Monday, November 5, 2012

The Connectional Table Names the Rev. Amy Valdez Barker as Executive Secretary

Dallas, Texas – The Connectional Table (CT) is pleased to announce the hiring of the Rev. Amy Valdez Barker as executive secretary, effective January 1, 2013. She will provide administrative leadership for the CT as it coordinates the mission, ministries, and resources of The United Methodist Church

"Amy’s experience as a leader in The United Methodist Church, along with her vision and passion for Christ expressed through our Wesleyan tradition and her administrative skills are just what the Connectional Table needs to assist us as we move forward,” said Bishop Bruce Ough, CT Chairperson. “We are thrilled that she has joined us for the exciting work ahead as we focus our attention on congregational vitality, discerning our future as a worldwide church and engaging more fully in the four areas of focus."

Valdez Barker, an ordained deacon from the North Georgia Annual Conference, is currently the project manager of the Vital Congregations initiative supported by the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops.  In the months leading up to the 2012 General Conference, Valdez Barker’s leadership galvanized  73 percent of United Methodist congregations to set specific and measurable goals that will translate into an increase in worship attendance, giving, and double the number of vital congregations over the next four years.

Valdez Barker is earning a doctoral degree in Christian Education and Congregational Studies at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL.  In addition, she has a strong background in Christian ministry, program management and church administration, as well as 20 years of leadership at the general church and global church level.  She has served on the executive committee of the World Methodist Council, and on the boards of the General Council on Ministries, the General Council on Finance and Administration, the General Board of Church and Society, and the General Commission on Religion and Race. She was a delegate to the 2004 General Conference, and has worked for the Desert Southwest and Wisconsin Annual Conferences. She will remain in the Chicago area.

Valdez Barker succeeds Mary Brooke Casad in the role of executive secretary. Casad announced her resignation in September after serving the CT for five years. The Connectional Table will hold its organizational meeting January 15-17, 2013 in Nashville, Tenn.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The 2012 State of the Church Report focuses on Vital Congregations

Dallas, Texas -- For the next ten years, leadership of The United Methodist Church will seek to fulfill the adaptive challenge of increasing the number of vital congregations around the world. This will include sharing information and building resources to equip congregations and conferences with tools to increase, measure and sustain vitality. The newly released 2012 State of the Church Report, created in partnership with the Connectional Table, the Council of Bishops and the General Council on Finance and Administration, focuses not only on traditional statistics of the UMC, but also highlights ways in which the denomination is moving to create vital congregations.

"The adaptive challenge, which is based on research from the Call to Action Report, requires us to redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations,” said Bishop Bruce Ough, chair of the Connectional Table. “As the 2012 State of the Church Report reflects, we are already seeing successful models emerging across the church but there is still work to be done."

The UMC has been fulfilling its mission in making disciples of Jesus Christ with nearly 12 million members worldwide, an increase of 25 percent over the past ten years. Much of the growth has been in Africa and the Philippines, accounting for 3.1 million new members since 2000. However, The UMC has experienced steep declines in the US and Europe, decreasing by more than 650,000 members combined since 2000. This ongoing trend of declining membership catalyzed the Call to Action research, resulting in recommendations to engage in concrete and measurable ways to increase the number of vital congregations that fulfill the church’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

"Since the time of John Wesley, creating vital congregations has been a centerpiece for the Methodist movement. It is time for us to reclaim that focus in a new way that allows us to encourage one another; to be accountable to one another; and then empower one another to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council of Bishops.

The 2012 State of the Church report is available online and through the November/December edition of the Interpreter magazine published by United Methodist Communications. The report is available in English, French and Portuguese and will be published in Spanish as part of the November/December edition of El Intérprete, and in Korean as part of the November/December edition of United Methodists in Service, a Korean language magazine published by United Methodist Communications.

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 2012 State of The Church report is a collaborative effort between the Connectional Table, the Council of Bishops and the General Council on Finance and Administration with production support from United Methodist Communications.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Call to Action – Interim Operations Team Urges UMC to Stay Focused on Vital Congregations in Final Report

The Call to Action - Interim Operations Team (IOT) has issued a final report with recommendations to The United Methodist Church to continue work across the denomination on increasing the number of vital United Methodist congregations. They express an urgent need for UM leaders to make bold, systemic changes toward a more sustainable future.

“Business as usual is unsustainable. Dramatically different and new behaviors, not incremental changes, are required,” the IOT states in the report. “We have not yet seen the degree of shared sense of urgency or commitment to systemic adaptations with the redirection of leadership expectations and sufficient resources that our situation requires.”

The IOT urges continued focus on the adaptive challenge embraced by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table calling for an increase in the number of vital congregations.

“What matters is that we have clarity in giving focus to shifting resources to increase the number of vital congregations, urgency in paying attention to measurable results, and intentionality in the development and recruitment of young people for leadership along with support and evaluation of all leaders based on very high expectations for fruitfulness. What matters is that we sustain an unrelenting emphasis on integration and alignment of work to replace the current celebration of diffused activities and self-interested independence that are rampant across the UMC,” the IOT states in the report.

Named by the Council of Bishops (COB) and the Connectional Table (CT) in late 2010, the IOT was asked to identify issues and to develop a plan based on successful approaches used in other organizations that could be adapted and reapplied to the church. The aim was to identify strategies that would lead to significantly improved results in creating and sustaining more vital congregations.

To view the full report, visit:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Connectional Table Seeks New Executive Secretary

(DALLAS, Texas) --   Leadership of the Connectional Table (CT) of The United Methodist Church announced today that they are now seeking candidates for the position of Executive Secretary.  Bishop Bruce Ough, incoming chairperson, and Bishop John Hopkins, the presiding chairperson, say the position is critical to the work of the CT.

