Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beginning Our Journey on Uncharted Paths

This past July, my husband Vic and I led a group from Christ UMC Farmers Branch, where Vic is pastor, to the Passion Play at Oberammergau, Germany. The play was first performed in a little Bavarian village in 1633 as a thanksgiving to God for being spared from the plague. Produced only once a decade, the entire community participates in this six-hour drama. It is indeed inspiring and I was deeply moved.

One segment of the play lifted up the Old Testament story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and into the wilderness as a parallel to Jesus’ journey through the Passion. Two lines translated from German to English in my program especially spoke to me, and today are my fervent prayer for The United Methodist Church:

“When you lead us on uncharted paths, let us believe in your grace!

When we cannot see your goals, let us have faith in your guidance!”

At its fall meeting in November, The Connectional Table gave its full support to the recommendations of the Call to Action Steering Team. Earlier in the month, the Council of Bishops did the same. Most importantly, both the CT and the COB affirmed and embraced what the CTA Team calls our “essential adaptive challenge.” That is, the essence of how we believe God is calling us as a church to change our behaviors and begin to do things differently for the sake of God’s reign on earth.

We agreed that as a Church we need to redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

This challenge is not just for members of the CT or bishops. It is for United Methodist leaders around the world in every local church and annual conference. And we ask for your support in realizing this challenge before us. The CT, in consultation with the COB, is entrusted by the General Conference to coordinate the mission, ministries and resources of The United Methodist Church on behalf of the whole denomination. The CT and COB commissioned the Call to Action Steering Team and, with much discernment, dialogue, research and prayer, they have fulfilled their task. We are grateful for their dedication and commitment to the difficult task which they have completed. We will be establishing an Interim Operations Team to provide leadership for the challenges ahead, but it will take all of us to participate as faithfully as we can to embody the vision of a renewed United Methodist Church.

In April 2011, annual conference leaders in all jurisdictions and central conferences are invited to participate in a leadership summit led by the Council of Bishops to discuss our essential challenge and what this means for each of us and for our denomination. The conversation is just beginning and we pray that we will have deep and meaningful dialogue about how God is moving the people of The United Methodist Church to reorder the life of the church so that we can fulfill our mission.

I truly believe that God is calling us to do a new thing in the UMC and for this vision to be made manifest, we must trust in God’s grace and have faith in God’s guidance.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A New Verse in a Timeless Song

by Mary Brooke Casad

The people of The United Methodist Church are in the midst of crafting a pivotal stanza that will shape the future of our denomination.

We are seeking to write a verse that is grand in vision and unifying in power. One that will help us fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. One that will help us fully align with and reflect God’s work in the world.

Several groups mandated by the 2008 General Conference or convened by agencies have been studying different aspects of church life. This fall, those groups are bringing their mid-quadrennium findings to the Connectional Table. The groups submitting reports include the Call to Action Steering Committee, the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church, the Sustainability Advisory Group, the Church Systems Task Force, the Apportionment Structure Study Group, the Committee to Study the Ministry, the Committee on Faith and Order, the Council of Bishops Task Force on Theological Education and Leadership Formation and the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.

The role of the Connectional Table in the coming months will be to help find the commonalities in all of their work. These efforts will be in collaboration with the Council of Bishops. It is likely the common or corresponding themes will become a central part of the discussions at General Conference in 2012.

The value of the Connectional Table will be to bring together ideas from each report for evaluation and discussion. Recommendations span a wide range of topics, from changing the clergy appointment system to establishing a global Book of Discipline to revamping our system of connectional giving. Common to all is a faith-filled hope to improve and reorder the life of the Church to meet the needs of our changing world. The Connectional Table will seek to identify common themes and points of convergence within these multi-faceted proposals.

The current process of collaboration is building on work that began after the 2004 General Conference. At that time, it was clear the denomination needed to make adjustments to remain relevant in a world that was changing daily.

