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.
Food is an elemental part of what it means to be human. Think about it: You have probably already seen, touched, smelled, tasted, and eaten food today. If not yet today, then certainly yesterday or the day before.
Food is intrinsic to the individual experience of being human. It’s intrinsic to the social experience of being human. So much of human activity is about food: producing food, distributing food, sharing food, feeding others, eating with others, etc. Food is one of the most common means by which humans connect with one another, in a variety of ways.
Food is not just ubiquitous; it is meaningful. Food is regularly used in a variety of rituals. Various types of food are used as symbols, similes, metaphors, and metonyms. From the apple of good and evil to cheeks red as apples to the apple of your eye to the Big Apple, food structures our language and our thought.
Yet for all of the significance, food is an undertheorized and undertheologized area in missiology. There is often a basic assumption that feeding people is good and hunger is bad, but too rarely are reflections about food taken to a deeper level. Yet not only is food basic to the human experience, food plays a critical role in several different forms of mission practice.
Food and feeding ministries are one of the most common ways that local congregations in the United States are engaged in mission. Congregations operate food pantries, soup kitchens, blessing boxes, and other feeding ministries in enormous numbers. Much of this congregational mission effort, however, is often done without engaging in larger questions about the meanings of food or the qualities of “good food,” whether defined nutritionally, socially, culturally, or otherwise.
Congregational food ministries include not only local feeding programs but also congregational participation in national and world-wide programs to alleviate international hunger such as the 30 Hour Famine and Rise Against Hunger meal packing. Some of these larger programs are very intentional in highlighting questions about food production, access, and consumption as part of educational materials delivered to congregations. The 30 Hour Famine is a good example. Yet other programs focus on mobilizing volunteers to assemble meal kits without much thought about how these meal kits fit within larger systems of food production, distribution, and consumption.
Beyond the local congregation, food is a key consideration in mission-led agricultural development. There is a long history of agricultural mission which continues today, especially outside the United States, mostly in developing countries. There is more attention paid within this realm of work (at least nowadays) to what culturally and agriculturally appropriate forms of food are, though perhaps not always to the theological significance of food.
In addition to its connection to questions of nutrition and poverty, food is also important for its social and theological significance in some forms of mission. Food is a key element of the hospitality that many Christians practice, both for its own sake and for the sake of evangelism.
Sometimes such food-centered hospitality can pay quite close attention to the food as symbol and to the production, distribution, and consumption of food (by, for instance, focusing on “local food” or organic food), though it is also possible to engage in food-related evangelism without much reflection on the nature of the food itself. Coffee church Fresh Expressions and beer hall hymn sings are evangelism at sites of food consumption, but the food present is often a side thought, if it is thought of at all.
In addition to each of these four forms of mission interacting with food—local feeding programs, international hunger programs, agricultural mission, and food in evangelistic hospitality—being at times undertheologized individually, they are rarely put into conversation with one another or with any of the other ways in which mission and food interact.
Yet connects are certainly possible: How can the connection between food, hospitality, and evangelism inform local feeding programs? What does agricultural development mean for evangelism? How can agricultural development work help us think about food systems and who ends up hungry and in need of feeding ministries?
To be fair, the theological intersections between food and mission have not completely escaped scholarly reflection. Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger is a modern class. The eucharist can be seen as an intersection between mission and food, and there’s plenty of theologizing about the role of the eucharist in mission. There are dissertations (such as this one and this one) and books from smaller publishers (such as this one and this one) on relevant topics. Food has also been a significant theme examined in other areas of theological inquiry, including biblical studies and the history of medieval Christianity.
Still, there remains more to be said about food and mission, and I think more needs to be said on this topic. For that reason, UM & Global is going to be hosting a series of posts on mission and food over the next several months. If you would like to contribute to this series, contact blogmaster David Scott at dscott (at) umcmission (dot) org.
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
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.
Monday, March 28, 2022
Mikeie Honda Reiland has written a lovely essay about United Methodist pastor Rev. Carlos Uroza, a Mexican immigrant serving two congregations in Nashville, one of them also primarily composed of immigrants. The piece is titled "The Pastor of Little Mexico" and is available on the online magazine The Bitter Southerner with accompanying photo essay by Tamara Reynolds. A translation into Spanish by Leonor Yanez is available from United Methodist News Service as "El Pastor del pequeño México." The piece is beautifully written and touches on several topics relevant to this blog: the story of one man's conversion experience, unexpected consequences of connections formed through short term mission trips, one man's immigration experience, and the challenges and opportunities facing immigrant communities in the United States. It is well worth a read, in English or Spanish.