“We seek a candidate with demonstrated adaptive leadership skills, proven executive and administrative experience and a deep love for God lived out through The United Methodist Church,” says Bishop John Hopkins, outgoing chair of the CT. Bishop Hopkins, in consultation with Bishop Ough, plans to name a search committee by September 30 to assist in identifying the most qualified candidates.

The CT was established in 2004 to oversee the coordination of mission, ministries and resources across the denomination.   It includes 47 members who are elected from U.S. jurisdictional and overseas conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe and are composed of: clergy and lay representatives; a bishop selected by the Council of Bishops; general agency top executives and most presidents; one youth and one young adult from the Board of Discipleship’s Division on Ministries with Young People; and members from the denomination’s racial and ethnic caucuses.

The Executive Secretary is responsible for providing administrative leadership to the CT.  The candidate will coordinate the work of the Table in collaboration with the chairperson.“This position requires someone with a strong working knowledge of The United Methodist Church and they must demonstrate a high capacity for networking in a global context,” said Bishop Bruce Ough.

The General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits is assisting the CT with the executive search process.  Qualified candidates should submit resumes electronically to Mary Figueredo via email at  Resumes will be received through Oct. 15, 2012.  Click here to download the job description (PDF).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mary Brooke Casad Resigns as Connectional Table Executive Secretary

(DALLAS, Texas) -- Bishop John L. Hopkins announced today that Mary Brooke Casad has submitted her resignation as the Executive Secretary of The United Methodist Church’s Connectional Table (CT).  Casad has provided administrative leadership to the CT since 2007. The CT is comprised of United Methodist bishops, heads of general boards and agencies, and lay and clergypersons representing all areas of the global denomination.

“Mary Brooke's life and leadership expresses the fruit of the Holy Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Her leadership of the Connectional Table has enabled our church to take giant steps in dealing with current realities while envisioning a future with hope that comes from a deep faith in Jesus Christ. She has given servant leadership by providing radical hospitality and seeking unity in diversity around the Connectional Table that is responsible for the vision and stewardship of the mission, ministries and resources of our Church ,” said Hopkins, chairperson of the CT.

In a statement, Casad says she feels privileged for the opportunity to serve the CT. “As our denomination has taken on the adaptive challenge of creating, fostering and sustaining vital congregations, I have been prayerfully contemplating my role in this endeavor. My resignation is based on a desire to be more engaged with my local church and community, and be a full ministry partner with my husband in his role as pastor.”

Casad has relocated to McKinney, Texas with her husband, the Rev. Victor Casad, who was appointed to Stonebridge United Methodist Church in July 2011. In addition to supporting the ministry there, she says she plans to focus on writing. Casad is a well-known author of children’s books developed around the character of “Bluebonnet,” a Texas-born armadillo.

Bishop Bruce Ough, incoming CT Chair, said that Casad will remain on staff until a new executive secretary for the CT is elected. Casad will assist with the January 2013 organizational meeting of the 2013-16 CT. Details about the search process will be announced next week.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why Vital United Methodist Congregations Matter

By Amy Valdez Barker
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12:24-26
The Rev. Amy Valdez Barker
I’ve been thinking about the Body of Christ in the expression of The United Methodist Church a lot lately.  I know many think of this all the time and others rarely contemplate its existence, let alone the church’s affect on the world.  However, maybe like a few, I am feeling the urgency in the matter of considering WHY we should be the Body of Christ through The United Methodist Church as we face the reality of declining participation in the mainline Protestant faith traditions.

There is no question about it, the U.S. culture has shifted rapidly in the past thirty years. There have been significant changes in attitude towards and participation of people in U.M. congregations across the nation.  Some say it is technology and a person’s accessibility to vast amounts of knowledge, others say it is media and its moral impact on our families and children, while others continue to blame this faction or that faction in the church and everyone remains fractured and discontent with the state of God’s children and the state of The UMC.  And yet, we still hold on to hope above all else that God hasn’t given up on us and that there may still be a possibility for God’s transforming love and grace to be shared throughout the world guided by a Wesleyan theological narrative.  I am claiming this narrative because it was highlighted recently in a Vital Congregations Conversation between congregational developers, academics and agency leaders at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in June. We discussed WHY vital UM congregations mattered for our world today.   Participants had several perspectives around this and I would like to share mine.

Small group discussion about vital congregations at GETS.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.1 Corinthians 12:27-31
I believe that our Wesleyan theological narrative is beautiful.  It captures what every human soul desires by giving people an identity in Christ, fearfully and wonderfully made, graciously beautiful to the core.  To be able to see ourselves through the eyes of God, so unique and so deeply loved that no other human-made identity could fill the emptiness of our souls the way God’s gracious love fills us is a gift God invites us to claim and share.  I believe it’s a narrative for everyone.  Our Wesleyan theological narrative is so beautiful and abundant that it spills out into our everyday living once we have accepted our place in God’s story.  It is one of the few traditions that beckons to our longing to be connected to one another.  In our deep love of God and God’s unfathomable love for us, we are compelled to share that love with others. 

Our love for one another is lived out in many ways in our world today.  United Methodists across the globe join together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, build shelters for the homeless, seek justice for the oppressed and offer mercy for the merciless.  Offering a person an opportunity to live out of love is one of the best gifts this faith tradition encourages disciples to do everyday.  It is finding ourselves in this narrative and claiming our place in God’s story that leads us to actions, which together can transform the world.  That’s what matters most about Methodism. 

