience dans le contexte de l’insécurité alimentaire. « Cultiver un champ c'est bien, mais commencez par se nourrir c’est mieux. » « Un producteur affamé ne peut pas produire pour manger. » Et quand il produit, il assure sa subsistance mais quand il mange il assure sa survie. Mettre de la nourriture à la disposition des affames est plus qu’une évangile prêchée.

Ainsi donc la nourriture est la servante de la mission. Elle est encore dans nos communautés les pieds de l’évangile. Christ l’a utilisé pour véhiculer le message du salut en intimant l’ordre a ses disciples. « Donnez Leurs Vous-mêmes à Manger. » Dans l’exercice de la réponse aux catastrophes dans notre contexte, la nourriture prend la première place. La nourriture disponible, pas la semence car la population pourra se mourir avec la semence en terre ou dans la maison en attendant la saison pluvieuse dans ce contexte de réchauffement climatique. Ainsi la meilleure des missions est celle qui pose les actions afin préserver de la faim la communauté. La mission de l’Eglise repose non seulement sur la prédication mais la réponse aux besoins vitaux et dans notre contexte, c’est la nourriture de chaque jour pour la force de chaque jour.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Bayanihan and Connectionalism

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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.

The United Methodist leaders from Asia, Africa, and Europe behind the Christmas Covenant, the first major piece of UMC legislation from outside the United States, have identified three guiding principles behind that legislation: We are all children of God, ubuntu, and bayanihan. Two of these principles are notable in drawing on non-Western cultural concepts.

In the spirit of cross-cultural dialogue, I will treat the statement of these principles as an invitation to the whole church to engage in theological reflection on ubuntu and bayanihan and consider how these concepts can contain lessons for Methodist/Wesleyan theological thinking in other contexts as well. In this post, I will reflect on the connection between bayanihan and connectionalism. In a previous post, I reflected on the connection between ubuntu and sanctification.

The description of bayanihan offered by the Christmas Covenant reads as follows:

Bayanihan is a cherished ancient Filipino concept of community spirit and cooperation to achieve communal goals. Rooted in the word bayan, which means nation or community, bayanihan has been traditionally expressed through concrete community support for families that need to relocate. The able- bodied persons of the barrio carry the entire wood and bamboo house and transfers it to a new location, especially in anticipation of typhoons, floods, and landslides. This might be rare in these modern times, but the spirit of bayanihan is alive in the hearts of Filipinos when they act as one community in support of one another in times of need, even when it is deemed impossible to do so.

This description of cooperation towards communal goals made me think about connectionalism.

When I think about connectionalism, I tend to think about it both as an ecclesiology and as a practice. As an ecclesiology, connectionalism refers to the belief that the nature of the church is located in the connections among local congregations. In that sense, it is a counter to congregationalism, which proclaims that a local congregation is fully the church by itself. Connectionalism as an ecclesiology says (in perhaps an ubuntu sort of way) that local congregations can only be the church in connection with one another.

As a practice, connectionalism refers to the ways in which congregations and other denominational entities (annual, central, and jurisdictional conferences; boards and agencies; committees and commissions; etc.) collaborate in mission and ministry. Here, I tend to think of connectionalism as expressing a "we can do more together" sentiment.

The parallels between bayanihan and connectionalism as a practice are perhaps easy to see. Both refer to collective action, to mutual ministry carried out in cooperation.

But thinking about connectionalism through the lens of bayanihan highlighted two dimensions of connectionalism that I had not given full attention to previously.

First, bayanihan really connects the ecclesiological and the practical elements of connectionalism. Bayan means community, and so the practice of bayanihan is rooted in a sense of shared communal identity. That shared communal identity is perhaps analogous to the ecclesiological understanding of connectionalism: We are the church together. And it is that shared bayan communal identity that makes the practice of bayanihan cooperation possible. We can practice connectionalism when we believe we are a connection.

Second, bayanihan highlights for me the reciprocity in connectionalism. Bayanihan is about each member of the community contributing to communal projects, but it is also about potentially any member of the community who happens to be in need (because their house has been endangered) being able to receive help from the community. It is about "support of one another" in a mutual give and take.

I think that view helps resolve a debate among US United Methodists about whether connectional institutions exist to serve congregations or to allow congregations to serve in broader ways. This debate is expressed through criticisms of agencies as too top-down or of congregations as always wanting to do their own thing regardless of where the rest of the church is focused.

A bayanihan understanding of connectionalism suggests that connectionalism exists both to serve congregations and to allow congregations to serve. The principle of bayanihan suggests that connectionalism exists to allow congregations to support one another in their ministry. Sometimes that means the congregations are willing to contribute work and resources towards goals that the entire group has identified (probably through conference structures). Sometimes that means that the entire group works to support individual congregations that are struggling or negatively impacted by significant events. Connectionalism goes both ways.

I have intended these two pieces reflecting on principles from the Christmas Covenant to model intercultural theological reflection and an openness to learn from concepts from other cultural backgrounds. I hope these examples inspire more such dialogue in our connection.