From the Council of Bishops and the Table of General Secretaries, to annual conferences and local churches, leaders were working to address a number of factors such as declining membership, rising health care costs and improving efficiencies across the life of the church. Out of this body of work emerged the Four Areas of Focus: creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations; developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; engaging in ministry with the poor; and combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally. Major strides have already been made in these areas.

The efforts made last quadrennium were also about framing a vision of hope and unity. The leadership for General Conference messaging in 2008 set out two priorities: 1) build unity at General Conference and 2) create hope for the future of The United Methodist Church. These priorities became the overarching theme woven through each presentation. A vision was cast with high expectations that would hold all of us accountable to make changes.

This quadrennium has been about discernment. In the short time since General Conference 2008, a lot of change has already taken place. Many difficult conversations and evaluations have been conducted. The new verse being crafted now, in this great concerto of The United Methodist Church, must be reflective of this era of change. The words that will define this time should express momentum, accountability, vision and hope. It is an exciting time to be a part of a people who are working so hard to fulfill Christ's calling around the world.

As we move towards General Conference, we want input from across the denomination on the study findings. As always, the Connectional Table invites you to take part in this process to help us craft the very best vision for our Church and write a new verse in our timeless song.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

UMs ‘Strongly Desire’ Worldwide Ministry; Seek Greater Equality, Power-Sharing and Freedom Outside US

Rev. Forbes Matonga, Zimbabwe West Annual Conference
Connectional Table member and member of the Committee to Study the Worldwide UMC

As we come to the end of our listening process as the Worldwide Nature of the UMC Study Committee, and as we approach the most critical phase of writing the report, we believe we have listened carefully to the voices of the United Methodists across the connection as well as from those to whom we relate in the larger Methodist Family.

We have listened to organized United Methodist groups in the United States and the general agencies, we have held listening posts in the Philippines, Liberia, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire and we have heard from the central conferences and the annual conferences through the vote on the constitutional amendments. We believe we have heard.

Brothers and sisters, your committee is at this point where wisdom to guide our denomination is critical especially from the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops. At its fourth meeting held in Côte d’Ivoire, the Study Committee has identified the following four areas where we will focus our work:

1. A churchwide covenant
2. Global models
3. A global Book of Discipline
4. General Agencies

We believe these have the potential to help us achieve our missional mandate as a Church as well as help us all to live together as the Church in such a way that will help us share our mission, resources and power equitably.

To read more about these four areas of our work, visit the Study Committee Goals document below:

Goals of the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church

Study Committee website address: www.worldwideumc.org

Monday, July 19, 2010

Call to Action Team Releases Findings of Two Important Studies

Dear Colleagues in Ministry,

The Call to Action Steering Team has recently released the findings of two independent studies of The United Methodist Church:  (1) a Congregational Vitality Research Project and (2) an Operational Assessment Project.  These studies can be found at www.umc.org/ctaresearch.

The first study used a rigorous and comprehensive regression analysis to identify statistically significant “drivers” of local church vitality.  The second study employed proven methods for in-depth interviews and surveys in a careful review of the mission, culture, values, structure, and processes of our church leading to a reliable report about the perceived state of the UMC connection.
Since these important projects produced findings that should inform our choices about future actions, we invite you to carefully read and reflect on this research and share a few recommendations that you believe emerge from the data and will advance the mission of the church. We are looking for a few key, strategic; “game changing” recommendations in light of this research that will lead to needed change to help the church be more effective in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We welcome you to post your reflections and recommendations on this blog.
In late August 2010, the Call to Action Steering Team will formulate recommendations that will be shared with the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table.  Keep this group in your prayers as they help us all discern God’s direction for the future of our church.

As you may recall, the Call To Action Steering Team was created in the spring of 2009 by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to guide our denominational response to the urgent opportunity for further alignment of the mission of the church, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and the four areas of focus: global health; ministry with the poor; growing congregations and developing leaders, and to refashion and reposition the church for the 21st century. To read more about their work, visit: www.umc.org/calltoaction.

We look forward to your input on these important findings.