Friday, March 25, 2022
The Dictionary of Christian Biography in Asia launched at the beginning of the month. This online resource contains life stories of Christian leaders from Asia, both indigenous leaders and foreign missionaries. The project will continue to add biographies from across Asia, but the initial batch of biographies draw especially from Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Many of those biographies are of Methodists. Thus, the Dictionary makes an excellent resource for those interested in learning about the history of Methodism in Southeast Asia. There will be an official launch event online on April 17th at 8:00pm Malaysia time at which more information about the Dictionary will be shared.
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. It is the third in a series examining issues in The United Methodist Church following the further postponement of General Conference to 2024. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
Having looked last week at the implications of the postponement of General Conference on African United Methodists, this week I will look at Europe. The context of European United Methodism is complex and varied, as this recent summary of Methodism in Europe put forward by European United Methodists makes clear.
Relative to the main focus of division within The United Methodist Church presently, there are differing views and laws on homosexuality between Western and Eastern Europe. However, views on sexuality are not the only salient part of United Methodist identity in Europe. Instead, there are multiple cross-cutting forces that pull European United Methodists, especially those in Eastern Europe, in different directions.
European United Methodists in all countries are a small minority defined against both largely secular societies and dominant churches from other traditions. In the face of such religious pressures, connections across countries have historically been important in Europe. This was even more true under Communist rule in Eastern Europe, and the emphasis on connectionalism is sustained not just by the machinery of United Methodist polity but by shared ministries and educational endeavors.
This tradition of shared ministry also recognizes Eastern European United Methodism’s financial dependence on Western European United Methodism. The church in most of Eastern Europe is not financially self-sustaining, and the sorts of social witness in which the church is engaged, including ministry with the Roma and other marginalized people, relies on monetary contributions from Western Europeans.
Based on the history of the Iron Curtain, United Methodists (and others) in Eastern Europe fear Russian domination. Therefore, even prior to the Russian invasion, the Ukraine Moldova Provisional Annual Conference had requested to withdraw from the Eurasia Episcopal Area, not because of distaste for Bishop Khegay personally but because of political realities that made being supervised from Russia difficult.
Thus, there are real differences in opinions on sexuality between Western and Eastern European United Methodisms, but there are also religious, connectional, financial, and (for countries other than Russia) political reasons why links between East and West are important.
Given that situation, Europeans have been discussing the future of the UMC in Europe even before General Conference 2019. General Conference 2019, however, certainly intensified questions about that future, with different parts of the European Central Conferences reacting differently.
Three of the four European bishops (Rückert, Alsted, and Streiff) have supported continued connection, though Bishops Alsted and Streiff have also announced their intention to retire. Bishop Khegay has previously indicated that his episcopal area would join the Global Methodist Church.
In May of last year, the bishops worked with other European leaders to lay out a timeline for moving forward as European United Methodists. How that timeline will be impacted by the further delay of General Conference remains to be seen.
Following General Conference 2019, the Germans rejected the Traditional Plan and formed a process of roundtables to discern a system by which the UMC in Germany (German initials: EmK) could remain united, despite internal disagreements on sexuality. That roundtable’s work has been completed, leading to affirmation of removing discriminatory language from the German Book of Discipline and creating a league for traditionalist Germans to support one another. This plan has been ratified by the central conference executive committee, but it has not been affirmed by vote of the Central Conference, which has not yet met due to the delay in General Conference meeting. The further delay in General Conference raises questions about whether German United Methodists will want to convene their central conference to ratify the roundtable’s work.
Both the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference and the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area also announced similar roundtable processes. The work of those roundtables has not progressed as far as the German roundtable, and that work remains ongoing. These roundtables have been complicated by greater variation within those areas of Europe than within Germany.
In the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Romania have indicated that they may withdraw and join the new Global Methodist Church. However, Eastern Europe WCA leader and Bulgarian District Superintendent Daniel Topalski acknowledged in a WCA podcast all the factors outlined above that make the question of the future of The United Methodist Church in Eastern Europe a complicated one. He also indicated a distrust common across Europe of being treated as an afterthought by Americans making plans for the church’s future. Topalski will be wrapping up his time as district superintendent soon, though he will undoubtedly remain influential in Bulgaria and beyond.
On top of all these layers of complication, the war in Ukraine has added a new dimension of complexity. The war has further cemented Eastern European distrust of Russia (and therefore opposition to ecclesiastic leadership based in Russia). It has made connections between the church in Russia and any Western branch of Methodism—UMC or Global Methodist Church—much more politically fraught for Russian Methodists. And it has galvanized the connectional system so that European United Methodists across countries are working together to respond in generosity and compassion to Ukrainian refugees and other Ukrainians impacted by the war.