Monday, April 11, 2022

John Walter Ngoy: The Power of Food in People’s Lives

Today's post is by Rev. John Walter Ngoy. Rev. Ngoy is the head of the North Katanga Episcopal Area Disaster Management Office. This post is part of a series on food and mission.

There is an unrecognized power in the food that we use daily. Once thoughtfully considered and purposefully used, one can discover a revealing, gathering and constructive power that food possesses intrinsically and, therefore, exercises in the life of many people. When properly used or given out, food reveals the inner feelings or secrets from those who receive it. Not only does food reveal feelings and secrets of its consumers, but it also tends to bring together people and build their relationships.

In Katanga’s Luba culture, there is a saying literally translated as “Once a mouth eats well, it starts speaking well.” In the same culture, there is, in the wedding process, a step – the second phase of wedding – that requires food for the process of marriage to continue. The lady’s parents oblige what is culturally known as “Opening mouth.” This is a kind of food that the future parents-in-laws demand from their son-in-law to be given them after he has closed the door to other young men who could seek for their daughter in marriage. The in-laws have to eat their requested food, after that they open their mouth to tell their son-in-law what the present could be that they need for them to give him their daughter. The son-in-law should keep in mind “Once a mouth eats well, it starts speaking well” for him to make the following steps easier and lighter by offering the in-laws the food they would really like.

This food power of revealing secrets is observed in the Bible as well. Abraham saw three men by his home. He welcomed them and gave them food. At their departure, the visitors revealed to Abraham what is going to happen in his life and what they were going to do ahead (Genesis 18). The same is also observed with Isaac who, willing to bless his son, Esau, requested some food before he opened his mouth (Genesis 27:1-4). In both contexts, one can explicitly notice the power that food exercises upon people’s intentions. So, it looks like food compels people to speak out what they intend to do.

In addition, in case of conflict, Katanga’s Luba culture calls its people to unite through another saying that literally states, “Talk together and kill an animal.” That is, people in conflict should sit around a reconciliation table and, once they are truly reconciled with one another, they have to share food together at the end of their reconciliation process. They will also be encouraged to share their food together often in order to strengthen their relationship. Thus, food plays a very important role in Katanga’s Luba culture by not only allowing people to express overtly their feelings but also bringing them together and building their community.

In spite of what it is in our communities, food influence receives less consideration among many people until these days. It is looked upon as the solar energy was in the past few years. The sun emitted its energy for a very long period of time. People were not interested in using it in other ways as it is used today through solar panels. Thanks to solar panels, the sun is useful in our homes, even during the time it is not available. If we invest in the power of food the way they invested in the sun’s power, especially in the Christian mission context, we are likely to revitalize the spread of the gospel in this period of the angel of Revelation 14:8.

It was easier to proclaim the gospel during the first angel’s period. During this time, the angel was at work using human beings as tools for proclamation. Now, as the proclaimer is no more, there is an urgent need to revitalize the Christian mission through the use of new tools like food.

For food proclaims the gospel without using any kind of theology or methodology. It draws people to Christ without coercion or explanation. Since it is part of our daily life, it helps the receivers to discover the source of their life while enabling them to confess their affiliation to that source of life.

As an illustration, the Church in the district of Mitwaba had, for a long time of its existence, very few fervent members. They were not attending to their Sunday worship regularly. We were only receiving complaints in every gathering we held with its leaders.

But, since the population was assisted by UMCOR with food, after the area was affected by flood and storm, we heard that the churches in Mitwaba were now flooded by participants during Sunday worships. The same increase of Sunday worship participation has been also noted in the districts of Kinkondja and Malemba, where the same action took place.

Yet during the distribution of food, no recommendation to attend church services was said, by respect of our code of conduct, point 3, stipulating that, ‘Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.’ Thus, we need to further invest in studying the power of food and the way to use it if we want to revitalize our Christian mission.

However, in the same culture of Luba Katanga people, there is another saying in connection with food. It is literally translated as “People follow the word; they do not follow fatty food.” This saying has to draw our attention on ways we need to use food in our mission. For, there are people who are not blindly influenced by the power of food. They prefer such food shared in peace with dignity and respect toward its beneficiary. Consequently, when food is given out to denigrate others, it loses its influential power.

Therefore, based on Luba Katanga culture and on biblical experiences of food influencing or exerting power, food can be used successfully as a tool in Christian mission today. Its power of making people to speak well can be utilized in leading the food beneficiaries to confess their faith in Christ, to bring them together and build their communities. Such a powerful tool needs to be exploited in the context of Christian mission to spread the gospel during this critical period.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Recommended Reading: Bulgaria-Romania AC Votes to Leave UMC, Join GMC

The Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference posted a report from their annual conference meeting detailing a vote to withdraw from The United Methodist Church and join the Global Methodist Church. This decision was hailed by Traditionalists in the United States, but Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference, who oversees the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference, told that body prior to their vote that he did not understand why they wanted to separate.

