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Church wants stronger bonds in southern hemisphere

Bishop Minerva Carcaño leads the General Conference committee studying relationships with Methodists from Latin America and the Caribbean. UMNS photos by Larry Nelson.

By Linda Bloom*
March 21, 2007 | PANAMA CITY, Panama (UMNS)

The bonds between United Methodists and their Methodist counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean can and should be strengthened.

Such was the consensus that emerged from a March 1-4 consultation in Panama City that brought together United Methodists and Methodists from that region, along with representatives of the British Methodist Church.

The dialogue was sponsored by a study committee created by the 2004 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, to review relationships with the independent Methodist churches of Latin America and the Caribbean. Bishop Minerva Carcaño of Phoenix is the study committee’s chairwoman.

Carcaño said the established leadership of the Latin American and Caribbean churches "is excited about the conversation" but acknowledged that others may question whether the conversation will evolve into a true dialogue. Several attempts in recent years fizzled, she noted.

Marcia Fitzner, a study committee member from Willard, N.M., echoes that concern. "My main worry is that there will be no follow-up," she said. "Otherwise, (autonomous churches) will really be discouraged."

New leadership, new commitment

United Methodist Bishop Joel Martinez of San Antonio, another study committee member and president of the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries, is impressed by the commitment of newer and younger leadership from the region.

"My main worry is that there will be no follow-up. Otherwise, (autonomous churches) will really be discouraged." -Marcia Fitzner

"The most significant idea or perspective that has been raised here for me is the emphasis on mission being central and primary and structure accompanying that mission," Martinez said.

The Rev. R. Randy Day, the board’s chief executive, said the consultation left him with "a deep hunger for deeper and more frequent interaction" among Methodists of Latin America, the Caribbean and North America.

"I think authentic partnerships, based on equality, respect of culture and openness will be the preferred vehicle of the future, building on what is already happening," he noted, with "people-to-people partnerships having priority over business as usual in church circles."

Day pledged his agency’s commitment to support working partnerships of local congregations and annual conferences throughout the hemisphere. "The vigor of the consultation indicated to me that our leaders are eager to build on our heritage, avoid past mistakes and forge ahead with a sense of hope, justice and enthusiasm," he said.

Steps toward dialogue

Bishop Joel Martinez compliments the commitment of newer and younger Methodist leaders in the region.

Carcaño listed at least two immediate steps that the 2008 General Conference can take: let the study committee make a presentation on the floor of General Conference and agree to a dialogue "on what it means to be connectional but autonomous."

Small group discussions at the consultation reflected the desire for improved communications with The United Methodist Church "at all levels," the education of United Methodists about their counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean and a plan of mutual visits and cultural and ecclesiastical exchanges.

The Methodist Church in Argentina, for example, has connections not only with U.S. United Methodists but also United Methodists in Germany, France and Switzerland, the British Methodist Church and the United Church of Canada, according to Bishop Nelly Ritchie.

The best connections are not through church bureaucracy, Ritchie said, but through "the commitment of person to person, community to community."

Relationships between specific United Methodist annual (regional) conferences and the Latin American/Caribbean churches are considered good, and regional representatives want to build on those connections. The Methodist Church of Peru brought a proposal to the consultation to add language to the United Methodist Book of Discipline that would normalize relations with conferences and individual bishops.

United Methodists participating in the consultation cited several ways to advance the agenda of improving relationships: asking General Conference to produce its documents in Spanish in addition to the current English, French and Portuguese; assigning a United Methodist bishop to the denomination’s Holistic Strategy for Latin America; and arranging a meeting at the 2008 General Conference between the United Methodist Council of Bishops and bishops and presidents of the Latin America/Caribbean churches.

Global relationships

A dance troupe in native dress performs for the consultation.

The Council of Bishops has its own Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church, which is considering how bishops can help lead the denomination to progress on all issues of its global relationships.

Some study committee members will participate in a May 18-20 consultation in Atlanta on the Global Nature of the Church, sponsored by the denomination’s Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, the commission’s chief executive and a study committee member, believes there is a basic agreement about the need for more interaction with Methodists of Latin America and the Caribbean. He expects that building new relationships with the region’s churches will be ongoing over the next decade.

"The fact that so many agencies were present and active in the consultation indicates a desire to begin the effort to define connectionalism in a new way," Pickens said. "We don’t need General Conference action to begin exploring ways in which we can resource each other."

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.

Video Interviews

Bishop Minerva Carcano: "There's some woundedness."

Bishop Minerva Carcano: "…what it means to be connectional yet autonomous."

Bishop Juan Vera Mendez : "It was a slow, painful process." Also: En español

Bishop Juan Vera Mendez : "We hope the whole church will be involved." Also: En español

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