Due to the context of complicated religious, cultural, and political factors, a church split in the UMC was never going to be easy for European United Methodists. The timing of the split, coinciding with the war in Ukraine, has made it even worse. Many important questions – about central conference meetings, episcopal elections, roundtable processes, and decisions to stay UMC or leave for the Global Methodist Church – remain up in the air. But unlike American United Methodists, European United Methodists are currently confronted with something much more pressing than church politics: the largest war in their continent in 80 years.
Monday, March 21, 2022
On March 10, 1957, over a span of just over four hours, the waters of the mighty Columbia River flooded and silenced the Celilo Falls. The Dalles Dam would now provide electricity to the growing population of the Pacific Northwest, but the cost was dear.
Celilo Village, the oldest continuously inhabited village in North America (for which there is archeological evidence, anyway) remains today, but it has been moved further away from the dam-swollen river. For 15,000 years Native Americans fished, traded, and made cross-cultural connections with one another at this place. It was perhaps the continent’s best fishing spot with millions of salmon swimming through the narrow channels around and through the Falls. It was also a place where, for thousands of years, thousands of Native Americans gathered, their languages and customs mixing from many cultures throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Last week, on the 65th anniversary of Celilo Falls’ silencing, I joined about three hundred Native Americans to mark the occasion at a park near Portland, Oregon. Yakama, Nez Perce, Cowlitz, Umatilla, Cayuse, and other tribal groups were well-represented. Some traveled hundreds of miles to be there. So far as I could tell, I was among just a handful of people who were not Native American.
I observed a sacred ceremony and heard testimony from elders who recalled their own parents weeping when Celilo Falls was flooded. At several points in the service, a flock of several hundred Canadian geese flew overhead, their calls almost drowning out the sounds of speakers, drums, and singing. In my own imagination, I couldn’t decide if the geese reminded me of the wailing of elders so many years ago, or if their call was reminiscent of a more confident reminder, “We are still here, and we shall not forget!”
I spent the day mostly being quiet, watching, and listening to what was happening around me. The mood was celebratory sometimes. After two years of Covid-canceled gatherings, people were once again able to meet across diverse tribal cultures. I learned about gill net fishing from a Yakama fisherman who still fishes near the once-Falls. I learned about the good work of the Confluence Project that is seeking to educate Oregon and Washington citizens about the people of the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
The dominant narrative too often remains that of Lewis and Clark’s voyage on this river in the early 19th century rather than the story of peoples who traveled, fished, and loved the river for the 15,000 years before and two hundred years after Lewis and Clark passed by.
I attended this event for several reasons. Honoring a place like Celilo Falls that has brought different people, beliefs, and customs together for 15,000 years seemed important as I prayed for a divided United Methodism during this Lenten season.
I wrote an academic article a couple years ago about Methodist missionaries who lived a few miles downstream from the Celilo Falls (but still in the midst of smaller falls and rapids). It was the Methodists’ most successful mission outpost in the Pacific Northwest, and the missionaries there, Dan and Maria Lee and Elvira and Henry Perkins, were some of the best missionaries of their age. They had their blind spots and ethnocentric arrogance, of course.
But Henry and Elvira both became proficient in Sahaptin, an important language of the river. Henry’s detailed descriptions of the sacred salmon ceremony in the late 1830s (and still practiced at multiple sites along the river each April) is one of the earliest written accounts of the ceremony. His journals even suggest that Native practices and beliefs challenged his own interpretation of the Bible he was translating into Sahaptin. This willingness to have his ideas challenged is one of the things I admire about Henry, and I seek to follow in his footsteps on that.
I was also present at this 65th commemoration of the silencing of the Celilo Falls because I am still trying to live out the desire for reconciliation and repentance that my Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference expressed at a service of worship in 2015. It described repentance “as a journey and not a destination.”
That is true, of course. But Blue Lake Regional Park outside of Portland, Oregon was one destination on March 10, 2022 where I needed to show up to remember, repent, and also bear witness to my desire for right relationships and reconciliation in the present and future. I am trying to do that where I live and work at Seattle Pacific University in the Puget Sound. It is far away from the Columbia River in some ways, but as I learned last Thursday, the silencing of the Falls affects us all. It can also still bring people together.
Friday, March 18, 2022
As part of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW)'s celebration of Women's History Month and its own 50th anniversary, it has published an excellent historical overview of the office of deaconesses in the Methodist tradition, written by Rev. Emily Nelms Chastain. Interested readers looking to supplement Chastain's overview can also check out these biographies of significant early leaders of the deaconess movement in the United States: that of Lucy Rider Meyer, that of Dr. Jane Bancroft Robinson, and that of Belle Harris Bennett. These biographies come from the Methodist mission bicentennial collection. Chastain writes about the spread of the deaconess movement to India, and Isabella Thoburn was an early leader among deaconesses there. She also writes about the significance of the deaconess movement in the Philippines. Institutions like Ka Onang Bible Institute and leaders like Prudencia Fabro helped cultivate the movement there. The deaconess program in present-day United Methodism is overseen by United Women in Faith, formerly United Methodist Women.
Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. It is the second in a series examining issues in The United Methodist Church following the further postponement of General Conference to 2024. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
With the postponement of General Conference, the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation is, at best, on hold for another two years and, at worst, a dead proposal. Therefore, Traditionalists have announced that they intend to proceed with the launch of the new Global Methodist Church on May 1st, thus beginning the process of forming that new denomination.
The Protocol would have allowed not just individual churches but entire annual conferences to transfer into the Global Methodist Church. Without the Protocol, Traditionalists are focusing (for now) on encouraging individual churches to make plans to join the new denomination. The plan is for United Methodist congregations to use ¶2548.2 of the Book of Discipline, which allows for transfer of congregations into “another evangelical denomination,” in this case, the Global Methodist Church.
However, as the Council of Bishops’ recent request for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council shows, there is still interest in entire annual conference departing The United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council has agreed to hear this request.
Four out of the six questions that the bishops asked the Judicial Council focused on annual conferences in the United States, where it is unclear whether whole annual conferences can leave by any means. Question 2 asked about annual conferences outside the United States where, as the question acknowledged, there are disciplinary provisions for annual conferences to leave the UMC. As the request thus highlights, this is an area in which important differences exist between the church in the United States and the church elsewhere.
This is significant because, while a lot of the focus in US conversations has been on Traditionalists in the United States leaving the church, various Traditionalist leaders outside the United States, especially in Africa, have expressed their intention to join the new Global Methodist Church. (This applies as well to some United Methodists in Eastern Europe, though I will explore the situation in Europe in a subsequent article.) As indicated by the very name “Global Methodist Church,” including Methodists from around the world has been important, at very least rhetorically, for Traditionalist leaders, even as the plans for the new denomination have at times presumed an American context.
For Traditionalist-aligned United Methodists in Africa, there are significant advantages to joining the Global Methodist Church as entire annual conferences, not as individual congregations. Annual conference-wide decisions better reflect more collectivist cultural traditions, the greater power of African bishops relative to US bishops, and the administrative challenges of collecting and communicating church-by-church decisions in rural areas with limited infrastructure.
Annual conference wide decisions would also allow African United Methodists to retain control of schools, clinics, and other institutions which are an important part of the United Methodist brand in Africa. Such institutions sometimes already struggle financially; legal and financial battles for control over them could cause them to founder.
Thus, the COB’s question about the departure of annual conferences in the central conferences is significant for the future of United Methodists in Africa.
Question 2 references ¶572 of the Book of Discipline. As previously detailed on this blog, that paragraph allows annual conferences outside the United States to request autonomy in a four-step process:
1. The Central Conference containing the departing part of the church (the entire central conference or just one annual conference therein) must approve autonomy.
2. That decision must be ratified by a 2/3 or greater majority of all votes at all annual conferences within the central conference in question.
3. The departing conference must work with the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to develop a statement on why they’re choosing autonomy and mutually agree on a statement of faith and a constitution for the new church.
4. General Conference, on the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, must vote by simple majority to grant an enabling act that bestows autonomy.
Once an annual conference from the central conferences had become autonomous by following these steps, presumably it could then negotiate with the Global Methodist Church to join that denomination.
The process outlined above is a lengthy one that involves decisions by annual conferences, the Central Conference, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, and the General Conference. Thus, the earliest a portion of the UMC in Africa could leave under these provisions is in 2024 after the next meeting of the General Conference, and that presumes that the relevant central conference and the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters would have met previously, which is not guaranteed. Disaffiliation under ¶572 would be a slow process lasting 2-7 years.
Therefore, the bishops have asked whether the provisions of ¶572 must be “viewed as minimum standards” for the depart of an annual conference outside the United States. In other words, does an annual conference outside the United States that wishes to leave the UMC and join the Global Methodist Church have to follow the rules of ¶572 to do so, or is there a quicker and easier way for them to depart?
The Judicial Council’s answer to this question will have significant implications for many. It will, of course, impact those African branches of the church seeking to leave. It will impact the Global Methodist Church as it figures out how to constitute itself so as to live into the first word in its name. And it will impact the remaining United Methodist Church, as the presence or absence of African Traditionalists at General Conference 2024 (and possibly 2028) will greatly affect the shape of discussions at that event.
Monday, March 14, 2022
As the war in Ukraine continues, stories of (United) Methodist help amidst the war, Ukrainian refugees who have been taken in by Methodists, and spiritual and informational resources about Ukraine are proliferating. Because of the proximity of German-speaking United Methodists to Ukraine, some of these resources are in German. No attempt has been made to translate the resources indicated; online translators can generally provide a reasonable approximation.
