Second webcast explores global nature of church
7/10/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
A UMNS Report
By Tom McAnally*
United Methodist leaders from around the world affirmed the
global nature of the denomination during a two-hour webcast July 8, but
they acknowledged some impediments and challenges must be faced.
second "Forum on the Future" webcast, focusing on "Strengthening our
Global Connection and Ecumenical Relationships," originated from
Dearborn, Mich., during a meeting of the Servant Leadership Team of the
church's General Council on Ministries. Some team members participated
online, while others participated by phone.
The first webcast,
originating from United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.,
Feb. 26, sought participation primarily from within the United States.
The July 8 webcast encouraged participation from the church's central
conferences - regions outside the United States. Individuals could send
questions or comments by phone or e-mail during the webcast. An
estimated 551 people logged on to the second webcast, according to UMCom
The GCOM, in cooperation with the Inter-Agency Research
Task Force, hosted the Internet conversations. Host was Bryan
Cottingham of Nashville.
Near the close of the July 8
conversations, GCOM member Oyvind Helliesen of Norway made a plea for
strengthening the church's global connections. "It is important that the
United Methodist Church be a global church," he said. "We (central
conferences) would be poorer if we lose the United States, and I also
think you would be poorer without us. I think we need each other. â€¦ We
need to share resources, opinions, how we can see Christ and how we can
present Christ in our different circumstances."
sometimes say that the United Methodist Church, with more than 80
percent of its members in the United States, is really an American
church with appendages in other countries. Speaking from Dearborn,
Zimbabwean Solomon Chiripasi strongly disagreed. "I belong to the
United Methodist Church, which is a global connection. I am a member of
the connection wherever I am. ... We might have differences, but we have
more in common."
Helliesen, also in Dearborn, concurred. "We are
brothers and sisters. We are Christians. We have a common history. â€¦
We belong to a connection. We depend on the connection. We don't depend
on the United States but on the connection. â€¦ Some of us can give,
some can receive. One time I give and others receive; sometimes I
receive and others give."
Jan Love, a United Methodist widely
known for her work in worldwide ecumenical circles, spoke from her home
in Columbia, S.C. She said it is relatively easy for people to come
together in a global arena to deal with mission, ministry, liturgy and
worship, "but when it comes to government and this big event we have
every four years called General Conference, that's a particular forum
and style that is, in my view, very American. It doesn't have a lot to
do with the way the culture and decision making takes place in places
"When we start deciding on matters that we care
about very passionately in an arena that unites our religion with our
politics, I think you then begin to see much more heightened cultural
differences than one might see in worship styles or the styles of
outreach to those who are unchurched."
The General Conference
meets every four years and sets policy for the entire church. The number
of delegates is based on membership in the regional units. Of the 994
delegates coming to the next conference in 2004, about 800 will be from
the United States.
Homosexuality has been a hot-button issue
for delegates to every General Conference since 1972, and Chiripasi said
homosexuality is basically a U.S. problem, not a problem for the
Zimbabwean church. While it may be appropriate to discuss the issue, he
said it should not dominate the General Conference agenda. He suggested
delegates spend more time sharing and learning from each other on such
matters as church growth.
In a recorded message, Emma Cantor,
GCOM member from the Philippines, said the church should not hesitate to
challenge cultural values. Citing the church's role in the emancipation
of women, she observed, "Opposing what is culturally practiced is a
long, long struggle."
Helliesen affirmed the importance of the
church taking positions on social issues, even if those stands conflict
with practices or beliefs of a particular culture. Pointing to the
church's opposition to the death penalty, he said, "I'm happy the church
has a clear stand on that question."
Love said there is creative
excitement when diverse people come together, but when it comes to
theological diversity, "we don't have a handle on that yet."
in the United States are hungry for alternative, less-adversarial
styles of deliberation and decision making, she observed. "Many people
in America would like to find a more civil type of deliberative system
where many more options are available." She said the World Council of
Churches, of which she is an elected leader, has replaced the
traditional Robert's Rules of Order with a consensus style.
important than deliberative style is what is on the agenda, Love said.
"The American segment of the United Methodist Church has an agenda that
may not be what the Zimbabwe church wants to focus on or what the
Filipino church wants to focus on. â€¦ I think we may need to find a new
organizational style. I don't want any piece of the body of Christ to
have to give up its burning issues, but on the other hand, we must find a
way in international arenas to speak about our burning passions in the
body of Christ in a way that translates appropriately to people who come
from very different situations."
Speaking by phone from Austria,
GCOM member Roland Siegrist said it is important for U.S. members to
understand that United Methodist churches overseas are making an
important witness in societies where they are overshadowed by Catholic,
Orthodox or Lutheran churches.
Because of his work with the
GCOM and other churchwide efforts, Siegrist said he has developed a
broader view of what it means to be a United Methodist. "I see that we
are not a small church. â€¦ It helped me not to have a typical
inferiority complex that quite often a minority church develops. I felt
â€¦ imbedded in a bigger movement and tradition. This influenced my
perspective of the church, my church."
Chiripasi also spoke of
his sense of being part of a larger movement. "I feel like a member of
the family. There is no question if the United Methodist Church is a
global church or not. No superior or inferior complex."
Ben Silva-Netto, a GCOM staff member and Filipino-American, said the
desire of some central conferences to become autonomous is forcing the
church to "redefine our connectionalism." A strong pro-autonomy movement
is under way in the Philippines, where the church has grown rapidly in
recent years. While United Methodism has units in Africa, Europe and
Asia, Methodist bodies are autonomous in many parts of the world,
including England, Korea, India and countries throughout Latin and South
The desire for empowerment is one reason some are
pushing for autonomy, according to Helliesen. "That is the challenge. We
have to find ways to empower different churches in the connection
outside the United States." Already, central conferences are allowed to
adapt portions of the church's Book of Discipline to fit their unique
GCOM member Jay Williams, a recent Harvard graduate who
has been a leader in the anti-slavery movement in the Sudan, joined the
conversations by phone. People outside the United States often have a
more profound sense of what it means to be part of a global community,
he observed. "America is the architect of globalization, but we as
Americans are not global ourselves."
People in the United
States normally speak only one language, read one newspaper and know
little of what is going on in other parts of the world, Williams said.
"The challenge for the church, especially for American United
Methodists, would be to live outside of that mode of what Americans are
and really try to envision and live out something that is new."
Jane and Martin Bailey, co-authors of Who are the Christians of the
Middle East?, spoke by phone about the influence of the United
Methodists in that volatile region of the world. They applauded the
ministry of the Rev. Sandra Olewine, whose work in Jerusalem is
supported by the church through the United Methodist Board of Global
Speaking by phone, the Rev. Bruce Robbins said the
church in the future will require greater sharing of ecumenical
resources. "What does it mean for us to be wealthy when other parts of
our body are desperately poor and dying of starvation?" he asked. "How
do we challenge ourselves to act out of that rather than to talk about
it constantly? That is a huge issue that will only increase in the
future." Robbins is top staff executive of the church's Commission on
Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns in New York.
from Dearborn, Bishop Edward Paup, president of the GCOM, said the
Council of Bishops, like the whole church, is learning to live out what
it means to be a global church. "As we ground our life together in
covenant in times of scripture, prayer, study, reflection, theological
dialogue, etc., that then sets the stage for us to also be able to deal
with difficult issues together as well. We are already in many ways
living it, but we pray by God's grace we can live it more effectively."
# # #
*McAnally is the retired director of United Methodist News Service.
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