The report by the Bulgaria-Romania AC is notable in that it makes clear the different understandings between the annual conference and Bishop Streiff on proper procedure in voting to separate from the UMC. The annual conference took the view that, according to Paragraph 33 of the Book of Discipline, it had ultimate authority to make decisions as it wished. Bishop Streiff indicated that the annual conference should follow the provisions of Paragraph 572, which is the only place in the Book of Discipline that lays out a procedure for an annual conference in the central conferences to separate from the UMC (a point reiterated in a subsequent letter). Bishop Streiff regarded the vote of the annual conference as out of order according to UMC rules, but the annual conference proceeded anyway. Bishop Streiff indicated that he would regard the Bulgaria-Romania Annual Conference as an autonomous church (the result of separation under Paragraph 572), but the conference reiterated that they intended to join the Global Methodist Church.

In the end, whether or not the decision properly followed UMC rules may be moot. The Bulgarian church already changed its articles of incorporation under Bulgarian law. The Central and Southern Europe Central Conference may have little legal recourse to opposing the decision and little incentive to fight a unanimous decision by the annual conference.

Traditionalists in the United States are likely to want to use the Bulgaria-Romania conference's decision as a precedent, but it is worth pointing out the special circumstances of this case. Bishop Streiff clearly indicated that he regarded the move as illegal according to church law. But because of the complexities law involved in resolving disputes about church law across national boundaries and different secular legal systems, that objection is hard to pursue. Within the United States, church law is likely to matter more to secular legal processes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Ubuntu and Sanctification

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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.

The United Methodist leaders from Asia, Africa, and Europe behind the Christmas Covenant, the first major piece of UMC legislation from outside the United States, have identified three guiding principles behind that legislation: We are all children of God, ubuntu, and bayanihan. Two of these principles are notable in drawing on non-Western cultural concepts.

In the spirit of cross-cultural dialogue, I will treat the statement of these principles as an invitation to the whole church to engage in theological reflection on ubuntu and bayanihan and consider how these concepts can contain lessons for Methodist/Wesleyan theological thinking in other contexts as well. In this post, I will reflect on the connection between ubuntu and sanctification. In another, I will reflect on the connection between bayanihan and connectionalism.

The description of ubuntu offered by the Christmas Covenant reads as follows:

Ubuntu is an African concept that embodies a way of life where humanity is based on the understanding of interdependence and community life. It is lived recognizing that we are all created in the image of God and should do unto others as we wish it be done unto us. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa declares, “The profound truth is, you cannot be human on your own. ... You are human because you participate in relationship. It says a person is a person through other persons. This is what we say. This is what the Bible says. This is what our human experience teaches us.”

The comments here on the image of God and the inability to be human on one's own made me think of the Wesleyan concept of sanctification.

According to Wesleyan theology, humans are created in the image of God. Sin, however, mars and defaces that image of God. Salvation, then, is about the restoration of the image of God in us through a two-step process: First, in justification, our guilt is removed. Second, through the on-going process of sanctification, we are made more holy, which is to say, more loving towards God and other humans.

I've known and believed this theological account for a long time and have looked at the concept of sanctification in particular as key to what it meant to be Methodist, one of the unique Methodist contributions to the pool of Christian theological insight.

I will admit, however, that, coming from an individualistic cultural background, I had understood the process of salvation and sanctification in primarily individual terms. Yes, sanctification was about growing in love for others, but it was a process that played out in the individual, or so I thought.

Meditating on the concept of ubuntu called that individualistic understanding into question for me. If we think about salvation as a process of being restored to true humanity (as encapsulated in the image of God), then ubuntu suggests that true humanity must be interpersonal, not merely individual. We are persons through other persons, and so we become saved persons through the salvation of our relationships with other persons. It is not possible to be sanctified, and thus not possible to be truly saved, apart from our relationships with others. Thus, the concept of ubuntu highlighted for me the interpersonal and communal nature of salvation and sanctification.

Seen in this way, then, the Wesley conjunction of personal and social holiness takes on a new light. Personal and social holiness are no longer two concepts that must be held together despite a tendency to fall apart. Much less are they two opposing concepts that people are asked to line up behind in a soft-pedaled version of the fundamentalist/social gospel or evangelical/progressive debate.

No, personal and social holiness are instead two logically interconnected aspects of what it means to be a full and sanctified human in light of the concept of ubuntu. Being a full human who lives up to the highest ideals of humanity necessarily involves connection to God (personal holiness) and love towards others (social holiness). Anything else would be an incomplete and truncated humanity.

(Incidentally, I think the Chinese Confucian concept of ren can be used as an interpretive lens for sanctification in much the same way. One bit of cross-cultural theology begets another.)

There are many further consequences of this ubuntu-informed understanding of sanctification that I do not have time or space to explore here. Relative to the current state of the UMC, one could probably reflect on what such an ubuntu-informed understanding of sanctification means for relations among different groups of Christians.

Let me conclude, therefore, by reiterating that reflecting on the concept of ubuntu challenged my theological thinking and suggested new insights to me. I hope it can do the same for you.