Claiming to live as the Body of Christ and following through on our part of the covenant with God, that is WHY we do what we do.  This is WHY vital UM congregations matter so much for our world today.  The local congregation is “the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.”  If we give up on vital and fruitful congregations that invite people to a holy and worthy way of living, then we give up on our very reason for being the Body of Christ.  Then God will find another way to reach God’s people and it may or may not be through The United Methodist Church.  But, from my seat in this church, I still believe God is beckoning to us, inviting us to find ways to be faithful and share that grace and love with others.  So yes, God isn’t through with us yet and we still have a compelling reason for being United Methodist Christians who are living out of the vital relationship we have with our risen Lord. Now we’ve got to say it and do it!

Amy Valdez Barker is the project manager of the United Methodist Vital Congregations Project. To learn more about the project, visit:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Call to Action: Not Just About the Legislation

“The most important changes will not result from legislative action but require different actions and patterns of leadership by bishops, clergy and laity in their conferences.  These changes must be grounded deeply in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting.”

                       For the Sake of a New World, We See a New Church
                                           Council of Bishops, November 1, 2011

For months, leaders supportive of the Call to Action have said “It’s not just about the legislation.”  But for two weeks at General Conference, it WAS about the legislation, primarily Plan UMC.
While Plan UMC was a substitute for the Connectional Table’s original legislation, it did maintain a strong governance board and executive general secretary to give oversight to the work of the general agencies. This was in keeping with the Call to Action recommendation to “consolidate program and administrative agencies, align their work and resources with the priorities of the Church and the decade-long commitment to build vital congregations.”

Plan UMC passed by a vote of 567 to 384, a 60% majority. There’s no question that Judicial Council Decision 1210 came as a disappointing blow, proclaiming Plan UMC unconstitutional. 

But another expressed desire of Call to Action supporters was to at least come away from General Conference with some movement toward the directions proposed by the Interim Operations Team.  So did we?

The Call to Action lifted up the need for recruitment and training of young clergy, and recommended a shift in our resources to support this action.  Result at General Conference: Delegates approved two new line items in the World Service Fund, establishing a new $5 million fund for theological education in central conferences and allocating $7 million to recruit and train young clergy in the United States.

Another goal of the Call to Action was to support legislation proposed by the Ministry Study Commission regarding guaranteed appointments.  This was passed, providing for the following actions:

  • Bishops and cabinets will be allowed to give elders less than full-time appointment.
  • With approval of their cabinets, boards of ordained ministry and annual conference’s executive session, bishops and their cabinets could put elders on unpaid transitional leave up to 24 months. Clergy on transitional leave would be able to participate in their conference health program through their own contributions. 
  • Each annual conference is asked to name a task force to develop a list of criteria to guide the cabinets and bishops as they make missional appointments. 
  • The cabinets shall report to the executive committees of boards of ordained ministry the number of clergy without full-time appointments and their age, gender and ethnicity.Cabinets will also report their learning as appointment making is conducted in this new manner.
Reform of the Council of Bishops was another recommendation highlighted in the Call to Action. While the COB’s own legislation to allow for a full-time president received 55% of the vote, but not the required two-thirds for the constitutional amendment, the Council of Bishops made an important decision in their meeting preceding General Conference. Retired bishops will now meet with the COB only once a year; active bishops will focus on the adaptive challenge at their spring meeting.

And what about the Adaptive Challenge “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?”  Congregations across the world were invited to set goals for the 2013-16 quadrennium. Seventy-three percent of our congregations submitted goals, committing to engage 3.8 million disciples in mission, give $3.6 billion to mission, and double the number of vital congregations.

Tiny steps towards the Call to Action proposals?  Perhaps. But for me they stand as signs of hope that move us toward a new church, for the sake of a new world.
The 2012 General Conference proved more than ever that “important changes will not result from legislative actions.” Beyond the hopes many of us had for creating significant change in how we do business and order our lives together are many complex, systemic issues which have caused deep divisions.

May we enter into a season of prayer, discernment and healing as we seek God’s leading into a future with hope. And that hope is built on nothing less than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Finding True North

Jesus said to his disciples, “let us sail across the lake” (Luke 8:22). And he and his disciples set sail into the wind and the waves.

This is where we find our beloved United Methodist Church.  We are launching into strong head winds and challenging waters.  Yet, we have a divine vision and a true north that I believe will lead us safely to a new harbor.  As Bishop John Schol shared with us on Monday night, no matter what the legislative decisions made by the 2012 General Conference, change and transformation is already underway. 

At this General Conference, 72 United Methodist conferences representing 27,000 congregations around the world set discipleship goals in five key areas:
  1. Make new disciples
  2. Praise God in worship
  3. Grow through small groups
  4. Engage in mission in our communities and around the world
  5. Give generously to mission
These commitments represent our future. In four years, these goals translate into an increase in worship attendance to 3.6 million people; nearly 800,000 new disciples; 443,952 small groups; engaging 806,770 disciples in mission teams; giving $3.6 billion to the missional needs in our communities and around the world; and we will double the number of vital congregations.

Imagine what would happen across the church if we got 100% participation in the goal setting.  These disciple-making congregations are God's instruments of transformation in the church and world! Please visit to learn more about this effort.

Bishop John Schol and the Rev. Amy Valdez Barker will be speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. in the General Conference Press Room to further discuss the statistics and the goals of the Vital Congregations Initiative. (The GC Press Room is open to credentialed media representatives only.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Do We Believe It Is Possible?

Four years ago, we stood before the 2008 General Conference talking about shared vision and a unified direction for The United Methodist Church.  We didn't know what it would look like or what it would be called, but we all felt the need and urgency to make changes to ensure the relevancy of The UMC in the world moving forward.

As I listened to the Call to Action presentation last night at the 2012 General Conference, I am reassured that God's loving presence and wisdom has been a part of this journey for the Church.  One of the most important questions presenter Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the Church of the Resurrection and member of the Interim Operations Team, asked was: "Do we believe it is possible?"

I simply say yes.

