Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Jefferson Knight: Embracing a New Future for the UMC through Regionalization

Today's post is by Jefferson Knight. Knight is Program Director of the United Methodist Human Rights Monitor in Liberia and a delegate of the Liberia Annual Conference to the 2020 General Conference in 2024 of the United Methodist Church.

The passage of the regionalization petition signals a shift towards a more inclusive and diverse church that recognizes and values the unique needs and contexts of different regions around the world.

This decision allows for greater regional autonomy, enabling churches to address specific challenges and opportunities based on their local context. It promotes a more equitable distribution of power and resources within the church, ensuring that all regions have a voice and influence in decision-making processes.

Furthermore, the passage of the petition aligns with the principles of justice and love that the UMC holds dear. It acknowledges that different regions have different social, cultural, and theological perspectives, and allows for a more inclusive dialogue that respects and values these differences.

I believe that this decision will foster greater unity and collaboration within the UMC, as it encourages a more participatory and globally minded approach to church governance. It is an important step towards creating a church that truly reflects the diversity and richness of its membership, and I applaud us delegates for this overwhelming support of the regionalization petition.

For too long, the UMC has been US-centric, with dominance by the churches in the USA at General Conference. Regionalization will usher in equality everywhere and provide the opportunity to serve God in diverse contexts based on unique theological understandings. This move ensures that churches in different regions can practice their faith authentically without imposing their beliefs on others.

The future of the UMC shines brightly with this decision, signaling a new chapter in our journey. It is time to embrace change, move forward, and rebrand our church for the proclamation of the gospel in a more inclusive and globally conscious manner.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

An Intercultural Prayer for General Conference

The following prayer was written by Dr. David W. Scott, blogmaster for UM & Global, on the opening of The United Methodist Church's General Conference in 2024.

Triune God, united yet diverse, we thank you for the gift of varied human cultures. We know that you created cultural diversity (Genesis 11), you included it in the very beginning of your church (Acts 2), and it is part of your eschatological vision for your heavenly, redeemed people (Revelation 7). We thank you for the ways in which the multiplicity of human cultures and perspectives help us to understand the multiplicity of ways in which you shower your love and your grace upon the world. We praise you for your creative spirit at work in the human desire to express truth and beauty regardless of background.

Yet we know that cultural diversity is not always an easy gift for us to accept. Give us then the other gifts that will help us better receive your blessing of cultural diversity and will keep us going in the direction of one another, even when we encounter difficulties and conflicts. Give us the gifts of listening, of understanding, of patience, of perseverance, of wisdom, of discretion. Give us most of all the gift of on-going sanctification so that we may be drawn ever closer to one another in holy love. We know that you through your sanctifying grace desire us to come to understand you better and to understand one another better so that we might better understand you.

May these gifts abound especially during this time of General Conference. We know that it can be difficult to discuss, debate, disagree, and discern even with those who look and think as we do. It requires that much more of us to engage in your work of holy conferencing across cultural differences. But we know that when we engage in such work interculturally, it holds out the potential for special blessings from you - special outpourings of your grace, special insight into how you work in the world, and a special opportunity to witness to the wideness of your redeeming grace. We pray that you may help us to run with perseverance this race so that we might win the prize.

And when this General Conference is over, we ask one more boon of you - that you may give us the space to tend to the work of building your intercultural church outside the pressure cooker of General Conference. Give us the opportunity to eat with one another around the boodle fight and the potluck table, to discuss under the palaver tree and in the seminar classroom, to worship together with the sounds of spirituals and organ music, to travel together by train and tuktuk, and through it all to learn from one another, to laugh with one another, and to love one another more.

Incarnate God, we thank you that you meet us where we are and walk with us on our journeys. May we feel your presence in all of us, now and always. Amen.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Recommended Viewing: Global Ministries on Emily Explains

UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott recently appeared on an episode of "Emily Explains" in his capacity as Director of Mission Theology and Strategic Planning for Global Ministries. "Emily Explains" is a series of short videos created by Emily Allen, a General Conference lay delegate from the California-Nevada Annual Conference. The videos are created to help inform United Methodists about various aspects of the church related to General Conference and the global connection.

In the episode, "What Is the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries?" Scott shares some overview information about Global Ministries and also some information specific to Global Ministries and legislation before General Conference.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Recommended Listening: Un-Tied Methodism on Regionalization

UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott was a recent guest on Un-Tied Methodism, the podcast of the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH), hosted by General Secretary Dr. Ashley Boggan D. Scott joined Boggan D. and other guests Rev. Dr. Izzy Alvaran and Rev. Dr. Betty Kazadi Musau to discuss regionalization in The United Methodist Church in an episode titled "Reimagining unity: Regionalization and the UMC."

During the conversation, Scott shared some insights from Methodist history, including work associated with the book Methodism and American Empire: Reflections on Decolonizing the Church, which he co-edited with Dr. Filipe Maia, and to which Alvaran contributed a chapter.

