Thursday, September 28, 2023

David W. Scott: The Coming Pastoral Shortage as a Missional Concern

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.

At the annual meeting of the Northern Germany Annual Conference this past June, conference leaders shared a startling statistic: the number of active pastors in the conference is expected to drop in half in the next eight years. In response, the conference is looking to promote more collaboration across congregations and to form "multi-professional teams" of pastors and skilled lay workers who can collectively provide leadership to United Methodist congregations.

United Methodists in the United States would do well to watch and learn from this experiment as it unfolds in Germany over the next several years. While the statistics might not be quite as dramatic as in the Northern Germany Annual Conference, there are indications that the United States is heading towards a growing clergy shortage as well. This is something that this blog wrote about a year and a half ago, and a Washington Post story from this summer drew similar conclusions.

Clergy decline is not a new trend. The number of ordained elders in the US UMC has been declining since 1990, according to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. There are almost half as many ordained elders now as there was thirty years ago (21,507 in 1990 vs. 11,168 in 2022).

However, up until recently, this trend of declining elders has been masked and managed by other trends:

At the same time as the number of ordained elders has gone down, the number of licensed local pastors has increased substantially. The number of licensed local pastors rose from just under 4,000 in 1990 to over 7,500 in 2020, again according to the Lewis Center.

Moreover, as smaller churches have closed and proportionately more members have worshipped in larger congregations, the number of elders required to serve US United Methodists has decreased.

And as small, rural congregations have gotten smaller, the number of multi-point charges (groups of churches served by a shared minister) has increased, with some charges now including four or more churches.

Masked within the number of elders is another trend: an increasing reliance on clergy who have immigrated from another country. Without these immigrant clergy members, the decline in the number of elders would have been even more stark.

Yet, these various off-setting trends will likely no longer continue to provide adequate solutions to a decline in the number of ordained clergy from the United States. The number of licensed local pastors has itself been declining since 2019. Increased visa restrictions and issues of regionalization may make it harder for the United States to import pastors in the future. And while multi-point charges are certain to increase, there are limits to just how many churches can be served and how many miles can be driven by one pastor.

Thus, churches in the United States will need to look to other solutions and other models for clergy deployment in the next decade, which is why the Northern Germany story is so significant. It is an experiment, one that may yield models worth copying. There are others as well, including from the Methodist Church in Britain. But wherever the ideas come from, experiments will need to be tried.

Finally, it is important to point out that the question of finding models that will match the number of clergy and the number of churches is not just an administrative one, but a missional one.

In the 18th and 19th century, Methodism's model of itinerant clergy was a major factor in the growth of the denomination throughout the United States. Not all those clergy were ordained elders, but finding a way to develop and deploy enough leadership to where the missional needs of the community and the country are was part of what made Methodism a successful missional movement.

The systems for recruiting, training, and deploying congregational leadership are likely to look very different in the future than they did in the era of the circuit riders or in the recent eras of the ubiquitous M.Div.-trained elder or the rise of licensed local pastors.

But the need for called and trained leaders who can lead the church forth in mission will always be constant. May the church experiment successfully with new models for finding such leaders.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana: A Journey of Solidarity: Ruth and Naomi’s Story, Part II

Today’s post is by Deaconess Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana. Marquez-Caramanzana is an Area Liaison for Asia and the Pacific with Global Ministries. It is the second of two parts. This post was originally developed for the World Methodist Council Consultation on Migration.

In my previous post, I introduced the story of Ruth and Naomi’s relationship and named the resonances that it has for our ministry with migrants in our time and locations. I raised the question of Ruth and solidarity.

Ruth’s story is instructive of the who, the why, and the how of solidarity. Despite her own vulnerability, Ruth embarked on the unknown because of her deep love for Naomi. She did not look on her personal struggle as a vulnerable woman solely, but she grabbed the opportunity to show to Naomi, who was then desperate and surrendered to her lot, to see that it is better if they are together in the journey. It was radical love professed in this mother-in-law – daughter-in-law relationship.