Global Ministries released an article on March 4th with an overview of how United Methodists throughout Europe were engaging in support for Ukrainians. It also includes a nice background survey of Methodism in Ukraine. The German United Methodist news service published an article on March 9th providing a further roundup of news snippets of United Methodists helping. Swiss United Methodists published an article on March 11th with yet more news snippets of United Methodist responses.
Swiss United Methodist news has also shared two dramatic personal stories of Ukrainian refugees who have been taken in by United Methodists: One is about a group of orphans from Kyiv who were nearly redirected by a dishonest transportation company before arriving safely at a Methodist welcoming center in Sibiu, Romania. One is about a woman from Kharkiv who gave birth while fleeing Ukraine before safely arriving in Warsaw and being cared for by United Methodists there. The Methodist Church in Britain also released a podcast interview of two United Methodists from Ukraine about their experiences fleeing from the invasion.
Several groups have put together helpful resource pages with prayers, news, and other material related to the war in Ukraine. The Swiss United Methodist Church, which has been a major source for news related to the war and the associated refugee crisis has put together this resource page. There are also resource pages from The United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church in Britain. Finally, the European Methodist Council has shared this moving prayer from UMC Eurasia Bishop Eduard Khegay.
Friday, March 11, 2022
In an article entitled, "A New Path for the Mission," Luciano Pereira da Silva, the Secretary-General of CIEMAL, the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean, writes of the importance of "empowering indigenous leaders within the mission." He adds, "We desire and envision a relationship with agencies and missionaries abroad as follows: the relationship must be cultivated, but from a vision of interdependence, not dependency. The mission’s agenda should never be imposed by outsiders, but rather be contextualized and mutually shared.
In an article entitled, "The Mission Movement in the Post-Soviet Context," Eurasia Bishop Eduard Khegay of the UMC condemns missionaries, including short term missionaries, "who make little effort to learn the local language and understand our culture." He also advocates for the importance of building relationships in mission, saying:
"It is much harder to invest in building relationships and patiently wait when local leaders would have their own dreams and strategic plans. But isn’t genuine discipleship about building relationships? Westerners feel that we go to extremes and drink too much tea and don’t reach the goals. And they are right. We do talk a lot. We need to work more. But going to another extreme – reaching your goals and missing building relationships – can damage our mission as well."
There is certainly a lot of division within Methodism currently. But this division must not let us lose sight of an important fact about mission theology: There is a remarkable degree of agreement about what good mission looks like, and that agreement holds across cultures and other theological issues.
Local leadership, avoiding dependency, contextualization, mutuality, cross-cultural learning, and relationship building aren't Progressive or Traditionalist takes on mission theology. They aren't US American or developing world takes on mission theology. They're just good missiology.
Wednesday, March 9, 2022
Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. It is the first in a series examining issues in The United Methodist Church following the further postponement of General Conference to 2024. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
Much remains unknown in the wake of last week’s announcement that General Conference would again be postponed until 2024. Among the outstanding questions is whether new episcopal leadership will be elected for the church before General Conference meets in 2024. After previous postponements, the church’s bishops said that they would not hold new episcopal elections before what was, at that time, a planned General Conference in 2022.
Now that General Conference has been further delayed, it remains to be seen whether the bishops will revisit the decision to wait until after the next General Conference to hold elections. Some in the church believe that the denomination’s Book of Discipline does not allow for episcopal elections except following a General Conference, though others disagree.
Progressive United Methodists in the United States have been focused on electing new bishops for the US jurisdictions. 11 US United Methodist bishops have retired or taken on other assignments, leaving gaps that Progressives would like to fill with progressive episcopal candidates.
When to hold episcopal elections is, however, a global issue. Bishops in every central conference except Germany have indicated their intention to retire. In contrast to the United States, though, these bishops have all continued to serve extended terms because of the delay in General Conference.
Unlike in the United States, there is a much smaller pool of retired bishops that could be called back into service to temporarily replace newly retiring bishops, and connectional structures and the large load placed on bishops in the central conferences make it more complicated for bishops to serve nearby vacant episcopal areas in addition to their own, as has happened in the United States.
United Methodists around the world are discussing whether it is fair or prudent to ask bishops to continue to serve for yet another two years. Here is a review by area:
Filipino bishops are elected or re-elected every four years as a regular practice. Thus, the current delay would raise polity issues even if no bishops were planning to retire. The extension of the bishops’ terms after the first delay of General Conference generated significant debate within the Philippines Central Conference.
