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Latin American Methodists eager to rebuild

Church representatives light worship candles and renew relationships among United Methodists and Methodists in Latin America and the Caribbean.
UMNS photos by Larry Nelson.

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

Years after their official separation, some Latin American Methodists are struggling to maintain church buildings and other physical structures inherited from The United Methodist Church.

Uruguay is a case in point, according to the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, president of the Methodist Church there since 2003.

Speaking during the March 1-4 consultation between The United Methodist Church and Methodist churches of Latin America and the Caribbean, Bolioli said many churches in the region "don’t have the capacity to maintain what they have" or to develop new ministries.

The church in Uruguay, which spends "an immense amount of money" maintaining its property, recently was forced to sell two buildings to construct one new building to serve the poor. Methodists there have few financial resources. "The people who come now to our churches are not the middle class or the upper class but the poor," he explained.

Bolioli has a wealth of experience with the church in both the northern and southern hemispheres. He first served as president of the Methodist Church of Uruguay in the 1970s before moving to New York. As a staff member for 22 years with the U.S. National Council of Churches, he focused on the churches and issues of Latin America and the Caribbean.

When it comes to the relationship with United Methodists, he said, Methodists in Latin America and the Caribbean find the denomination willing to help in disaster situations "but when we talk about the development of the church, they say that is the responsibility of the local and national church."

Such economic struggle is not unusual in the region, particularly for newer churches such as the Methodist Church of Colombia. As Bishop Juan Alberto Cardona pointed out, "Our pastors are in poor, humble communities. We have a shortage of everything. We don’t even have a single church structure."

Building relationships

But church representatives at the Panama City consultation were less concerned about financial support than rebuilding bonds among Methodist sisters and brothers. As the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL) stated in 1998: "The autonomy of our churches does not affect the connectionality; on the contrary, it exalts it and maintains intercommunication and unity as a Methodist people in the continent and in the world."

In recent years, three consultations have been significant to relations between United Methodists and Methodists in the region, according to Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen, CIEMAL’s chief executive.

"The autonomy of our churches does not affect the connectionality; on the contrary, it exalts it and maintains intercommunication and unity as a Methodist people in the continent and in the world."
-CIEMAL statement, 1998

Those consultations occurred in 1983 in Peru between CIEMAL and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries; in 1986 in Mexico between

CIEMAL, Global Ministries and the United Methodist Council of Bishops; and in 1991 in Guatemala with CIEMAL, the United Methodist Church, Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, the British Methodist Church and United Church of Canada.

Records from those consultations show a desire to maintain unity and reject attempts at division, Etchegoyen noted. Participants also affirmed "a clear concept" of holistic mission, personal salvation and social redemption; the importance of evangelization, education, service and social transformation; solidarity with other social movements and the significance of ecumenical relationships.

The Rev. George Mulrain, president of the Caribbean church group, said that while those churches have historical ties with the British Methodists, "the geographic reality" places them closer to the United States. "We have always had a relationship with The United Methodist Church as an autonomous church," he added.

Collaborating in missions

The Rev. Oscar Bolioli says the Methodist Church of Uruguay has struggled to maintain physical structures inherited from U.S. Methodists.

More recently, CIEMAL has collaborated with the Board of Global Ministries on the Encounter with Christ program, which has raised nearly $1.5 million for the mission of Methodist churches in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Other relationships have expanded through the support of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Volunteers in Mission and Persons in Mission.

But the mission work is not a one-way street. Through the United Methodist Hispanic caucus known as MARCHA, the Methodist Church of Mexico and CIEMAL have supported the rights of Hispanics in the United States. Methodists from the region also support Spanish and Portuguese-speaking U.S. congregations.

Brazil has sent missionaries to serve congregations of Methodist Brazilians in the United States. Methodists in Latin America and the Caribbean also have provided training and theological-pastoral formation for some pastors serving in Spanish, Portuguese and English-speaking United Methodist congregations.

Represented at the consultation were Methodists from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela and other parts of the Caribbean. Representatives to Cuba were unable to attend due to travel obstacles.

*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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