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Latin American, Caribbean Methodists share insights

Colorful cloths adorn the altar during the Panama consultation of The United Methodist Church and autonomous Methodist churches of Latin America and the Caribbean. A UMNS photo by Larry Nelson.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

March 6, 2007 | PANAMA CITY, Panama (UMNS)

In the part of El Salvador where Gloria Maritza Landaverde lives, her small community sees more cases of malnutrition than anywhere else in the country.

Methodist Bishop Nelly Ritchie of Argentina shares Scripture during opening worship. A UMNS photo by Larry Nelson.

To address that need, the Evangelical Methodist Church of El Salvador—seven churches strong—has started a child nutrition program. The church also operates two medical clinics, a food bank and a recovery home for drug addicts; holds literacy training and workshops for women; and provides volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.

“This has been work that’s very difficult but not impossible,” said Landaverde, a lay leader of the El Salvador church.

Landaverde was among participants in a March 1-4 consultation on the relationship between The United Methodist Church and independent Methodist churches in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The consultation was arranged by a study committee established by the 2004 United Methodist General Conference to consider the denomination’s historic, current and future relations with Methodist churches in the region.

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

Interacting with them were members of the study committee and representatives of various United Methodist agencies and commissions.

United Methodists “need to listen to the voices of Latin America.”

–The Rev. Aida Fernandez

Local hosts were the Methodist Churches of the Caribbean and the Americas and the Evangelical Methodist Church of Panama. Relationships were forged during morning and evening worship, mealtime chats and a fiesta featuring Panamanian food and traditional folk dances.

United Methodists “need to listen to the voices of Latin America,” said the Rev. Aida Fernandez, a committee member from Lawrence, Mass., who spoke of the importance of looking at the history of relationships in the region—and then moving on, with a focus on healing.

The study committee will present its report to the 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body. “I hope there will be no promises that cannot be fulfilled,” Fernandez told United Methodist News Service.

Providing context

Focusing on a region with a rich mission history, the consultation included presentations on historic denominational ties and social and cultural context, leading to discussions about what it means to be autonomous and also to connect and collaborate.

One of the giants of Latin American Methodism, Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen of Argentina, set the scene as he talked about why the image of the forest was chosen as the consultation’s theme.

Just as trees have roots in the soil of the forest, churches have roots in the soils of the nations where they exist. “Each one of our churches has deepened their roots into the reality of their countries,” while the tree branches of the forest intertwine “and form the canopy” of connectionalism, explained Etchegoyen, chief executive of the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL).

The Revs. Carmen Gaud and Larry Pickens read from the Bible during worship services. A UMNS photo by Larry Nelson.

While Latin America/Caribbean churches have enjoyed freedom to assume responsibilities and develop themselves “according to the realities that they face,” they want to strengthen connections with their brothers and sisters to the north, participants said.

However, confusion exists over exactly how to relate to The United Methodist Church. Churches in some countries have developed good relations with individual U.S. annual conferences, but better communication with United Methodists is needed “at all levels,” they said.

An important step

Both short-term and long-range actions are required to strengthen the bonds with Methodists from Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Rev. Larry Pickens, a committee member and chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

“The consultation has been an important step toward helping us clarify the relationships,” he said.

Participants expressed enthusiasm over ideas such as mutual visits, cultural and ecclesiastical exchanges and exchanging missionaries from both regions.

Argentina Bishop Nellie Ritchie invited other United Methodists to come to her country “to tell stories about their spiritual life, their religious life, their commitment to society.”

Such contact is essential, she says, to develop real connections among Methodists in the Americas. “Mission is mission only if we put a face on this mission,” said Ritchie.

*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.

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