However, the Philippines may actually see a complete turnover of its bishops. Bishop Francisco is scheduled to retire according to age restrictions on episcopal service. (Filipino bishops cannot be re-elected after they turn 66.) Bishop Juan has also indicated his intention to retire. Bishop Torio has not announced his intention publicly, though he has been on medical leave in the past year.
Thus, the Philippines Central Conference Coordinating Committee had already discussed the possibility of holding episcopal elections in 2022, regardless of whether General Conference would meet or not. The announced delay of General Conference until 2024 will almost certainly lead to further discussion about whether to go forward with episcopal elections in the Philippines.
Two European bishops had announced their intention to retire in 2020: Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference and Bishop Christian Alsted of the Northern Europe and Baltic Episcopal Area of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference. Neither bishop is at the required retirement age for clergy.
After the second delay of General Conference was announced, Bishop Streiff shared that it took “a few days of discussion and prayer” for he and his wife to agree to his further extending his episcopal service. In a meeting last fall, the Executive Committee of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference noted that, “Should there be another postponement, this could also extend Bishop Patrick Streiff's term of service once again.” They also reported that “the Working Group [on] Episcopacy has been given the task of working with the bishop to examine options for relieving him of his duties and, if necessary, to initiate them.” While it is unclear what those options may entail, convening a special session of the central conference to elect a successor could be among them.
The Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference Council had previously discussed whether to call a special session of the Central Conference for the sake of holding episcopal elections. At a meeting last spring, the Council unanimously decided not to proceed with a special session and instead to wait to hold episcopal elections until after the next session of General Conference (at the time expected for 2022). This further delay may prompt the Central Conference Council to revisit that decision.
Bishops in all three African central conferences have announced their intention to retire. Bishop Boni of the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area in the West Africa Central Conference, Bishop Unda of the East Congo Episcopal Area in the Congo Central Conference, and Bishop Quipungo of the East Angola Episcopal Area and Bishop Nhiwatiwa of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area in the Africa Central Conference have all indicated their intentions to retire. Some of these episcopal leaders are at or approaching the mandatory retirement age for United Methodist clergy.
Moreover, Bishop Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Episcopal Area in the West Africa Central Conference died tragically in 2020, creating a vacancy in that episcopal seat which is temporarily being filled by retired Bishop Warner Brown of the United States.
The African central conferences face several complicating factors in the decision about whether to elect bishops before the General Conference meets in 2024.
The first complication is that due to the cost and difficulty involved in the logistics of intra-Africa travel and the need for translation in the West Africa and Africa Central Conferences, holding central conference meetings in Africa is more challenging. Such central conferences usually occur with some level of financial and logistical support from the global church. It would be more difficult for an African central conference to act unilaterally.
The second complication is the plan to add five episcopal areas in Africa and redraw the boundaries of the central conferences. If this plan is passed at the General Conference now scheduled for 2024, it will significantly change the politics of episcopal elections in Africa.
Compounding these possible changes in 2024 is the announced intention of several African bishops to join the Global Methodist Church upon its formation. There are significant questions about how disaffiliation can play out in Africa (as a future post will examine), but such disaffiliations could further alter the composition of central conferences.
Thus, some African leaders may feel it is better to wait until 2024 to hold episcopal elections, while others may want to press forward with elections under the current, known set up.
In this context, it is noteworthy that United Methodists in Sierra Leone proceeded with the process of nominating an episcopal candidate to replace the deceased Bishop Yambasu. The annual conference took this act even after learning about the further delay of General Conference until 2024, an indication that they would like to proceed with episcopal elections before then.
A Global View
The specific circumstances around whether or not to hold episcopal elections vary across the United States, Africa, the Philippines, and Europe. However, there is a significant incentive for the Council of Bishops to decide upon a common approach across all jurisdictions and central conferences. Whether or not the Book of Discipline allows for such elections is a murky question. A joint decision that applies to all areas of the church will carry more weight than if each region makes its own plans.
Monday, March 7, 2022
In this post, I share what our Christian attitude should be toward disasters. Natural disasters and social disasters will happen constantly. We should serve those who have suffered with the eyes and heart of Jesus, who came as the Kinsman-redeemer, the realizer of the Jubilee. Jesus healed the sick, freed their souls from Satan's bondage, and restored their hearts as he traveled through the cities and countryside of Galilee.
What does it mean to stand in a mission or pastoral field with the spirit of jubilee? I believe that the heart of the Triune God, that is, compassion and grace, must be revealed in our words and actions. I believe that we must become true comforters to those who have suffered disasters as God's spokesperson.
I believe that doing missions from a jubilee perspective is faithful to the following three principles.
Seal the past with love!