Mary Brooke Casad

Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 State of the Church Report

June 23, 2010

Cynthia Dopke
The Connectional Table
Tele: 773-777-7133
Cell: 773-301-0857

The 2010 State of the Church Report Now Available

Dallas, Texas -- The median age of United Methodists, the number of professing members around the world and our current giving trends are among the topics found in the newly released 2010 State of The Church report. The report is now available online at www.umc.org/sotc2010.

The report is an annual look at where The United Methodist Church stands statistically in membership, giving and church growth. This year's report also offers key findings from the United States Congregational Life Survey and resources to help United Methodists stay up-to-date with important conversations taking place across the denomination that could impact church structure and processes in the future.

"In this annual report, we see signs of hope," said Bishop John Hopkins of the Ohio East Episcopal Area and chairperson of the Connectional Table. "United Methodists are making great strides in the Four Areas of Focus of the denomination. Also, this report captures how the Church is making changes to address the declining membership trend we have witnessed in the US and Europe."

The Four Areas of Focus include: Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations; Engaging in ministry with the poor; and Combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.

The 2010 State of the Church report is available online and through the July/August edition of the Interpreter magazine published by United Methodist Communications. The report is available in English, French and Portuguese.

The State of The Church report was first commissioned by the Connectional Table, the leadership entity that coordinates mission, ministries and resources for the denomination. The 2007 report was the first time the church produced a comprehensive overview of the life of the church. It has been used to stimulate dialogue across the denomination on how to carry out the mission of making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The 2010 State of The Church report is a collaborative effort with data provided by the General Council on Finance and Administration and production support from United Methodist Communications. Additional information in the report was taken from the Four Areas of Focus Report from the General Secretaries and Agency Presidents’ Table.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Reflections on Worship at Puno UMC, Manila, Philippines

By Stefany Simmons, Office Manager
The Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to travel to Manila, The Philippines, with The Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church and the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church. I consider my job as office manager of The Connectional Table an honor, and I am blessed and humbled to have been given the opportunity to serve these groups of leaders in the Church.

On Thursday, April 15, I left my home near Corpus Christi, Texas to spend 10 days in Manila providing administrative and logistical support for their spring meetings. I was filled with excitement and anticipation at the experiences this international trip would inevitably entail. While there were indeed countless wonderful experiences, the highlight of my trip was on Sunday, April 18, when I had the opportunity to worship at Puno United Methodist in Quezon City. Here are some highlights…

Passionate Worship
I can honestly say that this worship service was probably the best I’ve experienced in my life thus far. It was life-changing. It lasted two and a half hours! (I wondered what people would say at my congregation at home if the service lasted that long…) There were 300-400 people in the congregation that morning, and I really believe that every single person was genuinely present and truly enjoying the presence of God in that sacred place. They sang; they danced; they prayed; they cried; they sang some more. This was real, passionate worship. I cried, because I was overwhelmed by it.

The Youth
Of the 300-400 people who were there, at least half of them were children, youth, and young adults. The youth had a passion that was energetic and so refreshing! The youth band got to lead a significant portion of the service, and they clearly enjoyed it, as did everyone. The band sang passionate songs of praise, and the dancers danced beautifully in their dresses. At one point, Bishop Christian Alsted of Denmark, a member of the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the UMC, invited all of the youth to come to the front of the church so he could offer a prayer for them. It was incredible to see so many young people crowded into the aisles! All of the adults in the congregation raised their hands as they joined in praying for these young people. Talk about powerful.

Real Mission
Pastor David informed us of the many ministries in which Puno is currently involved. We learned that Puno has a daughter church, a Mission Church located in the midst of a very poor community near a dumpsite where families scavenge through garbage to find plastics that they can sell to earn enough food to eat that day. Once a month the people in the poor community come to worship at Puno. Puno is making intentional efforts to break down barriers between the rich and the poor. Puno is also known as a “MODEL” church, which stands for Medical, Ophthalmic, Dental, Educational, and Legal. Once a month, Puno offers free clinics providing people from the poor community with free medical exams, medications, dental care, legal advice, and other services. Doctors, lawyers, dentists, and other professionals from the congregation openly and lovingly share their time and talents for the good of the poor. Wow… I have never seen or heard of anything like that in any of the churches I’ve ever visited in the U.S.! We (myself included) tend to be so selfish with our time and talents. We worry about not “over-committing ourselves.”

