Friday, September 2, 2022

Recommended Viewing: "A New Era of United Methodism" Documentary

J. J. Warren has produced a documentary called "A New Era of United Methodism," documenting his trip along with Helen Ryde and Rev. Kimberly Scott to visit Rev. Kennedy Mwita in Kenya for the dedication of the new sanctuary of First UMC Moheto. First UMC Moheto is the first reconciling congregation in Africa, and Warren, Ryde, and Scott all attended the dedication as representatives of Reconciling Ministries Network. The hour-and-a-half long document shows both exceptional and representative elements of world-wide Methodism, only one of which, though, has to do with the congregation's status as the first reconciling congregation in Africa.

Rev. Mwita and First UMC Moheto are certainly exceptional in some ways, the most notable of which is their work to become a reconciling congregation and to create a space of welcome for LGBTQ persons in a culture that is often not very welcoming.

But Rev. Mwita is also remarkable in the size of the vision he has for what God can do around and through First UMC Moheto. He has big ambitions for how God can use the church and the others in its circuit to be a blessing to its surrounding community. In part, that is through its status as a reconciling congregation, but it also involves a lot more traditional development work - a school, a clinic, water and electricity projects.

While Rev. Mwita's holy ambitions are notable, they are also in many ways representative of the sorts of visions for the church and its relationship to the wider community that many United Methodists hold across countries in Africa. United Methodism in most places in Africa is a form of Christianity that is oriented towards benefiting the community through a holistic gospel that combines evangelism, social justice, education, health, development, and agriculture.

First UMC Moheto and the other circuit congregations under the leadership of Rev. Mwita, his wife Pastor Elnora Mwita, and Rev. Benedict Odiambo -- Christ Chapel United Methodist Church in Oyani and St. Paul’s Giosahi United Methodist Church in Kuria West -- are also representative of so many churches throughout the continent of the Africa in their assets for and their struggles in trying to implement the holistic vision of church and community proclaimed by United Methodism. They have multiple assets - intelligent, hard-working, visionary leadership; enthusiastic and generous members; land; and local resources. Yet they also struggle with obtaining other necessary resources, not always because of poverty but because of a combination of logistics, supply lines, and regulations.

The documentary also show something else remarkable, though, and that is cross-cultural conversation between the three Americans and the Kenyans. Especially around the half hour and one hour marks of the video, there are recorded conversations about the nature of justice in its many forms and about the church's role in development respectively. The future of the UMC depends upon such cross-cultural conversations with equal exchange and mutual learning becoming more common.

Therefore, the feature-length documentary is well worth taking the time to watch -- both for the ways in which what it shows is remarkable and the ways in which it is not.

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