Ruth’s story is instructive of our missiological task of ministering to those who need God the most, those whose only hope is God.

When we talk about mission these days, and when we talk about the plight of migrant men and women and gender minorities, are we not supposed to be talking of how deep our solidarity is with them?

With Ruth and Naomi embracing a journey together, I see two individual women charting their own future and deciding for themselves the outcome of that future rather than just waiting for others to dictate their course. It was a journey of mutual support that challenged how people and society looked at and treated them. It was a risky journey but a worthy one to undertake.

I don’t have any intention to romanticize the story of Ruth – it was truly, definitely a difficult journey.

But her story speaks to every one of us – as individuals resisting cultural impositions and anything that denies us of our full humanity. It speaks to struggling migrants and immigrants actively looking for ways out of poverty, dehumanization, and insecurity. It speaks to us as churches seeking to be in solidarity with those who are vulnerable.

And I would like us to focus on the last: Ruth’s story speaking to us as churches seeking to be in solidarity with those who are vulnerable.

Part of Global Ministries Theology of Mission Statement says:

The Church experiences and engages in God’s mission as it pours itself out for others, ready to cross every boundary to call for true human dignity among all peoples, especially among those regarded as the least of God’s children, all the while making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

In solidarity we have to empty ourselves. It is in emptying ourselves that we are able to identify with our struggling and distressed brothers and sisters. We cannot claim to journey in solidarity with them when we ourselves are limited by our own impositions and claims to correct knowledge and expertise.

Our readiness to cross boundaries defines the way in which we incarnate our faith. Emptying ourselves is a pre-requisite in crossing boundaries. More than geographical boundaries, we focus ourselves on crossing the boundaries of race, class, gender, age, and others. We cross our own personal boundaries of individualism, egoism, privilege and comfort. We break down the walls that keep us apart from the suffering of others. We break down the walls that render us numb to the pulsating pain brought about by oppression, dehumanization, and marginalization.

To be in solidarity is to recognize that people are decisive in charting their course. To be in solidarity with them is to provide them support as they affirm their agencies and build their capacities. We share our resources with them – yes. But it is not the determining factor in regaining their humanity. Our roles should be to render our presence in their journey in such a way that obstructions are eliminated and they are able to regain their power. To be in solidarity is to embody the hope that they themselves are capable of rising up.

We will need to take into full account that our understanding of the plight of migrants and immigrants should be our primordial concern. Their context defines the response that we as churches or mission agencies can learn from. Their journey, their struggles, their hopes and aspirations should inform our perspectives, practice, and theology of mission.

Ruth may have undergone a lot of self-emptying so that the essence of solidarity was incarnated in her accompaniment of Naomi. Solidarity was not just a word or concept for Ruth. It was in flesh, lived out in her decision to be with Naomi until death. Her solidarity resulted in hope. A hope that assured Naomi that her battles were not just hers. A hope that enabled their community to see Ruth and Naomi on a different light.

As churches we participate in the emancipatory struggles so that we, too, become ambassadors of hope. For those who are not able to see light clearly. For those struggling to get up on their feet. Ruth became a beacon of hope for Naomi. And so must we. For the sake of the least, the last and the lost.

Our theme for the consultation is “On the move.” As the spirit, as Ruah, is with us, we must we be on our feet, on the move. We can’t just tarry in the garden. We need to move. We need to do something. Our faith compels us to serve. Our God is calling us to move. But let me also affirm that as we move, God is also in the movement or movements of people, in movements where we participate meaningfully so that life abundant becomes a lived reality for the world’s most vulnerable people. Amen.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana: A Journey of Solidarity: Ruth and Naomi’s Story, Part I

Today’s post is by Deaconess Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana. Marquez-Caramanzana is an Area Liaison for Asia and the Pacific with Global Ministries. It is the first of two parts. This post was originally developed for the World Methodist Council Consultation on Migration.

