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Agency visit challenges United Methodist Men on advocacy

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The Rev. Neal Christie

June 1, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

A decade ago, United Methodist Men from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference made weekly visits to the United Methodist Building in Washington.

The Wednesday visits were aimed at familiarizing the men with the employees and the work of the churchwide agencies there. The building houses the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the Commission on Religion and Race.

Now, 10 years later, the leader of the United Methodist Men in Baltimore-Washington has decided men need to know about the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and how its ministry can intersect with theirs. That decision led to a recent three-day visit by men from across the Northeastern Jurisdiction to the Methodist Building to see how United Methodist Men and the agencies could work together.

The first “Leadership Familiarization” gathering occurred May 15-17, when 17 United Methodist Men were hosted by the Revs. Neal Christie and Clayton Childress, board staff members. The group represented nine annual conferences in the Northeastern Jurisdiction.

The men met around an agenda that included daily worship, visits with lawmakers involved in social justice issues, tours of the nation’s capital and sharing. From presentations by Church and Society staff, “the men learned about the process of putting feet, hands and hearts into action out of the adopted Social Principles of the United Methodist Church,” said David Blontz, secretary of the jurisdiction’s United Methodist Men and president of the Central Pennsylvania Conference United Methodist Men.

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A UMNS image courtesy of the Board of Church and Society

Members of the Northeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Men meet with U. S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (second from left).

The men participated in workshops on advocacy, racism and immigration and were challenged to become active advocates against domestic violence. They also received an introduction to the agency’s seminar programs on national and international affairs.

“The men’s event with the General Board of Church and Society was an opportunity to build understanding about our connectional ministry as United Methodists ... and to be challenged to engage in ministry,” said G.A. Godwin of the West Virginia Annual Conference, who serves as the jurisdiction’s scouting coordinator.

The exchange between the United Methodist Men and the residents of the Methodist Building led Christie to think about reaching further. He has begun conversations with other United Methodist Men and hopes men’s groups from the other four U.S. jurisdictions will spend time at Methodist Building to “find their voice, use their voice and see policy as a dimension of their faith.”

Changing misconceptions

For Blontz, one of the most compelling sessions of the gathering occurred as Nawar Shora, an attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, shared his perspective as an Arab American. He revealed some misconceptions held toward Arab Americans and provided information that counters stereotypical images and notions that people have.

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A UMNS image courtesy of the Board of Church and Society

Participants of the "Leadership Familiarization" gather around the conference table at the Board of Church and Society offices.

He noted that Arabs have been in America for a long time, and said not all Arabs come from one area but have different dialects and different religions than Islam. The men also found that Muslims and Christians share similar values and concerns for mission and social change.

At the end of Shora’s presentation, the United Methodist Men gathered around him, laid their hands on him and covered him in prayer.

The men also participated in a walking tour of the Shaw Community in northwest Washington. The urban neighborhood is undergoing redevelopment and “men saw for themselves what the impact might be when the price of a century-old row house can reach nearly a million dollars in neighborhoods made up of longtime residents living either on fixed income or on working poor wages,” Blontz said.

Mission and ministry

The visit gave the men opportunities for getting to know one another and to understand the Board of Church and Society as a resource, as well as ideas for how they can be involved in advocacy and policy-making.

“This conference offered new avenues for Methodist program information that I can take home for use and/or to make available to other groups, as well as insight into the political process from a faith-based point of view,” said Ed Zandt of the Wyoming Conference United Methodist Men.

Charles Brummell, of the United Methodist Men of the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference, noted that the three-day session “clearly pointed out the need for the rekindling the role of applied mission and ministry by UMM.” While mission and ministry costs money, the men of the Northeastern Jurisdiction need to find a fundraising system to undergird future projects, he said.

The “days spent in Washington were very a mind-opening experience, and gave us a very good understanding of the GBCS and what great work they do and how we can be supportive of them,” said Eric Breidenstein of the New England Annual Conference.

The men are planning a jurisdictional gathering in March 2007 and a workshop topic will be “The Moral Budget.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. The above article was adapted from a release by David Blontz.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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