I could honestly go on for pages and pages writing about my reflections on this trip. I was deeply humbled to see the ways in which the people of the United Methodist Church in The Philippines are unselfishly serving each other in Christian love.

Lord, forgive me for my sins and deliver me from my selfish ways. Help me to serve others the way these people do. Amen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keeping Current Across the Connection

April was a busy month this year, with several significant meetings taking place across the denomination. United Methodist groups are on the move as they begin their work in preparation of General Conference 2012.

Here is a recap of action items United Methodists will not want to miss:

Planting Seeds – Celebrating the Harvest

During its April 21-23 meeting in Manila, Philippines, the 60-member Connectional Table (CT) approved an exciting plan to measure local church contributions of making disciples of Jesus Christ in The United Methodist Church. The plan titled “Planting Seeds – Celebrating the Harvest” calls United Methodist congregations to set annual goals for 2012-2015. The five measurable areas include: worship attendance, disciples engaged in mission, professions of faith, mission giving, and spiritual/discipleship formation groups. The vision for this plan was inspired by Bishop Robert Schnase’s book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

In addition, annual conferences will be invited to make specific and measurable commitments in the Four Areas of Focus. The Four Areas of Focus are: Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations; Engaging in ministry with the poor; and combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.

Annual conferences are called to gather their 2012 – 2015 congregational and conference goals a as a gift to the ministry of Jesus Christ and present them as a covenant to the 2012 General Conference.

In presentations to both the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops, Bishop John Schol said, “Bishops and general secretaries are called to lead their conferences and general agencies to resource congregations to reach these goals. Bishops will gather and report quarterly the progress toward the goals and evaluate what helps and hinders achieving the results we desire. The 2016 General Conference is called to celebrate the fruit of our church through United Methodist congregations and annual conferences around the world.”

The Council of Bishops voted to support further development of this plan during its May 2-7 meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

Four Areas of Focus update

Also during the CT meeting in Manila, the Table of General Secretaries presented a report on the collective work of boards and agencies in the Four Areas of Focus. The report shows denomination-wide collaboration and new partnerships. It can be found at www.umc.org/focusareas under "resources". General Secretaries are asking for input from readers about the report and current work.

Worldwide Nature of the UMC and Other Working Groups

On Wednesday, April 21 the Connectional Table met jointly with the 20-member Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church. Six members of the Connectional Table serve on the study committee chaired by Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones. CT members learned about the committee’s plan to conduct additional listening posts in Europe, Africa and North America before making recommendations to the 2012 General Conference on structural change to reflect The United Methodist Church’s global nature.

The study committee is one of several groups studying denominational issues that may lead to proposals for change at the 2012 General Conference. The Connectional Table will seek reports from each of the ten entities by October 1, 2010 in advance of its fall meeting. Groups include: the Call to Action Steering Team, the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The UMC, the Study of Ministry Commission, the Commission on Faith and Order, the Sustainability Advisory Group, the Council of Bishops Task Force on Theological Education and Leadership Formation, the Church Systems Task Force, the Connectional Funding Task Force, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, and the Table of General Secretaries and Agency Presidents.

Philippines Ministries Worth Noting

On April 19, CT members visited four mission sites in the Manila area that represented examples of the four areas of focus at work in the Philippines. The sites were: Smokey Mountain UMC located at a dumpsite where more than 1,000 urban poor families live on scavenging; Baseco, an urban poor community where the families of street children are jointly served by the social agencies of the UMC in the Philippines including UMCOR Philippines; Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc., a social development institution of the UMC; and Mary Johnston Hospital, the first UMC owned hospital in the Philippines.