Given the significance of discussions of regionalization at General Conference next week, the episode is sure to be of interest to readers.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Tammy Kuntz: Response to Mission Bound: Short-Term Mission as Pilgrimage

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Tammy Kuntz. Rev. Dr. Kuntz is Coordinator of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), North Central Jurisdiction. 

Mission Bound: Short-Term Mission as Pilgrimage by Rodney Aist offers a consideration of the short-term mission volunteer as a pilgrim on the journey. He defines pilgrimage as “the experience of God, self, and the Other through time, place, journey, and people and the thoughts, images, and reflections thereof.” (chap. 2) He writes, “[Short-term mission] as pilgrimage is a paradoxical journey of give-and-take, in which we help ourselves by serving others …” (chap. 16)

In making the connection between short-term mission and pilgrimage, Aist emphasizes the importance of the “individual pilgrim who must interpret personal experience and situational context as she navigates her spiritual journey.” (chap. 3) He shares many good concepts for the individual who moves in the world seeking enlightenment. He cites Walter Brueggemann defining “transformation as a movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation.” (chap. 13)

However, in Aist’s focus on the pilgrim as hero, the focus of service is lost. Aist provides little room for accompaniment, partnering, or the concept of risk-taking mission and service. Examples are offered of pilgrims who dictate the task that will be done and how it will be accomplished to the detriment and disappointment of the homeowner.

There is no hero when we serve with our neighbors in the world, and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission are much more than individual pilgrims. Volunteers in Mission move into the world not as individuals, but as a connected group of people serving as the hands and feet of Christ. They know that their presence in God’s mission is an opportunity to live in mutuality as they serve in new places and in new ways, knowing that the experience may change the way they see the world. 

Unlike a pilgrimage, where the individual expects a transformational experience, an effective mission journey is an experience with a team, living in a new culture and context, engaging in God’s mission. Regardless of location or the way people serve – as a medical team, disaster response team, education team, etc. - the connection with mission partners provides opportunities for learning, engaging, reflecting, and serving in mutuality. The opportunity for transformation is great, yet it may never be understood or may be experienced much later, after the story is shared and the extent of the experience is embraced.

Ultimately, this experience is not about us and our enlightenment as Aist suggests in a pilgrimage. It is about God and the ways we are called to share together in God’s world as we live out the Great Commission. As Rev. Jeremy Bassett said, “Therefore, it is not so much that the church has a mission, but that God’s mission has a church.” (A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers, p. 5.) God calls us to mission not just as individuals but as a church.

A Volunteer in Mission should not enter the mission field alone without effective conversation and prior experience with a team. Connectional support is critical in order to engage effectively. Volunteers in Mission provides opportunities for volunteers to engage in God’s mission safely and effectively while serving in accompaniment with the people of the community - as part of a team, contextualizing the work as they honor one another’s spiritual journey. They realize that many facets of the mission journey are shared in the context of the relationships that are established.

Aist states, “Our theological task is to hold things together, to immunize complexity, to create the pathways for ‘both and’ approaches.” (chap. 5) This presents a challenge to the work of Volunteers in Mission as they engage in God’s world. Part of the job is to not hold on to conflict and challenges. Teams are reminded to remain flexible in planning and engaging. Complexities and alternative approaches create opportunities for cultural competency and engagement with our host partners and allow space for the Holy Spirit to be part of the community.

There is no acknowledgement in Aist’s book of the United Methodist Volunteer in Mission program as a resource for connections with project sites and missionaries and training for all aspects of the mission experience for teams and team leaders and individual volunteers. Training for missionaries of all types provides opportunities for reflection, discussion, and understanding prior to engaging with their project hosts. Volunteer in Mission team leaders are trained to facilitate conversations around mission theology and serving in accompaniment.

It is unfortunate that the Volunteer in Mission movement was ignored in this discussion. Something will always be missed; however, excluding this key resource that is available to everyone at God’s table of grace, for volunteers of all denominations, faiths, and secular groups, leaves the conversation lacking an avenue to engage in deeper conversation around how to serve safely and effectively.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Recommended Viewing: Methodists in Climate Mission Videos

The UMC in Switzerland (Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche [EMK] Schweiz) has been producing a series of videos about Methodist (and broader Christian) involvement in climate-related work. These #MethodistInClimateMission videos are part of a larger #MethodistInMission series produced by the EMK Schweiz. The three videos released thus far are in a mix of German and English, sharing stories of Methodists around the world engaged in climate-related mission. They are a useful resource for those looking to expand the conversation on climate mission across cultural and national borders.

Part 1 is primarily interviews in German of four EMK-Schweiz members (Michael Hari, Rev. Sarah Bach, Christian Rolli, and Thomas Oczipka) but features an English-language interview at around the 12:45 mark with Frances Namoumou of the Ecological Stewardship & Climate Justice Program of the Pacific Council of Churches.

Part 2 is primarily in English with interviews of three European Methodist leaders: Daniel Steinvig of the United Methodist Church in Denmark, Filipa Teixeira of the Methodist Church of Portugal, and Hamish Leese of the Methodist Church of Great Britain.

Part 3 is primarily an extended interview in English with Dr. Carmody Grey, a Catholic theologian at the University of Durham in England.