In 2013, Joanna Demafellis’ home in Leyte was among those torn and decimated by Typhoon Yolanda (Hayan). The raging flood stripped down the family home to its frame. In 2014, through the help of an aunt, Joanna was able to fly to Kuwait to work as a domestic helper. As a domestic helper, she was promised a monthly salary of $400. Under the kafala system, foreigners entering Kuwait need sponsorship to act as a bridge to the country. The employer got to keep her passport and confiscated her mobile phone, and she was only allowed to use it every 3 months. In 2016, her family sensed a problem when they couldn’t find two of her Facebook profiles and her roaming number became out of reach. In 2018, Kuwaiti authorities found Joanna’s body by chance, kept in a freezer of her second employer.

Jullebee Ranara was a domestic worker. She could not send her 4 children to school because she was poor. In her desire to offer better lives for her children, she decided to work abroad. Perhaps also a victim of illegal recruiters or human trafficking, she ended up working for a family in Kuwait. On January 21, 2023, she was reportedly raped, murdered, burned, and thrown in the desert. News reports would point to her employer’s 17-year-old son as her tormentor and killer.

We remember their stories as we engage in Bible study on the Book of Ruth. I would center our thoughts on the part of the Book of Ruth that is focused on Naomi and Ruth’s relationship.

Ruth’s story resonates with me as a deaconess engaged in mission work through Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. How does her story deepen my commitment to be in solidarity with those who need our significant presence, and what is the role of mission agencies as people journey in risky situations in foreign lands?

Ruth’s story also resonates with the many women, like Joanna and Jullebee, who leave our country everyday by the thousands to find a greener pasture in foreign lands so that their families here in the Philippines may live.

Naomi’s family, along with daughters in law Ruth and Orpah, left Judah to go to Moab because of famine. In Biblical narratives, the most common consequence of famines is involuntary migration. This was evident in the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel and their sons. They would usually migrate to Egypt to seek food, even if it meant being subjected to exploitation by Egyptian masters and rulers. Most of these people’s lives were turned upside down by the realities of famine during their time. Their stories speak of the vulnerability that migrants face as they rely on the mercy of people to help them and yet are in turn subjected to abuse and exploitation of those in power.

Mijal Bitton, a teacher, writer, and leading thinker on questions relating to Jewish American identity, pluralism, gender equity and sociological diversity asserts that “starvation is not a function of scarcity, but rather a function of how societies distribute food.”[1] This is confirmed by economist and philosopher, Amartya Sen whose “work demandsthat instead of examining food availability, we should be investigating whether individuals can gain access to food and control food resources. This shift is borne out by the Genesis stories. The Mesopotamian region and neighboring Egypt could potentially feed everyone. But Abram, Sarai and their children must fight to get access to food, and must confront the dangerous vulnerability embodied by economic migrants.”[2] This is also the same context that prompted Naomi’s family to move from Judah to Moab.

As I reflect on the stories I earlier shared about Joanna and Jullebee – I can’t help but also point out that if we talk of resources, my country, the Philippines, has enough resources to feed and provide for all of its people. But the question remains: why do people need to migrate, and why are people poor?

Let’s go to Ruth . . .

In the story, Ruth showed a deep faithfulness to Naomi. In losing her husband and two sons, Naomi is resigned to the kind of life awaiting her. She knows that nothing is left for her but to wallow in poverty and shame. She blessed her two daughters-in-law and sent them home. Orpah obliged. Ruth did not. And to this Ruth pledged to never leave Naomi and spoke of a beautiful, poetic commitment:

Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried (v.16 NIV).

As for Mijal-Bitton, “Ruth’s persona is intersectional: she embodies the vulnerabilities of women, of widows, of economic migrants, of foreigners, of stigmatized strangers (she is a Moabite).”[3]

In their time it was not easy for Naomi, Ruth and Orpah to lose their husbands. They have to bear the brunt of a difficult life in a patriarchal world – without property, without status, without economic power, non-existent.