CT Chair Bishop John Hopkins and Bishop Daniel Arichea (retired) led a delegation on April 20 with CT members Rev. Lynn Scott and Ben Boruff, and Mervin Toquero, Human Rights Officer for the National Council of Churches in The Philippines, to meet with the Honorable Leila M. de Lima, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines to express concern about the continued reports of extrajudicial killings. Bishop Hopkins led a CT delegation with similar concerns in 2006.

The CT heard from several Filipino leaders on April 22 who gave an overview of the current political, economic and ecumenical climate in the Philippines. Speakers included Dr. Edith Burgos, chairperson of Desaparecidos; Mr. Jigs Clamor, deputy general secretary of KARAPATAN; Mr. Sonny Africa, research head of the IBON Foundation, Inc. and Rev. Father Rex RB. Reyes, Jr., general secretary of National Council of Churches in the Philippines. Dr. Burgos’s son Jonas was abducted three years ago and is still missing. Mr. Clamor’s wife is one of 43 health workers currently held in detention. As a result of learning about the current conditions, the Connectional Table issued a statement in response to human rights abuses in the Philippines and on May 4, sent a delegation to Washington, DC to meet with the US White House and State Department. We ask for your continued prayers and faithful actions on behalf of our Filipino sisters and brothers.

As summer approaches, we look forward to a fruitful season as United Methodist leaders work together throughout the denomination to discern God’s vision for The United Methodist Church.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Connectional Table Prepares for Meeting in Manila

United Methodist News Service published a commentary by Connectional Table Chairperson Bishop John Hopkins and members of the CT prepare to go to Manila, Philippines for their spring meeting.

When the Connectional Table (CT) meets in Manila, Philippines the third week of April, it will address the growing momentum for change that is rapidly building across The United Methodist Church. Fueled by a passion to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we are looking at major denominational change for the first time in over forty years. Most people believe it is long overdue...

To read the full commentary, click here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Week - Then and Now

It came as a slow realization, then quickly doing the math in my head, I gasped...okay, today is Palm Sunday, and 45 years ago, I joined the Church on Palm Sunday.

I still remember processing from the back of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, Monroe, Louisiana, that spring morning, singing “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” I was wearing a new navy blue nautical dress and a white hat. I stood between Peggy Clay and Kay Bershen; we had been friends since infancy, attending Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and confirmation classes together, not to mention kindergarten, elementary school, birthday parties, play dates, etc. Now as fourth-graders we were being confirmed and joining the church.

My parents, Ben and Nancy Oliphint and my brothers Clayton (holding my dad’s hand) and Stuart and me in front of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, Monroe, Louisiana, circa 1964-65.

I stood in front of the same altar where my parents had presented me for baptism 9 years earlier as a 3- month- old baby. Now, my fellow confirmands and I took the vows and then my father, the pastor, moved down the line of children, stopping in front of each one to recognize them by name and say a word of blessing. When he reached me, his voice cracked with emotion and he hesitated. The congregation laughed nervously. I smiled and looked up at him as he struggled to regain control, his eyes moist with tears.

After the church service, my mother hosted one of her famous home-cooked meals at the parsonage, two blocks down the street from the church. Our district superintendent and wife, Ed and Hallie Hauk, were present. I still remember Hallie’s warm smile and words of encouragement and grace as she spoke of the significance of this day in my life. Then she gave me a beautiful mother-of-pearl heart locket with an over-laid gold cross, a cherished gift I later passed on to my niece and namesake, Erin Brooke, on her confirmation day.

Forty-five years as a member of The United Methodist Church! Taking time to recall those memories of that very special Palm Sunday caused me to reflect further on what church membership has meant to me. And I was overwhelmed as I thought of the joy and privilege of being a member of the Body of Christ, the love and support that has undergirded me in good times and bad, the opportunities for service the Church has graciously given me, the study of God’s word which has both nurtured and challenged my spirit. Can there be anything greater than the Body of Christ loving us on behalf of Christ?