This quadrennium we have seen the great minds of the denomination come together, engage each other in heart to heart conversations and holy conferencing.  We agreed to disagree at times while still finding ways to pursue the ultimate goal of creating lasting positive change for the denomination.

Connectional Table Member, Benjamin Boruff, described a road map to start the change process:
  1. A 10-year focus to create and sustain vital congregations;
  2. Annual Conferences organize themselves to create and sustain vital congregations;
  3. To ensure that our denominational boards are working together, in a nimble, responsive and streamlined structure; and
  4. To raise up a new generation of Christian leaders.
No matter where you land on the spectrum of support for the Call to Action plan or the Connectional Table legislation, we can all agree that change is needed.  Because of the sincerity and care taken by the members of the Connectional Table in this evolution process, I'm certain we have already started a new paradigm in the life of The UMC. The conversations we have had over the past four years have changed us all.  The nature in which we have come together around mission, money and vision has taken us into a new phase of
operating as the church.  No matter how the denomination chooses to vote, I am grateful to have been a part of  the process and I simply say thanks to all of you who have struggled with these important issues on behalf of the denomination.

Twenty years from now, the General Conference of 2032 will look back at this time and I hope they recognize it as the turning point which led to renewed vitality within The United Methodist Church.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Response to the Statement by the Africa United Methodist Movement

The Africa United Methodist Student Movement issued a statement in response to the Connectional Table's legislation on restructuring the general agencies. Click here to read their statement (PDF).

Two students, Ben Boruff and Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, who have served on the Call to Action Steering Team, responded to their statement. Their response is posted below.

Mr. Albert Otshudi Longe, Interim President
Student Representative Council
Africa University

Dear Mr. Longe,

Greetings of peace in the name of Christ!

We want to express our appreciation for the important points you raised in the statement responding to the Connectional Table proposal to restructure the general agencies, and offer some clarifications and alternative young people’s perspectives.

One of the most important clarifications we must make is that no portion of the proposal suggests reducing or eliminating current agency programs in Africa. Rather, the proposal is a first step toward creating a more effective governance structure that will allow us to increase and better coordinate our programmatic focus on fostering and sustaining vital congregations, including support for the growing church in Africa.

We have witnessed how our current systems can sometimes act as obstacles in our mission to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. Our commitment to the Four Areas of Focus—combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally, engaging in ministry with the poor, creating new places for new people, and developing principled Christian leaders—is constricted by an outdated structure. Globalization and technology are shaping the framework of our communities, and the United Methodist Church must adapt. The general level of our church is crucial to the connectional aspects of our denomination, and the connection is a key tool with which local communities can create vital congregations. Without an effective structure, our connection will struggle to meet the needs of those in our communities. We agree with your assessment that we need to develop new strategies for evangelism and expansion of the ministry of Christ. We also feel that these new strategies, together with a more coordinated structure, will help us create more vital congregations for the Kingdom of God.

We are encouraged by the CT’s proposal to establish an Advisory Committee on Ministries with Young People that will include three members who will sit on the proposed General Council for Strategy and Oversight (GCSO). The Advisory Committee will be made up of 54 young people from across the UMC, with seven youths and seven young adults from central conferences as well as three central conference adults. In addition, there are five seats for additional members which could be central conference members. The Advisory Committee will work alongside the GCSO and gives a strong voice to young people throughout the denomination. In addition, the GCSO continues the model of the current Connectional Table with a seat for a representative from each central conference. As young people, we appreciate the openness with which the proposed structures—one constituency-based group and one task-based group—will hear our voices and the intentionality with which they will respond.

The current representational model of our general church is not the only way to ensure diversity within our denominational leadership. Through a system of accountability and oversight, the recommendations ensure that the voices of all United Methodists, including young people, will be heard, and they offer a system with which these voices can make an effective impact. We don’t view this proposal as following only a corporate or “industrial” model of governance, but rather, a model that brings all of our current programmatic and administrative functions together into one coordinated body that can better serve the body of Christ. Our vision is that this unified body will free up more resources (staff, money, etc.) to be allocated toward the expansion of programs such as evangelism, leadership development and church growth.

Lastly, we must acknowledge the stark realities about the UMC in the United States when we talk about sustaining general church programs. Currently, the local churches in the United States fund most of the work of the general agencies through apportionment giving. The church in the US continues to grow older and membership is declining rapidly. Our current structure is not financially sustainable in the long-term. Therefore, this restructuring proposal is one of several recommendations by the Call to Action that seek to change some structural aspects, but more importantly, cultural aspects of our church to bring focus on increasing and sustaining the number of vital congregations in order to reverse the current trend of rapid decline. We believe this proposal will lead us toward a healthy, vital, missional church, which will continue to offer the much-needed support to the growing church in Africa.

In Christ,

Ben Boruff, Indiana University student, Connectional Table member and original member of the Call to Action Steering Team

Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, doctoral student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and original member of the Call to Action Steering Team

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Closer Look at Connectional Table Legislation

The 2012 General Conference begins in less than two weeks! In preparation for our time together, the Connectional Table has prepared three briefing papers which take a closer look at three key points in proposed legislation to fulfill to the goal of creating vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Click on the titles below to read the PDF versions of these resources.

The UMC Non-Residential President of the Council of Bishops (COB) PDF

The proposed constitutional amendment calls for the President of the COB to be relieved of residential responsibilities during the time of holding office; the term would be increased from two to four years. The president would also be designated as the Ecumenical Officer of the COB. This briefing document explains the key role of the President of the Council of Bishops and the benefits to the church.

More Effective General Church Program Support by Consolidating Several Boards for Governance and Executive Administration PDF

The Connectional Table proposes to consolidate nine program and administrative agencies into one organization. The new Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry (CCMM) would be governed by a diverse and representative board of 15 directors. This briefing document outlines the proposed changes and the benefits of a smaller governing board.

