|Shifting paradigm: Global church hears Africa’s voice|
Worshippers sing a hymn at John Wesley United
Methodist Church in Macia, Mozambique. United Methodist membership is
increasing in Africa while decreasing in the United States. A UMNS file
photo by Mike DuBose.
A UMNS Report
By Kelly C. Martini*
April 15, 2008
United Methodists are contemplating what being a global church means as
membership and leadership numbers grow beyond the United States.
Women in an internally displaced persons camp in
South Darfur receive blankets and tarps from the United Methodist
Committee on Relief.
A UMNS file photo by Paul Jeffrey.
Traditionally, the denomination’s agency offices and the majority of
its members and leadership have been based in the United States. The
denomination often has viewed the rest of the world as a mission field
ripe for evangelism, church growth and ministry. Such a mission appears
to be a success as United Methodist numbers globally increase.
The impact of the shift will be reflected at the General Conference,
which sets church policy and officially speaks for the denomination,
when the assembly meets April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas. The
delegates will see a stronger presence from the church’s regions in
Africa, Europe and Asia, and they will hear about the emphasis of the
general church’s agencies in those parts of the world.
U.S. jurisdictions and central conferences in Africa, Europe and Asia
receive a certain number of voting delegates, based on their
membership. The total number of delegates––half lay persons, half
clergy––cannot total more than 1,000. Church growth globally over the
past decade is shifting General Conference delegate votes from the
jurisdictions to central conferences.
Africa is experiencing the largest effect, with 186 voting delegates
this year, up 94 from 2004. These extra delegates are transferred from
U.S. jurisdiction allotments. If, as expected, Côte d'Ivoire receives
full membership into the denomination this year, another 40 African
delegates will give the continent the largest voting block in the
denomination in 2012.
The Rev. P.T. Chikafu, chaplain of United Methodist-related Africa
University in Zimbabwe, believes the increase is a sign that "the
African Church has come of age." More General Conference participation
will re-introduce the voice of the African Church, "which has been
silent or silenced for a long time," he said.
Another sign is the increased emphasis by the church’s general
agencies on Africa in the past four years. At the 2004 General
Conference, the former General Council on Ministries reported that the
general agencies had committed $35 million for mission and ministry
through the Holistic Strategy for Africa for 2005-2008. Now, as that
period draws to an end, the actual amount is more than three times that
projection, exceeding $116 million, according to the General Secretaries
Bishop Joel Martinez, president of the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries, the denomination’s mission agency, sees the increased
numbers as reflecting successes of mission and evangelism on the
Yet, how the church will change remains a mystery, in his opinion.
"With so many new people, we just hope that everyone feels included,
centers on mission, and participates as full members of the body of
Christ," he said.
Martinez believes African church expansion could be one outgrowth of
two successful mission programs approved at the 2004 General Conference
and funded by his agency–– "Holistic Strategy on Africa" and "Holistic
Strategy on Latin American and the Caribbean." Reports on these
strategies will "challenge us to think in new ways about connecting more
closely with other autonomous affiliated churches around the world," he
Over the past four years, health and relief have been an emphasis for
the Board of Global Ministries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the board
commissioned 11 doctors and nurses as "missionaries of global health."
In South Africa, it focused on caring for refugees from Zimbabwe. Other
concerns include the plight of the Sudan and continuing prevalence of
malaria in Africa.
Karen Greenwaldt, chief executive, United Methodist Board of
Discipleship––the agency responsible for resourcing, networking and
training members and leaders of the church––affirmed that Africans need
to be involved in their own mission and ministry. The agency is actively
pursuing staff members from Africa to work in their homeland.
Simultaneously, African Methodists are beginning to minister to
Methodists in the United States.
Street people in Cape Town, South Africa, hold copies of a devotional distributed through Africa Upper Room Ministries.
A UMNS file photo by Kami L. Rice.
"We’ve been finding incredibly wonderful manuscripts written by
people in Africa that can be published and distributed for people in
Africa and across the U.S.," Greenwaldt said. "The church will gain a
lot of knowledge from perspectives very different from the United States
Partnering with African churches to put Upper Room devotionals in
indigenous languages, the Board of Discipleship delivers the resources
broadly across the continent, while hosting daily radio broadcasts of
the biblical reflections in local languages. Spiritual formation
efforts, such as the Walk to Emmaus retreat, and creating networks of
youth across Africa are other partnership endeavors.
Forbes Matonga, a member of the denomination’s Connectional Table
from Zimbabwe, believes the missionary structure of the church often
inhibits it from being truly global in nature.
Increased numbers mean a visible presence at the legislative event,
but that doesn’t necessarily change the focus on the United States.
