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Commission foresees change in its work on unity, ecumenism


A sidebar, UMNS story #350, is available.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (UMNS) - Voting directors of the United Methodist Church's ecumenical relations agency struggled with issues related to maintaining their commission's autonomy and duties and, at the same time, responding to a call from the church's finance agency seeking cost-cutting structural realignments.

During its June 26-30 session, the churchwide Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns supported "the continuation of a reorganized, yet independent entity" to work for unity within Christianity and for stronger relations with other faiths.

"The church in the world of 2003 needs urgently to address both the burning issues of Christian unity in the midst of scandalous disunity and interreligious dialogue in the midst of difficult tensions between religious communities," the commissioners declared in a statement reflecting their commitment to continuing their assigned role.

After extensive deliberation, the commission decided that its primary structural and functional relationship should be with the Council of Bishops. Any new structure should also include an organizational link to the denomination's Board of Global Ministries, members added.

But before rushing to a restructure, the commission urged denominational leaders to give careful consideration to all such changes and their consequences, and to allow for full participation of the church through its system of representative decision making.

As the only church agency meeting between the May 20-22 session of the General Council of Finance and Administration and the July 10-11 Program and Budget Consultation in Detroit, the commission was the first to respond to the conditional allocation for World Service dollars that GCFA had made.

The finance council asked each of the 14 churchwide agencies to continue with the innovative thinking and cooperation they had already initiated but to create "a new day" approach to fulfilling their mandates from the church's highest legislative body, the General Conference, and at the same time reduce administrative costs.

Success in achieving such a plan is the criteria for determining whether to use $222 million in GCFA's recommendation for the World Service Fund in the church's 2005-2009 budget or to drop that figure to $186 million. Many church agencies derive all or most of their funds from World Service. General Conference will vote on the 2005-2009 budget when it meets April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, giving to the United Methodist Church dropped in 2002. Contributions to World Service have fallen 7.7 percent during the first five months of 2003. This decrease is generally attributed to the current economic slump.

Christian unity commission members commended the finance council for its willingness to speak "about the pressing need for organizational change" across the denominations. However, the commission also voiced concern that linking the call for structural change with the promise of increased funding feels coercive.

Commissioners said that the speed sought by the financial agency does not allow for "representative decision making" and involvement of the broader constituencies of the church.

In its reply, the commission asks GCFA and the General Council of Ministries to work in concert - as specified by the denomination's Book of Discipline - and in consultation with the leadership of the church agencies, the Council of Bishops and other United Methodist leaders to develop a process for arriving at a recommended new structure. The commission suggested the process be presented to the General Conference next year.

The commission added that the proposal should be prepared bearing in mind the "Living Into the Future" reorganization plan, which is being developed by the General Council of Ministries under the mandate of General Conference. Details can be found at the council's Web site at

The commission urged that such a process should be clear and focused to use voting representatives to create a plan "that is achievable, practical, efficient, fiscally responsible and maintains a reasonable continuity with the current structure."

For itself, the commission expressed the hope that any successor organization will reflect the diverse membership of the church theologically, racially and ethnically, as well as include lay and clergy and men and women. Directors said they want to retain Pan Methodist representation - new this quadrennium - whereby members of the historically black Methodist denominations are voting members of this commission and other agencies. Nurturing strong relationships with the annual conferences and exploring funding patterns beyond World Service were also listed as future directions for the commission.

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