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MARCHA leaders seek stronger ties between U.S., Latin churches

Dec. 13, 2005

By Amanda M. Bachus*

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (UMNS) — Leaders of the United Methodist Church’s Hispanic caucus want to strengthen relationships between Methodists in the United States and Latin America.

Those relationships were weakened during the years when Methodist churches in Latin American countries were becoming autonomous from the United Methodist Church.

Improving those ties was one of the issues at the 34th annual assembly of MARCHA – Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans – held Nov. 17-20 in San Juan.

“The Latin American churches have felt hurt after their own separation from the United Methodist Church and the type of processes in which the autonomies were handled in the past,” said Bishop Juan Vera-Méndez , leader of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. The relationship and missional work with Latin America was deeply affected and still suffers today because of the lack of relationship with the United Methodist Church, he said.

He suggested that the United Methodist Church increase its mission support work with Latin America.

“We are living in a globalized world,” Vera-Méndez said. The United Methodist and autonomous churches are trying to build new relationships with one another, he said. “The autonomous process should go into revision. Now that we have what we call connectionalism, we should intentionally start to build communications bridges and don’t leave the rest (Latin America) in isolation.”

Vera-Méndez noted that the Puerto Rican church has sent more than 100 pastors to the United States, is a major purchaser of church resources and a part of the Board of Global Ministries’ Partners in Mission program, and that it has more than 300 missionaries serving in Honduras and other countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

MARCHA heard an update from a member of a study group reviewing relationships between the United Methodist Church and the autonomous Latin American Methodist denominations. The group was created in 2004, after General Conference approved a proposal from MARCHA. It was formed by the Council of Bishops, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the Commission of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America (CIEMAL) and Methodists in the Caribbean and the Americas.

During their meeting, MARCHA leaders also focused on issues such as the emerging needs of Hispanic/Latinos in the United States, particularly immigration. Participants discussed how MARCHA, as an advocacy organization, can request justice and fair treatment for immigrant workers through legislation and encourage concerned church members, caucuses and other groups to make their voices heard by lawmakers.

Participants also pondered a question raised by Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen, leader of CIEMAL and the Methodist Church of Argentina: Why are people emigrating from Latin America to the United States?

MARCHA will send resolutions on immigration-related issues to the church’s agencies for consideration by General Conference. The denomination’s top assembly meets in 2008.

Hispanic/Latino bishops from around the Americas — including United Methodists Minerva Carcaño, Elias Galván and Joel Martinez — attended the gathering, as well as staff from United Methodist agencies and seminaries. Delegations of youth leaders also participated, representing some of the U.S. jurisdictions as well as organizations such as the Youth Academy, sponsored by the Mexican American Program at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas.

Led by Bishop John R. Schol, the Baltimore-Washington Conference delegation was one of the largest, with 12 people. Schol said it was important for him to be there.

“What I’m hearing and experiencing is if we are going to be a church for all people, we have to pay attention to how to include all people,” he said. “I’m hearing that Hispanic ministry is going very well despite bad support. We need to continue to wrestle in developing leadership and giving leadership opportunities.”

In other business:

  • In her report, MARCHA President Ana Haydee-Urda expressed concern for funding cuts that all of the United Methodist Church’s ethnic caucuses are facing in coming years.
  • The Rev. Yolanda Pupo-Ortiz, who recently retired as assistant general secretary of the Commission of Religion and Race, was honored during a banquet. Raised in Cuba in a Quaker family, she later converted to Methodism through marriage. She was honored for a lifetime of working for justice for small groups that lack a voice in the church.
  • The assembly recognized a Puerto Rican delegation for its work in making autonomy possible for the Methodist Church in Puerto Rico. The gathering also honored Bishop Elias Galván; Bishop Victor Bonilla, who was the first Methodist bishop of Puerto Rico; the Rev. Germán Acevedo, a Board of Global Ministries staff executive; the Rev. Michael Rivas, a former Global Ministries executive; and others who supported the signing of the concordat between the United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico.

*Bachus is director of Spanish-language resources at United Methodist Communications.

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

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