"Over the years, I have noticed that it is not the very best of the
African representatives that get the opportunity to come to
such crucial gatherings," he said.
When delegates are chosen, other factors "take precedence" over merit
and ability to articulate issues as delegates, according to Matonga,
who added that the format and politics of General Conference leave
central conference delegates at a disadvantage because it is "just
American and too legalistic for a deeply religious African." The idea of
formulating petitions, the agenda and debates become almost secondary
as African delegates have to focus on getting visas to get to Texas, he
"We need a new structure, one that makes our
denomination one church found across the globe," he said. He hopes
such a structure can be found through the proposal coming from the
Connectional Table and Council of Bishops.
The Rev. Ilunga Kasolwa Kandolo of the North Katanga Conference,
Democratic Republic of Congo, said the challenge often lies in the
variety of definitions people use when referring to the global church.
"The global nature of the church is biblically founded: 'The Church is
One,'" he explained. The challenge is to be able to worship anywhere as a
United Methodist and feel at home.
The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, chief executive, United Methodist
Board of Higher Education and Ministry, considers the worldwide shift as
a paradigm shift and a "very natural occurrence that is good for the
He pointed to Africa University in Zimbabwe as a prominent example of
that shift. As private and state institutions throughout Zimbabwe
virtually shut down because of political unrest, the university schedule
continued uninterrupted. Its strength, he added, is the hybrid of
education models of Africa and the West.
"The university believes it’s under a different mandate to educate
women and men, that its resources are not limitless, and that its
mission is rooted in a commitment to the future of Africa, which many
believe is a future God calls them to create," Del Pino said.
Spreading across continent
As United Methodist Communications and Africa University partner to
develop distance education, they form an "anchor institution" to foster
new institutions across the continent. In the meantime, Africa sends
back to the West its graduates, who now minister on every continent.
United Methodist-related Africa University is located in Mutare, Zimbabwe. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
The Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive for United Methodist
Communications, said the Central Conference Communications Initiative in
Africa has helped Africans connect, through digital communication
technologies, across national and cultural lines. "They learned they
could share information and skills with each other and with the wider
church," he explained. "The result will be a global network that helps
the whole church to better tell its stories."
The goal for this global network is to bridge the technological
divide. "As the world becomes connected through digital technology,
those left out are disempowered," Hollon said. "The Central Conference
Communications Initiative is about empowering people through
Racial and economic issues, health disparities, poverty, and HIV/AIDS
are not just African issues, and the global denomination needs to
address these pressing concerns.
"For years, the Board of Church and Society has been working closely
with annual conferences and churches in Africa to help them prepare
leaders who understand their call to ministry in both a worldwide and
local context," said Jim Winkler, the board’s chief executive. "Such
rapid growth is inspiring, and it creates a demand for the denomination
to provide support that will ensure its long-term viability."
In November, the agency funded people from Africa and other central
conferences to attend the board’s "Living Faith, Seeking Justice"
conference in Texas. Grants for African young people provide internships
in Washington D.C. The new Social Creed to be considered by General
Conference had input from Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
Issues of equity
Equity issues remain a question both inside and outside the United
States, according to Erin Hawkins, chief executive of the denomination’s
Commission on Religion and Race. "When there is exponential growth
within the central conferences, and only two delegates are assigned, it
raises an equity question for the church," she pointed out.
African voices in the church cannot just be male voices, stressed M.
Garlinda Burton, chief executive, United Methodist Commission on the
Status and Role of Women.
"Church media has pursued men as spokespersons about what the reality
is and what Africa needs. I’m concerned that we’re not hearing from
women as much," she said. "I hope we remember that there are parts of
the world where women are not represented in leadership. Wherever we
are, the church needs to stand for equality and equal access––valuing
women and giving them equal access to power and voice.
"Culture in the U.S., culture in region, culture in nationality does
not trump God’s call for women and men to be participants equally at
God’s table," Burton added. "So, I look forward to being challenged and
challenging my brothers and sisters when it comes to gender justice,
racial justice and community justice."
COSROW plans a women’s congress this year to help women explore
mission and ministry, with the goal of attracting a quarter of the
participants from central conferences.
*Martini is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Côte d'Ivoire denomination joins United Methodist Church
Judicial Council reaffirms decision on Côte d'Ivoire
Africa University to blanket continent against malaria
Distance learning center launched in Mozambique
Choir opens world to children with ‘hard lives’
Africa Expenditures, United Methodist Boards and Agencies
The United Methodist Church
Board of Global Ministries
Board of Discipleship
Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Commission on the Status and Role of Women
Board of Church and Society
Commission on Religion and Race