Whenever a disaster strikes, we ask, Why does that happen? Did God cause disaster? However, we can't get a reasonable answer, and the tragedy is not explained. Sometimes in explaining a disaster, the words of religious leaders have brought more destructive damage than the disaster itself. Wesley wrote that the question of why “has been a question ever since the world began; and the world will probably end before human understandings have answered it with any certainty.”
This realization makes us shift our focus to the works of mercy instead of exhaustive questions of theodicy, making God's grace known to those who suffer from calamity. Wesley wants us not to "lose an excellent means of increasing your thankfulness to God, who saves you from this pain and sickness, and continues your health and strength; as well as of increasing your sympathy with the afflicted, your benevolence, and all social affections." I believe that our call to action in times of trials and sufferings is to seal the problem with "a missiological approach based on jubilee law thinking."
I clearly remember that during the earthquake in Nepal, Korean missionaries in Nepal used their personal expenses to help the victims by providing relief supplies. They served Nepalese with the mind of Jesus Christ, who feels with humanity and takes on the pain of their suffering.
But problems arose in unexpected places. A relief worker delivered a Bible with relief supplies. This simple act brought strong opposition from locals. "Why are they forcing religion in these difficult times? Even Nepal Christians didn't like their way of mission." A good but thoughtless act at the most sensitive time caused strong opposition.
At the same time, a relief team from the United States served disaster victims and delivered relief supplies. Whoever asked why they helped, their answer was simply "God loved you." A surprise happened a year later:
Serve the present with humble heart and mind!
The service of love should be carried out with a humble attitude. Wesley urges us to serve the afflicted in “the whole spirit of humility, lest if pride steal into your heart.” Without humbly asking for the Holy Spirit's help, in the process of helping them, we often could not become means of grace to the sick and afflicted because we were not able to accept their anger, bitterness, and stubbornness that emerge from the wounds of sudden disaster.
In his sermon “On Divine Providence” (#67), Wesley affirms God is always with us, even during tragedy. He shares, “It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this; nay, it is hard to believe it, considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must” (#67. §13). Through our experience, we know that disasters happen to both Christians and non-Christians. As Jesus said, “your Father in heaven … causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45). The good news we proclaim is that God is with us through it all.
Dónal P. O’Mathúna in his book “Christian Theology and Disasters: Where is God in All This?” says, “believers are called to aid the poor , the sick, the oppressed, orphans, refugees,” because all humans are made in the image of God, which confers everyone with both inherent dignity and moral responsibility. We as his disciples are called to join Jesus in displaying God's mighty works as an extension of God's presence in the midst of the tragedy.
Look forward to the future with hope!
Natural disaster “is not a whip that is easily wielded when God is angry. Nature is still beautiful, and when the seasons change, it presents flowers and leaves, red sunsets and green seas, and produces precious grains for human consumption.” However, it produces constantly 'thorn bushes and thistles' that makes the farmer's forehead sweat and his hands bleed.
As Paul mentioned in Romans 8:19-22, it is evident that the ferocity of the earth, which scratches people and sometimes devours them, is perhaps the scream of a 'slave of corruption', the 'groaning' and 'pain of childbirth' of the land. This is a pain to endure until it will be released on the day when humans who have been enslaved by sin will be fully revealed as 'children of God.'
Therefore, what are the consequences of Western theology, which hardly includes nature and creatures, and narrow soteriology, which only regards humans as the object of salvation? As a result of cruelty to the natural environment in the name of construction and treating nature only as an object of conquest, we are experiencing an unprecedented disaster. It is believed that many natural disasters are a request to look back on God's will, which also commanded the rest of the earth during the Sabbath year, and at the same time, we must discern whether it is God's warning against our endless greed.
Paul referred to the fall of Adam and the cursed nature and the suffering of all creatures, saying that they were waiting for the emergence of new creatures. The new creation refers to a Christian born again in Christ. It refers to the saints who live by the Spirit who dwells within them.
When we practice the spirit of Jubilee in the church and in the field of life as Jesus played the role of the kinsman-redeemer and realizer of the Jubilee, a wonderful thing that the indwelling Holy Spirit works and speaks through us will restore the true reconciliation and koinonia by cancelling debt, liberating the oppressed and returning the land. Caring for the afflicted in the Jubilee spirit will set us free from the narrow soteriology that only I and my family need to be saved and bring us to a wider one that embraces my neighbors and even this land where we stand. Is it not the will of the Lord who called us and saved us in order to co-work with him in terms of Jubilee?
 Recited from “How do we understand suffering from disaster?”, https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-how-do-united-methodists-understand-human-suffering-from-natural-disaster.
 Sermon 98. On Visiting the Sick. I. §2.
 Park Jun-seong. “The Nepal earthquake is due to Hinduism?...” Believe in Jesus, 5/16/2015. http://www.newscj.com/news/ articleView.html?idxno=290524. 2021/3/19.