The United Methodist Church has indeed nurtured and shaped me in the faith. I have come to realize that through these 45 years, my understanding of church membership has grown and changed. I no longer think so much in terms of being a member of a church, but of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. As we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Crucifixion and joyous Resurrection of Easter Sunday, we remember the most dramatic and powerful part of the Jesus story. We remember the saving grace of our Lord, His tremendous sacrifice, His amazing gift of life abundant and life eternal. We remember...and like the crucified thief, ask to be remembered. And in the remembering, we wrestle with the true cost of discipleship.

I enter this Holy Week with prayerful gratitude for my heritage and with a renewed commitment to support our Church with my prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. And I give thanks for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit throughout our church, as I see persons living transformed lives as disciples. I’m thankful for the focus, the passion, the urgency I see expressed in lives lived abundantly as Christ’s disciples. I’m thankful for our church’s mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

UMPH's Neil Alexander Urges UMs to Take Call to Action Survey

Neil Alexander, president and publisher of the United Methodist Publishing House, speaks about the research underway for the Call to Action project and urges your participation in an online survey of United Methodist leaders.

The Call to Action project, endorsed by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table seeks to review leadership, governance and other organizational issues in The United Methodist Church. The goal is to consider and propose actions that will lead to decisions that will help the Church better achieve its mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” and fully integrate the Four Areas of Focus (major ministry initiatives) into the fabric of the UMC connection.

Recognizing that alignment across the connectional church is essential in fostering and supporting effectiveness at all levels, one important aspect of the Call to Action project includes a focus on the factors that are most important in assuring vitality in local churches since they “provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” (Paragraph 120 in The Book of Discipline).

This survey is one part of a multi-phase research effort. The survey is one of the tools to gain qualitative insights and quantitative evidence about the factors associated with congregational vitality in United Methodist Churches. The results from this survey will be used to develop hypotheses about what factors (leadership, programs and structures) are most often found in churches that are seen as effective and vital. Those hypotheses will be further tested through another survey and statistical analysis. Our hope is to have as many persons as possible from across the church (clergy and lay) complete the survey.

Researchers from the independent outside consulting firm of Towers Watson are overseeing this part of the project and will report their findings to the Call to Action Steering Team based on a combination of personal interviews, focus groups, literature review, surveys and rigorous analysis of statistical reports from churches and annual conferences about what defines church vitality, and what impacts that vitality. The Steering Team will incorporate this information and other data as a part of its discernment process, leading to reports and recommendations that will be made in the fall of 2010 to the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table.

Click here to participate in this online survey.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Four Areas of Focus of the UMC

Heard about the Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church? United Methodists around the world are:

• Combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.
• Engaging in ministry with the poor.
• Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations.
• Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.

Last month, while attending the Association of Directors of Connectional Ministries I was asked to tell the story of how these areas came into being. Here’s what I shared:

“In 2004, the newly elected bishops requested that the Council of Bishops engage in a new process of accountability by regular reporting of how the mission of the church was being lived out in their episcopal areas. During the 2005 Council meetings as they conversed about the fruit-bearing ministries of local churches and annual conferences, a vision began to emerge. The bishops found the practices and qualities aligned along seven basic pathways:

1. Teaching the Wesleyan model of reaching and forming disciples of Jesus Christ;
2. Strengthening clergy and lay leadership;
3. Developing new congregations;
4. Transforming existing congregations;
5. Ending racism as we authentically expand racial and ethnic ministries;
6. Reaching and transforming the lives of new generations of children; and
7. Eliminating poverty in community with the poor.

In the fall of 2005, these Seven Vision Pathways were shared with The Connectional Table, and a conversation began. As the conversation broadened across the church, Four Areas of Focus, which incorporated the Seven Vision Pathways, were clearly articulated by the general secretaries of our boards and agencies and affirmed by The Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops.

The boards and agencies, Connectional Table and General Council of Finance and Administration worked to align goals and resources for the 2009-2012 quadrennium to support these focus areas. These were taken to the 2008 General Conference where delegates were invited to embrace them.”

