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Consider justice over charity, mission leader says

Bishop Felton May addresses members of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries during the March 10-13 meeting in Stamford, Conn.
UMNS photos by Cassandra Heller.

By Linda Bloom*
March 14, 2008 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)

The United Methodist Church needs to think less about charity and more about justice, according to the leader of the denomination’s mission agency.

Becoming a partner in establishing free health clinics across the United States may be one way to do that, Bishop Felton May said.

He spoke during the March 10-13 spring meeting of the Board of Global Ministries, where directors also elected a new chief executive – Bishop Edward Paup – who will succeed May, the interim leader, on Sept. 1. (See "Bishop Paup to lead Board of Global Ministries," 3/11/08)

May noted that 2008 marks the 40th anniversary of a number of events, ranging from the founding of The United Methodist Church by its predecessor bodies to the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the unveiling of the Kerner Report, which stated that "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal."

The Rev. David Wilson presents Bishop Joel Martinez, who is retiring this year, with a Native American blanket in appreciation
for his service to the board.

The Kerner Report’s information on poverty "reminds us of the unfinished agenda in the United States and the world," May added.

The bishop declared that "people are poor because we keep them that way" and suggested that the denomination needs to attack poverty with the type of one-two punch made famous by the boxer Joe Louis.

Volunteer clinics

Pointing to the link between poverty and health problems, May spoke of his conversations with Jack McConnell, a retired physician and son of a Methodist minister, who is promoting the concept of retired medical personnel serving as volunteers to staff free medical clinics.

McConnell started Volunteers in Medicine in Hilton Head, S.C., after noticing that one out of three people who lived there had no access to health care. He also knew of other retired medical professionals who wanted to provide assistance and access to such people. In 1993, the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic was formed.

"Presently in the U.S., there are 160,000 retired physicians, 350,000 nurses, and 40,000 dentists," the Volunteers in Medicine Web site states. "Most are looking for a meaningful way to spend their retirement. Not only do many retired medical professionals still want to practice, they need to practice. Serving those in need is as therapeutic for the caregiver as it is for the care recipient."

The clinic has a "culture of caring" based on the idea that "how people are treated during a visit to the clinic is as important as the medical care they receive." An alliance of such clinics already has been formed across the country, and AARP is a partner.

May spoke about the possibility of the board working with the alliance through its Health and Welfare and Volunteers in Mission programs. "I think we can have a winner," he said.

In other business, Global Ministries directors reviewed the board’s accomplishments over the past four years; discussed legislation and other business related to the upcoming 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body; and were briefed on the board’s 2009-2012 quadrennial budget and strategic visioning process for the future.

Seminary report

Directors received a final report and recommendations from the board’s Seminary Task Force on Mission and voted to have staff from Global Ministries and the denomination’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry work on implementation.

The Rev. Maxie Dunnam reports
on recommendations from the
Seminary Task Force on Mission.

The task force was convened in 2005 out of a concern that the theology and practice of mission was no longer part of the core curriculum at United Methodist seminaries. The group issued a "call to conversation" about rebuilding the teaching of mission studies and the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, the task force chairman, said he hopes it will be answered. "If we give it our attention in the future, that conversation can go on," he told directors.

According to the report, "core competencies" for mission education include creating a passion for mission among pastoral leaders; equipping them with basic building blocks for mission theology; encouraging pastoral leaders to equip laity for mission; stressing the need for cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity to religious and ethnic diversity; and providing a framework for a special vocational call to cross-cultural mission.

A request to establish three regional offices for the United Methodist Committee on Relief was approved by directors of the board’s health and relief unit. A $1.1 million grant will be used to set up offices in Mobile, Ala., San Diego and the Philippines and to fund staff for monitoring, evaluation and case management

Directors also approved several allocations for continuing long-term recovery efforts related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A total of $6.8 million was granted to the denomination’s Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference; $4.3 million to the Mississippi Annual Conference; and nearly $2 million to the Texas Annual Conference.

Another $878,363 was approved for GRACE Community Services in Houston for long-term recovery work with Katrina survivors and disaster preparedness. The Florida Annual Conference will receive $488,256 for continuing long-term recovery from the 2004 and 20005 hurricane seasons and tornadoes in 2006 and 2007.

An allocation of $2.5 million will be used to expand the board’s health programs over the next three years "in response to the denomination’s declared focus on global health."

Directors learned from a report by the board’s mission personnel program area that a total of 184 mission personnel were commissioned over the past four years. Two new categories – home missioners and missionaries for global health: sub-Saharan Africa – were established, and the 10-week summer intern program for young adults has been revived.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Bishop Felton May: “One reflects on the justice issues.”

Bishop Felton May: “Wherever poverty has been eradicated …”

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