 Speaklifedaily. “62 Tibetan Monks Follow Christ,” 22nd December 2016. https://speaklife.org.uk/2016/12/22/62-tibetan-monks-follow-christ/. 17th March 2021.
 Sermon 62. The End of Christ’s Coming. III §6.
 Sermon 98. On Visiting the Sick. II. §1.
 Dónal P. O’Mathúna, Christian Theology and Disasters: Where is God in All This? Ibid.
 AsktheUMC. Op cit.
 Shin Jiyeon. “The fallacy of the theory of judgment on natural disasters in the Bible.” 2011/3/18. http://www.newsnjoy.or.kr/news/articlePrint.html?idxno=34216. 2020/12/20.
Friday, March 4, 2022
The Minnesota Annual Conference on Wednesday posted a 25-minute interview (in English) with Rev. Volodymyr Prokip, UMC pastorin Lviv, Ukraine. Rev. Prokip reflects on his experiences and the experiences of his church in Lviv, the role of the larger Methodist connection in the present crisis, how to make theological sense of the war, and how United Methodists can help. Rev. Prokip is interviewed by Rev. Fred Vanderwerf, a district superintendent from Minnesota with a history of relationship with the congregation in Lviv. This is an excellent chance to hear directly from a Ukrainian United Methodist about realities in the country.
Wednesday, March 2, 2022
United Methodists are anxiously waiting this week to learn whether General Conference will meet this year in August, or whether it will be again postponed until 2024. The Commission on General Conference met last Thursday to make a decision and promised an announcement within a week.
As we wait, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on how recent events have revealed the ways in which United Methodists from the central conferences have become central to current UMC politics.
The basic question behind whether General Conference will happen this year or not is whether Central Conference delegates can participate in sufficient numbers to make a 2022 General Conference a acceptably representative body for the church as a whole.
While there are differences of opinion as to how much participation is necessary and how to best facilitate that participation, pretty much all voices in the debate about General Conference recognize that at this point in the denomination's development, it is impossible to fairly make decisions without the inclusion of United Methodists from outside the United States. The central conferences are a crucial part of the UMC's body politic.
Whenever the General Conference does meet again, one of the major pieces of legislation it will consider is the Christmas Covenant. This legislative package, designed to regionalize the governance of The United Methodist Church, was developed and submitted by United Methodists from outside the United States. It is the first major legislation in the denomination to originate in this way.
Whatever the fate of the Christmas Covenant legislation will be, it is a sign that United Methodists from outside the United States are committed to shaping the agenda of the denomination, not just content to comment on an agenda developed by groups within the United States.
Recent debates about both whether to hold General Conference and the legislation before it have revealed a diversity of opinions among General Conference delegates from outside the United States. United Methodists from Africa both decried and lauded the WCA's vaccine mandate. United Methodists from Africa, the Philippines, and Europe wrote and signed on to letters both asking for General Conference to be held and asking for it to be delayed. United Methodists from around the world have spoken for and against the Protocol and the Christmas Covenant.
It's not just that Europeans have different opinions than Africans. There are differences within regions too. The Africa Initiative and the Africa Voice of Unity have different opinions. Not all Nigerians agree on the church's future. There are diversities of opinions across continents, between countries, and within national branches of the UMC.
United Methodists from the central conferences are not just raising a voice within the denomination; they are raising many voices, which are saying a variety of things about what the denomination should do and be. Indeed, the diversity of positions taken by United Methodists around the world show the fallacy of referring to "the central conferences" as a single entity (as this article admittedly does).
All of these developments represent a departure for The United Methodist Church. For decades, United Methodists outside the United States were an afterthought for those within the United States.
Then, when US United Methodists began to recognize the significance of General Conference delegates from the central conferences, they frequently treated those delegates as votes to be wrangled on whatever US-defined matters were before the General Conference. Too often, these votes were also seen as a bloc, or at least delegates from each continent were viewed as a bloc. How will Africans vote on such-and-such an issue, US United Methodists wondered?
Recent developments have shown that the time in which US United Methodists can think in this way is over. Not only do such views betray colonialist attitudes and assumptions on the part of US United Methodists, they do not reflect the realities of the denomination as it now is. United Methodists from Africa, the Philippines, and Europe are asserting their views and shaping debates about the denomination, as they should.
These are necessary developments. For a variety of theological, ethical, practical, and demographic reasons, the United Methodist Church can no longer afford to be a US-dominated denomination. It must learn to live into a new reality as a multinational, multicultural entity with a variety of contributions and perspectives from around the world shaping it.
Fortunately for us all, United Methodists from the central conferences--that is, from many countries and cultures in Africa, from throughout the Philippines, from a variety of contexts in Europe--are leading the way into this future.