When I finished with my story, Ava Berry, Director of Connectional Ministries for the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, said, “Well, I thought we were doing the Four Areas of Focus because it’s scriptural!” She then went on to explain that the Four Areas of Focus had given her a tool for talking about disciples who transform the world, and how exciting those conversations had been in various local church settings. They had given her an opportunity to explore Jesus’ teachings with United Methodists across her conference, and how these were to be lived out in local congregations. As a result, she was seeing marvelous ministries unfold, and lives being transformed.

Ava’s got it right! It’s not another program, nor a quadrennial emphasis; it’s about who we are called to be as world-changing disciples in the Wesleyan tradition. That’s why I do see the Four Focus Areas as having emerged from our local churches and the conversations that followed by COB,CT and others as a discerning of God’s spirit leading our church into a new vision and future. My hope is that every local church, annual conference and general agency will continue to be in conversation about how we partner together to bear fruit in these vital ministries.

Bishop John Hopkins, Chair of The Connectional Table, likes to share the story this way:

“We are the people of The United Methodist Church.
We believe in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We live by two kinds of holiness, personal and social.
We follow three simple rules: Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God.
We work in four areas of focus: developing leaders, creating places for new people, eliminating poverty and improving health globally.”


So, how are the Four Areas of Focus lived out in your local church and annual conference? Here’s what Neil McDavid, Director of Connectional Ministries for Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference, had to say in a brief interview at the ADCM meeting:

For more information about the Four Areas of Focus, visit: www.umc.org/fourareas

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ADCM Meeting Marks Milestone

Last week, I attended the annual meeting for the Association of Directors of Connectional Ministries in San Antonio. As a former Director of Connectional Ministries for the North Texas Conference, I’ve been attending these rich meetings of worship, learning and fellowship for a dozen years now. But last week’s meeting marked a milestone.

The Association has been limited to persons who serve annual conferences in the DCM position from the United States. Over the years, we’ve talked about our desire to truly reflect the global nature of our church by including DCMs from annual conferences outside the United States. This year, it happened!

Rev. Moses Patrick Conteh, who serves as Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries for the Sierra Leone Annual Conference, was able to attend the meeting. Thanks to a good “conference to conference “ connection between Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference and Sierra Leone Annual Conference, Rev. Conteh has been on a month-long visit to the United States.

“During his stay with us he has seen a campus ministry, visited a conference camp, seen first-hand a few of our conference outreach ministries, sat in with our Cabinet and a variety of other conference meetings in addition to his trip to San Antonio,” said Kent Lolling, Director of Connectional Ministries, IGRC. “He has attended a couple district leadership training events as well as attended a Martin Luther King Day celebration. He has seen some of our largest churches as well as a few smaller rural churches. He seemed impressed by how much our conference does and made some valuable contacts with the heads of various ministries in which he hopes to stay in contact with when he returns to Sierra Leone.”

Moses’ attendance at the ADCM meeting certainly enriched the gathering as he shared with the group about the ministries of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference, and offered a special insight into the Global Health presentation as he told of his own struggles with the disease of malaria. Here’s a short video of Moses sharing the work of the UMC in Sierra Leone:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

“One of the essential functions of The Connectional Table is to collaborate with the General Council on Finance and Administration about the development of the budget. This is a process that invites participation and input from various groups across the connection. I had an opportunity to meet with a group of treasurers for our boards and agencies and GCFA staff last week to discuss the process that GCFA and CT have adopted for this quadrennium. It’s exciting to me that our conversation focused on the mission of our church---to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world---as the starting point for alignment of our resources.

What’s the starting point for budget discussions in your annual conferences and local churches?”

Please see the below video of Sherri Thiel, Treasurer of United Methodist Communications, as she talks briefly about this process.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Connectional Table Affirms Plans for Holistic 21st Century Church

As the new year begins, I am excited to share with you how God is truly doing a new thing in the life of The United Methodist Church. Leaders across the church worldwide –lay people, clergy, and bishops – are laying the groundwork for much-needed change in our denomination. For years we have heard grim reports about our membership decline, primarily in the US and Europe, and our inability to do anything about it. Today, however, leaders across the United Methodist Church are awakening to a new sense of purpose and possibility, a new vision of collaboration and change, and most importantly, awakening to the need for bold and decisive action. In the coming year, our leaders will be drafting the blueprints for the new architecture of The United Methodist Church.

