|Connectional Table affirms four 'provocative proposals'|
Nov. 1, 2006
|A UMNS photo by John Gordon
Bishops Sharon Rader and John Hopkins confer during a break in the Connectional Table meeting in Forth Worth, Texas.
By Fran Coode Walsh*
FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS) -- The Connectional Table, a 60-member group
responsible for coordinating the mission, ministries and resources of
the United Methodist Church, has proposed four goals for the 10
The group selected the four from 54 "provocative proposals" that were
considered during an Oct. 22-24 meeting. The four proposals will be
further developed and presented to the 2008 General Conference, the
church's top legislative body.
"We've now come to the point where our listening needs to be turned into
some proposals for 'how does this church move forward into the
future?'" said Bishop Sharon Rader, interim executive secretary of the
Proposals selected for further development:
- Address the leadership crisis in the church in the United States.
- Create a strategy to develop new congregations.
- Partner with the poor.
- Implement a global health initiative.
Covenant for collaboration
|A UMNS photo by John Gordon
Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications,
demonstrates text messaging for Nothing But Nets during the Connectional
The first proposal would ask each of the 13 churchwide agencies to
address the leadership crisis in the church in the United States through
commitments of time, money and staff.
Statistics show that the average United Methodist is 57 years old, and
United Methodists under age 18 account for only 4.6 percent of church
members. There are 850 ordained and commissioned elders under age 35,
and U.S. membership has slipped below 8 million for the first time since
the 1930s. In contrast, churches in the central conferences (regions in
Africa, Asia and Europe) have seen membership increase.
The denomination's general agencies, annual (regional) conferences and
local churches could improve the way the church recruits, trains, and
supports clergy and lay leaders.
The second proposal suggests a national strategy for new congregational
development. Recognizing the church's commitment to make disciples to
transform the world, the proposal suggests re-casting the vision for
evangelism in the United States, and reaching out to urban, rural, and
ethnic groups; youth and young adults; and newly arriving immigrants.
A national strategy team would work with the general agencies of the
church, annual conferences, local churches and the network of
congregational developers and the team would staff a senior level
position within the General Board of Discipleship.
The group set a goal of 350 new churches a year in the United States,
with 80 percent of those churches averaging 250 people in worship within
five years of their launch. If successful, the United Methodist Church
would welcome 87,500 new members in five years.
Partnering with the poor
Five action steps were suggested to strengthen ministries with the poor:
- Discovery: Each agency would be asked to survey its works with the poor and report on the findings by January.
- Review: Each agency would name one
executive staff member to review the findings and form a team to plan
collaborative initiatives to move forward.
- General Conference consideration: The
team would create an affirmation of ministry with the poor for
consideration by the 2008 General Conference.
- Pilot project development: During the
2009-2012 quadrennium, the team would develop six pilot projects for
ministry with the poor in collaboration with jurisdictional and central
conferences in East Africa, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Honduras, a
U.S. annual conference with a large urban population and an annual
conference in Appalachia.
- Education for United Methodist action:
The team would develop multilingual education resources with emphasis on
advocating for public policies that empower the impoverished and
alleviate conditions that compromise quality of life.
Global health initiative
|A UMNS photo by John Gordon
we can do at General Conference, nothing that we can do, will be
greater than if every United Methodist wakes up in the morning and says,
'I'm going to live a Wesleyan life today," Bishop John Hopkins says.
One element of a global health plan would involve the Nothing But Nets
campaign, an effort to raise funds for anti-malarial bed nets. The
United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist
Communications, and the Division on Ministries with Young People at the
Board of Discipleship are teaming with the United Nations Foundation,
the Millennium Promise, the Measles Initiative, Sports Illustrated magazine and NBA Cares to promote the program.
There will be an emphasis on good health practices at the next General
Conference, and efforts will be made to strengthen community-based
health care through radio and other communication tools.
During the meeting, the health task force presented information to the
group that health care claims by United Methodist clergy in the United
States are 16 percent higher than those of other employers with more
than 500 employees across the nation. Barbara Boigegrain, chief
executive of the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits,
explained that the surveys showed United Methodist clergy are also obese
in greater numbers than the national average.
Boigegrain said the data lead the group to question: "What is going on
in the lives of the clergy that is causing them to be heavier, to have
higher stress, and to be measurably less healthy than the rest of the
population? …We need to look at the systems of the church." The task
force suggested that annual conferences and agencies provide comparative
data and best practices to focus on the systemic issues and prepare
recommendations for General Conference.
Health task force members were asked to calculate budgets for each of
the four proposals. The propositions will be presented to the Council of
Bishops' Nov. 1-6 meeting in Mozambique.
A task force dealing with the global nature of the church also presented findings. Three basic changes were proposed:
An interagency working group on health and wholeness proposed a global
health initiative to engage all levels of the church in a campaign to
prevent and treat diseases that result from poverty. In December, an
informal advisory meeting of key leaders in the church will meet in
Washington to consider the most effective methods.
- Group all of the jurisdictions and annual conferences of the United States into one central conference.
- Revise the Book of Discipline to delete portions that only apply to the United States.
- Publish a book of discipline and other publications specific to each central conference.
These suggestions will also be presented to the Council of Bishops at their meeting in Mozambique.
Preliminary findings for a "State of the Church" report were shared with
the group. Meera Buck of the Martec Group described findings based upon
one-on-one interviews and phone surveys with 300 United Methodist lay
members and clergy, who were asked to describe their feelings about the
denomination and their spiritual lives. An online survey is under way
with similar questions. A complete "State of the Church" report is
expected by the group's next meeting in May.
Proposals to General Conference
Bishop John Hopkins, chairperson of the Connectional Table, said the
proposals and reports for General Conference can reinvigorate the
church. "Nothing we can do at General Conference, nothing that we can
do, will be greater than if every United Methodist wakes up in the
morning and says, 'I'm going to live a Wesleyan life today.'"
Dora Washington, a representative from the Southeastern Jurisdiction,
said these proposals are "consistent with our mandate to be visionary.
This will answer for some what the Connectional Table is doing."
Washington and other members of the table said the group worked to
determine its role in three previous meetings. Following the Fort Worth
gathering, she said, "We are more and more seeing concrete results of
the Connectional Table. It was a new thing, and we had to envision what
it's all about. We are becoming clearer on what our charge is."
The Connectional Table's next meeting will be May 21-24 at Simpsonwood Conference Center near Atlanta.
*Walsh is strategic project coordinator for the Media Group at United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or email@example.com.
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