When Ruth decided to leave her all and be with Naomi, she put to risk her own life. Her decision meant that whatever happens to Naomi would also happen to her.

This story raises questions for me: How did Ruth embody solidarity with Naomi? How does this solidarity challenge us as churches to do our ministry with struggling migrants and immigrants? How do we see the image of God in Ruth’s decision to accompany Naomi? What image of God do we want to profess or give witness to as we engage in ministry with migrants?

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Rodney Aist: Mission Bound: Short-Term Mission as Pilgrimage

Today’s post is by Rev. Rodney Aist. Rev. Aist is a United Methodist clergy in the New Mexico Annual Conference, currently serving as the course director at St George’s College, Jerusalem. It relates to his recently published book, Mission Bound: Short-Term Mission as Pilgrimage (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2023).

The mission journey is a response to the longings of the world, addressing issues from poverty and health care to natural disasters. People, near and far, lack sufficient food and shelter, safety and security, hope for a better tomorrow. Christian mission is a response to an imperfect world, following in the footsteps of Jesus, who was moved to compassion by the needs and potential of others. The mission journey offers a pathway for everyday Christians to embody the love of God, to serve others, and, in doing so, to change the world.

The mission journey changes lives: our own and others, in immediate and long-term ways. Mission travel takes us beyond the scenes and routines of our everyday lives to paradoxical settings: to places in need where we encounter God in the Other, to people of faith who grace us with gifts to transform our lives back home.

Through serving others, we encounter God, and our lives are changed as well. What we discover on a mission journey is that the people who we’re called to serve bless us with the power and grace of God. While the call of short-term mission is to journey faithfully as a servant, guest, and stranger, the lesson of religious travel is that our everyday world is also in need of healing, salvation, and reconciliation. That’s an important, if overlooked, aspect of the mission adventure: the self-awareness that our everyday world isn’t perfect, that our culture doesn’t hold all the answers, the humility to know that we are all incomplete people in need of God and one another.

In my book Mission Bound: Short-Term Mission as Pilgrimage, I offer a transformative approach to short-term mission. Pilgrimage is a comprehensive image of the Christian life that encompasses both personal and social transformation, and Mission Bound reframes short-term mission as pilgrimage as a holistic expression of faith that includes the experience of God, self, and the Other.

On a mission journey, we engage the Other, encounter God, and (re)discover ourselves in transformative ways. Pilgrimage is crossing boundaries, following God in unfamiliar places, both being and befriending the stranger, and walking alongside one another. As the imitation of Christ, pilgrimage embodies humility, service, love, and compassion, as well as our vulnerability with others. Espousing the union of God, self, and the Other as the objective of the Christian life, Mission Bound casts the mission partnership as one of reciprocal relations based on the body of Christ. Being partners in mission is the practice of journeying together. It’s discovering together, through the grace of God, solutions to the worlds in which we live.

Mission Bound develops a pilgrim spirituality for short-term mission, offers the gift of cultural humility, and addresses the challenges of the mission experience. In doing so, it covers the entirety of the mission journey in detailed, practical ways, including preparation and departure, time at the mission site, the return home, and the aftermath of the journey. As a pre-departure study guide, questions for individual and group discussion conclude each chapter.

The core of the book explores short-term mission through the lens of the Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell), which follows a threefold pattern: the traveler (1) leaves his or her ordinary world, (2) crosses a threshold into a special world full of ordeals, allies, conflicts, and treasures, and (3) returns home transformed, sharing the rewards of the adventure with others. Heroes consist of ordinary people who are summoned on a journey, face challenges, sacrifice and suffer, and emerge as wiser, more virtuous figures. Through short-term mission pilgrimage, ordinary Christians can be heroes in their faith.