An Increase in the Number of Vital Congregations PDF

This briefing document explores the Key Drivers of Vital Congregations, the importance of measuring vitality and how proposed Connectional Table legislation is critical in fulfilling the mission to create vital congregations over the next 10 years.

I invite you to review the documents and share them with your annual conference and church leaders as well as members of your delegation. More information is also available at

As Easter people in the service of the Risen Christ, may we be open to the Spirit’s leading! Please join me in daily prayers for the 2012 General Conference and United Methodist Church.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Open Letter to the 2012 General Conference Delegates

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, along with 85 other United Methodist pastors, issued an open letter to the 2102 General Conference delegates expressing their support for the Connectional Table legislation stemming from the recommendations of the Call to Action work. They invite United Methodist clergy and laity to read and sign the letter also.

The letter begins:
“We are local church pastors and leaders in the United Methodist Church writing in support of the legislation being proposed by the Connectional Table related to the Call to Action. We love the church and want her to have a “future with hope.” We believe that the downward trends in church membership, attendance and giving will accelerate in the years ahead. If we do nothing, our church will be half the size she is today in twenty years. Now is the time for action.”
To date, the letter has so far garnered more than 1,700 signatures. We invite you to read this letter and consider signing it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Remember the Future: 30 Days of Preparation

In a little more than three weeks, United Methodists around the world will gather together in Tampa, Fla. for the 2012 General Conference. It has been quite a journey to get to this point in our collective history. I would like to recommend a new resource by Bishop Robert Schnase, "Remember the Future: 30 Days of Preparation" as we prepare to engage in holy conferencing to address the challenging issues facing our denomination. According to the blog, "these daily meditations explore the hope, purpose, leadership and making of disciples of Jesus Christ. "

Click here to sign up for these 30 days of inspirational messages.

Bishop Robert Schnase reminds us that General Conference is only one mechanism to help us reach our true destination, one with no walls. It's a spiritual destination where we have more profound connections with God and build up vital congregations to minister to a hurting world.

Excerpt from March 27, 2012: "The mission is not ours; it is God’s. The invitation is not ours; it is Christ’s. It’s not about us. It’s about God’s mission in Christ and how we embody that in our churches, and for that it makes sense for us to work to have as many vital, effective, fruitful congregations as possible. Otherwise, we will never reach the destination." Click here to read more of the blog post by Bishop Robert Schnase.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Future With Hope

A commentary by the Rev. Deborah McLeod, senior pastor of Mandarin United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, Florida and a member of the Connectional Table.

Jeremiah is one of my go-to books when I get depressed about our beloved United Methodist Church. Jeremiah has a tough job. He tries to hold God’s people accountable but they do not want to listen.

There are days when we also find ourselves carrying in our hearts the failures and missed opportunities of our people. That’s when I find Jeremiah helpful. He is called to tell it to God’s people straight, no matter how unpopular the message. Sometimes we are called to the same tough task.

Our theme for General Conference 2008 was taken from Jeremiah 29: 11, “A Future with Hope.” Jeremiah tells us "For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope…” We need to remember that these words were spoken to the well-off, better educated leaders of Judah who had been ripped from their homes and carried off into exile to Babylon. That future with hope was promised not to them, but to their descendents 70 years into the future. Jeremiah’s message was simple: repent. Stop worshipping other gods. Return to the Lord your God so that it may go well with you. If you do not stop worshipping other gods it will not go well with you. God will allow your enemy to carry you off into exile. See, I told you so. Then Jeremiah dies in exile.

The future with hope is not something Jeremiah or his hearers lived to see. It was for 70 years later, when they were all dead. Perhaps the same is true for us. There may be some repenting and unpopular things we can do that have the potential to make our church stronger, not for us but for the people out there in the world whom we will reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God tells Jeremiah, “Don’t even bother to pray for these people.” Why? They disobey God, they worship idols, they walk in their own counsel, and they look backward rather than forward. I am wondering if we United Methodists in 2012 are not a little like Judah in 627 BCE. We worship idols. We don’t call them idols, but anything we cherish more than God is an idol. Some of us practice idolatry of the church building. We love it. We elect a board of trustees to care for it and make policies about its use. We want to sit in it for an hour on Sunday morning. We want it to never change. Sometimes we want our sanctuaries to be memorials to the meaningful moments we had with God. One of my jobs, as pastor, is to remind people that our buildings are tools for ministry.

When I was a district superintendent in South Florida I tried to get a particular congregation to think about how they could serve their neighbors. The lay leader finally said to me, “Can’t you just go away and leave us alone? We just want to sit here for an hour on Sunday morning and not think about it.” There are too many United Methodist church buildings located in strategic places for mission and ministry with the doors locked most of the time. Some of our people are huddled up inside the church building for one hour on Sunday morning trying not to think about realities. We disobey God when, instead of going to make disciples of all peoples, we circle up to help those we already know feel better about our inability to cope with a rapidly changing world.

It is clear that the United Methodist Church in the United States can no longer sustain the number of pastors or buildings. Eighty-five percent of our United Methodist congregations have memberships that are stuck or declining. When a church spends a majority of its financial resources on the care and upkeep of pastor and building, then it has a problem. If we shift the burden for decline to the 15 percent of congregations that are vital we will kill them too.

At the 2004 General Conference I presented the legislation that brought the Connectional Table into being. During these past eight years we have witnessed a new thing. The General Commission on Finance and Administration and the Connectional Table have worked together to bring mission and money to the same table. Together, our General Secretaries led the church on four focus areas. The Connectional Table is an intermediate step. Now I am hoping that the organization I helped bring into being will die and that some workable form of a new, more effective and efficient structure will be adopted.