Last November, members of the Connectional Table affirmed the Call to Action Steering Committee’s provocative proposal calling for a “holistic 21st century method for being and doing church around the world in radically new ways.” It stirred our collective imagination and garnered support from our leaders spanning the diversity that comprises our denomination.

The seven recommendations of the proposal include:
1. developing metrics for effectiveness and accountability across the church;
2. rebuilding a leadership development system with special attention to young people;
3. eliminating the guaranteed appointment;
4. recasting the quadrennial General Conference;
5. reordering the life of the church;
6. establishing a “global office” or central organizing center for coordination and efficiency; and
7. constructing a viable financial future.

The Call to Action Steering Committee was formed last spring in response to the global economic crisis and the need to build on the successes of aligning our mission and ministries across the church. As you may recall from General Conference 2008, United Methodists embraced our renewed mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We also affirmed the Four Areas of Focus as expressions of how we live out our faith as the body of Christ. In the four focus areas, we work to: combat diseases of poverty by improving health globally; engage in ministry with the poor; develop principled leaders; and create new places for new people and revitalize existing congregations. The Call to Action work seeks to make adjustments to our systems and structures so we can live our mission to its fullest.

The Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops named eighteen United Methodist leaders to serve on the steering committee. Their task was to discern concrete steps the denomination must take to adapt to a rapidly changing world and to reverse the decline of the UMC in the US and Europe. These seven recommendations are a result of their hard work.

What will this mean for our church? It will mean making our collective ministry more effective in living out God’s hope for humanity by engaging younger leaders, improving our ability to respond to the needs of a changing world and assessing and changing the ways in which our institution no longer serves us in our disciple-making mission.

Most importantly, these changes will create more doorways to discipleship for you and for those who have yet to walk through our doors, called by God to serve. These changes will support your call to bring the presence of Christ to those in need, in your own community and beyond.

The overall success of the Call to Action strategy will depend on collaboration with other groups established by the 2008 General Conference also considering significant changes in our connection. These groups include the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church, the Ministry Study Commission, and the Committee on Faith and Order. They have already begun to engage in open and ongoing dialogue to foster an unprecedented level of collaboration with an eye toward General Conference 2012. This will undoubtedly bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God.

The CT approved $500,000 for the steering committee to continue the next phase of its work, which includes naming a new 12-person steering team, conducting listening sessions in annual conferences and performing an operational assessment of the entire denomination. Stay tuned to learn how our leaders take these recommendations in the next phase. To read the full report from the Call to Action Steering Committee, visit: www.connectionaltable.umc.org.

In that same spirit, CT member Bishop John Schol led discussions at our November meeting about how to align local churches, annual conferences and general agencies in the Four Areas of Focus to strengthen the mission of the UMC. Aligning mission and ministry at all levels of the denomination is one of the CT’s ongoing conversations. Our meetings serve as a time when the members can become a learning community around the Four Areas of Focus. Presentations from general agencies as well as local churches and ministries in the community where we meet help inform the conversation of how we help provide a network of Four Areas of Focus ministries across the denomination. UM Communications has launched an online survey through January 2010 to gauge how local churches and annual conferences have embraced the Four Focus Areas for mission and ministry. To participate, visit: www.umc.org/focusareas.

Friends, I also want to highlight an important appeal throughout the UMC. We heard from our bishops in the Philippines about the devastating effects of the recent typhoons that ravaged several communities, and approved a churchwide appeal proposed by the Council of Bishops to provide aid for people of the Philippines who suffered tragic losses. To contribute to this relief effort, visit www.umcappeal.org. We look forward to being with our sisters and brothers in the Philippines in April for the spring Connectional Table meeting, as we strengthen our connection as a worldwide church.