We disobey the mission and the ministry of the United Methodist Church when we resist change. How can a Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry and one board of 15 members possibly do all the meaningful work of our program agencies? Let’s vote against it. As we consider idols in our United Methodist Church, let us be careful not to worship our form, structure, buildings or benefits, lest we miss the kingdom’s goal.

The people of Judah “walked in their own counsel.” How many times have you and others at a United Methodist meeting looked at some disturbing facts and struggled with what to do? Sometimes we act like alcoholics who have not hit bottom. We deny the facts; we excuse our poor performance; we spiritualize the experience. We are nervous about accountability. Instead of fruitfulness, we claim faithfulness. We can be both fruitful and faithful.

We must pray for God to renew us and lead us. When we repent of our ways and change things radically, it may be easier for God’s spirit to move in and through us.

God’s kingdom is not in peril. Jesus’ purposes in the world cannot be thwarted by our greed, idolatry, and pride. The question is: Will the United Methodist Church be a part of God’s transformation of the world?

If not, God will use someone else—the Pentecostals in South America or the underground church in China. I do not fear for God’s kingdom. It cannot fail. I fear that the Methodist movement we love will become irrelevant.

In Jeremiah, God promises a future with hope, but between disobedience and hope lies suffering, exile, and death. Then, and only then, God will plant and build.

In Acts 4, when Peter and John have been admonished not to speak the name of Jesus, they go back to their friends and pray. They do not pray for a strategy. They do not pray for a structure. They do not pray for a world friendlier to their purposes. They pray for boldness. May we do likewise.

This commentary is adapted from a sermon Rev. McLeod preached at the Connectional Table meeting March 5-6, 2012 in Nashville, Tenn.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pre-General Conference Briefings In the Central Conferences

We asked Tim Tanton of United Methodist Communications to give us an update on the briefings held in Manila and Harare this past February. Tim was the lead organizer of these events.

This spring, nearly 1,000 decision makers from around the world will meet in Tampa to set policy and direction for The United Methodist Church for the next four years. To help central conference delegates prepare for the legislative gathering, the Connectional Table sponsored two pre-General Conference briefings in the Philippines and Africa in February.

The events were designed to give delegates an understanding of how General Conference works, logistical information related to their trip, and a working knowledge of some of the major issues that they will encounter when the legislative assembly meets in Tampa, Florida, April 24-May 4.

Bishop John L. Hopkins, Resident Bishop of East Ohio and Chair, The Connectional Table and Ruth John Lamurde, laywoman, Northern Conference, Nigeria serving communion

The briefings, organized by United Methodist Communications, had involvement or support from nearly all of the general agencies. The events followed a similar briefing held by the communications agency for U.S. delegates in Tampa in January. The Connectional Table is sponsoring a fourth and final briefing on April 23 in Tampa for all central conference delegates.

The central conference briefings were held Feb. 4-5 in Manila, Philippines, and Feb. 11-12 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Each event drew capacity attendance, with 48 delegates and about a half-dozen alternates attending the Manila briefing and nearly 60 delegates at the Harare briefing. Attendance at each venue also included local and general church support staff, conference communicators, students from Union Theological Seminary in Manila and Africa University in Mutare, and other observers.

The briefings were moderated by Connectional Table Executive Secretary Mary Brooke Casad and featured expert speakers on each topic. For example, General Conference Secretary L. Fitzgerald Reist II provided a detailed overview of the delegates’ responsibilities, what they can expect as they travel and how the assembly works. With the Rev. Liberato Bautista from the General Board of Church and Society, Rev. Reist led the delegates through a discussion about the visa process that included role playing the visa interview.

Other issues and speakers included:
  • The church budget, presented by Moses Kumar of the General Council on Finance and Administration.
  • The ministry study and proposed clergy reforms, presented by the Rev. Kim Cape of the General Boa rd of Higher Education and Ministry in Harare and Rev. Reist in Manila.
  • Proposed pension plan changes, presented via video and teleconference by Barbara Boigegrain and Dale Jones of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits with additional on-site comments from the board’s Tim Koch.
  • Proposed episcopacy reforms, presented in Manila by Bishop Rosemarie Wenner and Bishop Daniel Arichea with additional support from Bishops Rodolfo Juan and Leo Soriano and a video clip of Bishop Larry Goodpaster.
  • The worldwide nature of the church, presented via webcast by Bishop Scott Jones with on-site participation by the Rev. Ruby-Nell Estrella in Manila and Rev. Forbes Matonga and Christina Mlambo in Harare.
  • The Call To Action proposal, presented in Manila by Bishop Wenner and in Harare by Bishop John Hopkins, with webcast participation in both locations by the Rev. Timothy McClendon and on-site involvement by Rev. Estrella in Manila and Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa and Rev. Matonga in Harare.
  • The Act of Repentance and other special observances, presented by Rev. Bautista and Rev. Reist, with video created on behalf of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.
  • Social issues coming up at General Conference, presented by Rev. Bautista and Rev. Reist.

The briefings also included uplifting worship led by Jorge Lockward of the General Board of Global Ministries and incorporating regional volunteers and songs.

Technical support, video production and other services were provided by UMCom staff. Staff with the General Council on Finance and Administration provided guidance and help with financial matters, travel arrangements and other logistical details. In Zimbabwe, Africa University staff provided valuable help with visa letters for the delegates traveling from around Africa. General Board of Global Ministries staff and contractors provided indispensable support with interpretation in English, French and Portuguese at the Harare briefing.

Staff and volunteers with the host conferences in both Manila and Harare provided hospitality and assistance in countless ways, and their participation contributed significantly to the success of the events.

The delegates expressed strong appreciation at each event. On the evaluation forms, they overwhelmingly gave ratings of “excellent” and “good” for the sessions, with a few “fair” ratings. A very small number of “poor” ratings were given in Harare for the episcopacy reform topic, which had to be all but dropped because of time constraints.

Each briefing was followed the day after by a communications and marketing workshop hosted by United Methodist Communications. In Harare, the Rev. Larry Hollon gave delegates an overview of communications as a strategically important ministry for the church. Delegates responded enthusiastically to presentations on new communications resources, such as Frontline SMS texting, that can help grow the church’s ministries and save lives in their areas.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ten Things to Know About the Call to Action

By Bishop John L. Hopkins

Look! I’m doing a new thing: now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. Isaiah 43:19, CEB

God is doing a new thing in The United Methodist Church. There is a new church emerging in our very midst. It is happening at the grass roots level around the world. Bishop Robert Schnase describes it like a heat map of ministry:
There are many signs of hope. Picture in your mind a heat map, where clusters of fruitful ministry activity are lighted against a dark background with the most fruitful and vital ministries shining brightest. The heat map of The United Methodist Church would allow us to see bright spots in unexpected places, concentrations of vital ministry and congregations that are thriving. Some would be in urban areas, some in the suburbs and some in the most isolated of rural counties. Africa would be aglow with congregational vitality and mission partnerships, but also the map would draw our attention to an exceptional campus ministry in one area and to a courageous witness for the homeless in another. A flourishing traditional church would light up near a dynamic merger. Some conferences and seminaries and foundations and agencies would glow brighter as they risk genuine innovation to realign with the mission. Lights here and there, bright spots appear in places we never expected. (“Five Practices” Blog 10/5/11)

Vital congregations introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite them to participate in the redemption of the world. The Call to Action is a sustained effort at aligning the church with these “bright spots” of ministry, where the Holy Spirit is at work.

This call is for every member, local church, annual conference and general agency “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.” (Source: Call to Action Steering Team Report, p. 8)

You can read more about this church wide initiative in the new “Call to Action Study Guide” available online at or at

Let me share ten things you will want to know about the Call to Action.

10. The Call to Action is NOT being voted on at General Conference!

It has already begun! The Connectional Table and Council of Bishops affirmed the Call to Action in the fall of 2010. Since its launch on January 1, 2011, the Call to Action has led to: the Vital Congregations Project, the Vital Signs Project, efforts to recruit younger clergy, reform in the Council of Bishops, the downsizing of agency boards, and many annual conference and local church initiatives. The General Conference has the opportunity to align our 42-year-old denominational structures to support the increase of vital congregations that will transform the world.

9. The Call to Action is NOT a “top-down” initiative!
The Book of Discipline (¶120) is clear: “Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” Our Constitution (¶33) is equally clear: “The annual conference is the basic body in the Church.” The annual conference is the main vehicle for creating and sustaining vital congregations. The most important changes will not result from legislative action but instead will require different actions and patterns of leadership by each one of us.

8. The Call to Action is NOT about restructuring general agencies!
Denominations that think restructuring at the top will change the direction of churches out in the field are behind the times. Our “bright spots” for the future are in local congregations that are spiritually transforming people and engaging them in ministry. The general church is being asked to catch up with the re-focusing that is already going on in annual conferences and local churches. The proposed legislation to put most of the program general agencies on one board will align resources, unify staff work and provide holistic strategic planning to support a sustained focus on vital congregations.

7. The Call to Action is NOT about giving more power to the Council of Bishops!
It is about giving more freedom and responsibility to annual conferences for the basic work of the church. The annual conference, with a resident bishop and key lay and clergy leaders, is ultimately responsible for strategies to increase the number of vital congregations. That is why the Constitution gives the Council of Bishops “spiritual and temporal oversight” of the church. With fewer governance boards, resident bishops will have more time to work and be accountable for the fruits of the congregations in their annual conferences.

6. The Call to Action is NOT from a small “rump group”!

By our Discipline, only the General Conference, the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table are given “general oversight” responsibilities for The United Methodist Church. They are ultimately responsible for representing the whole and not just the parts of our church. General Conference delegates represent their fellow annual conference constituents. Bishops represent the whole church, their region, and their respective annual conferences. The Connectional Table, with well-balanced diversity, represents every region, agency, racial/ethnic caucus and age-level.

From 2005-2008, work was completed to define our identity and mission. During this quadrennium, 2009-2012, the emphasis is on aligning resources for the future of our church. While bishops and conference leaders are responsible for the alignment of most resources in our church, the General Conference is responsible for alignment at the general church level.

5. The Call to Action is NOT just about churches in the United States!
A unified general program board will provide easier access to agency services for every annual conference around the world. This plan frees up money now used for governance to enable more money for mission, especially in those areas that need it most. The decline in the number of vital congregations in the United States is a concern to the whole church, but the 5 jurisdictions in the United States are only a portion of The United Methodist Church, which also includes 7 central conferences around the world.

Conferences in Africa and the Philippines are leading the way in increasing the number of vital congregations. The Call to Action proposes that $5 million be used for theological education in the central conferences, where the need for new pastors is growing rapidly.

4. The Call to Action is NOT to save money!

We are not a church driven by scarcity. We live in God’s abundance. The recommended budget total of $603 million is actually only a 3.46% decrease (-.87% per year) from what has been apportioned this quadrennium. The Call to Action is recommending a $60 million (10%) shift of general church funds to support the annual conferences and local churches as they focus on vital congregations. However, placing the program general agencies under one board will undoubtedly lead to cost-savings and synergy in the coming years.

Although General Conference is responsible for the entire church, it actually makes decisions for less than 2% of our financial resources. Most of our resources are at the local church level. However, annual conferences send to the general church an average of 26% of what they apportioned to local churches. In addition, fewer than 23% of annual conferences paid 100% of general church apportionments in 2010. Unless we make some bold changes to focus resources on more vital congregations, we will soon face hard choices. (see Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.’s projection of the coming “Death Tsunami” at

3. The Call to Action will NOT reduce diversity within The United Methodist Church!
The world is becoming more diverse and so should our church. We cannot continue to lump people into large ethnic categories and ignore their particular identity and heritage. The Call to Action recommends that we have fewer people involved in governance and more in ministry without reducing our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. The fruits of a more aligned general church will result in more diversity at the grass roots level.

We should be encouraged that more than half of the new churches started in this quadrennium across the United States have been racial/ethnic and multicultural congregations. Our strategy for diversity everywhere must be to increase the number of congregations that are reaching younger and more diverse people.

2. The Call to Action does NOT replace our mission and Four Areas of Focus!
Our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is embedded in our United Methodist way of life. The same is true of our focus on developing leaders, starting new congregations, engaging in ministry with the poor and improving global health.

1. The Call to Action is NOT about changing someone else!
It is about changing us. The Call to Action was begun in confession that we have not done everything we could do to strengthen God’s church. The Council of Bishops is already changing to make way for more accountability of resident bishops. The Connectional Table and its staff are willing to step aside to make way for God’s new thing. If we are going to increase the number of vital congregations, we need everyone to take responsibility. What can you do? Be a “bright spot” for Jesus Christ and his Church today.

The recommendations going to General Conference to support the Call to Action are to:
  1. Give more freedom for annual conferences to organize for their particular context
  2. Revise guaranteed appointments
  3. Create one program board and an oversight council
  4. Select an Executive General Secretary to guide program staff
  5. Revise role of Council of Bishops’ president
  6. Reallocate up to $60 million from World Service and General Administration for focusing on vital congregations.

Bishop John L. Hopkins is the resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church and the chairperson of The Connectional Table.

An edited version of this article was originally published in the Winter 2012 edition of Joining Hands, a publication of the East Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reunion with a sister

I'm pictured here with Rev. Mutombo Illunga Kimba and her son, Glory. We had a joyous reunion in Harare. Our family connection spans many years.

Rev. Kimba was the first UMC clergywoman ordained in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1979. A few years later, she met my father, Bishop Ben Oliphint, when he visited the North Katanga Annual Conference. Rev. Kimba attended Scarritt College in Nashville, where she received a Master's in Christian Education. During her time in the United States, she spent several weeks in my parents' home and forged a life-long friendship. I met Rev. Kimba at the 1988 General Conference. She served on the Africa Church Growth and Development Committee, which became the Africa Initiative, which gave birth to Africa University.

Rev. Kimba serves as Coordinator of Professional Schools in the South Congo Episcopal Area. She and her husband have four children; one son is named Oliphint after my family! Her son, Glory, is a student at Africa University and is President of the Congo Students Association.

Our paths were able to cross in Zimbabwe. She was there for the recent African Clergywoman's Consultation,where she was a keynote presenter, and I was there for the pre-General Conference briefing. We spent a wonderful afternoon getting reacquainted after all these years of writing letters and sending emails. The shirt I'm wearing in the picture was embroidered by Rev. Kimba. Over the years, she's sent hand-sewn crafts for me to sell at mission fairs to help with tuition costs for her son, Oliphint.

It was a tearful time for us both as she recounted her time with my parents. "When I was in Papa and Mama Oliphint's home, it was like it was my home. They treated me like their daughter. So that means you and I are sisters," she said. Our visit was an amazing and blessed time.

Once again, I am grateful to God for the friendships afforded me across miles, languages and cultures through the connection of the United Methodist Church!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Smokey Mountain

Just across the bridge from the historic “Intramuros Manila,” families used to live on top of a trash dump. Government housing was built next to the dump, known as “Smokey Mountain.” Today, 3,000 families live in the housing units, and vegetation now covers the huge trash dump. Many of the families make their living from salvaging trash items for recycle and re-sale.
In the midst of these extremely harsh living conditions shines a bright light…..the Smokey Mountain United Methodist Church. A one-room building provides a gathering place for worship and Bible study. The church also offers its space to other denominations as well.
Pastor Marvin Bunagan, a local pastor who will soon begin his seminary studies, is a product from a similar nearby neighborhood. An invitation from a friend to visit a United Methodist church when Marvin was a teenager resulted in a profession of faith in Christ. He attended college on a United Methodist scholarship, and is now serving the people of Smokey Mountain. “He has a heart for the people here, since he grew up in similar conditions, “said Rev. Victor Melad, Jr., district superintendent of the Southwest Metro Manila District, Philippines Annual Conference.
Pictured here are Elsita Abuganda, Treasurer; Amelia Sernicola, Lay Leader; Pastor Marvin Bunagan; Angelito Buluran, Chair, Board of Trustees; and Rev. Victor Melad, Jr., District Superintendent.
The church sponsors the Shalom Children Learning Center in a building near the church. Sixty-five kindergarten students attend the morning and afternoon classes. Due to insufficient funds, a feeding program has been discontinued. However, the Guam UMC, California-Pacific Annual Conferences, contributes monthly for the salary support of the two teachers.
A banner above the chalkboard proclaims, “Jesus Loves the Little Children”. What a joyful experience to visit these precious kindergartners and exchange “high fives!”
While the Smokey Mountain area is one of extreme poverty, I experienced the community as vibrant and engaging. The people live life together in close community. Rev. Melad noted that many persons have come here from diverse rural regions, many with histories of warring factions and disputes. “But here, they have had to learn to live together,” he said.
I am grateful for these faithful United Methodist Christians who daily provide a witness for Jesus Christ amongst the residents of Smokey Mountain!

A Prayerful Guide

Levi Bautista, Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, and a native of The Philippines, joined us at the pre-General Conference briefing in Manila. In addition to the presentations he made at the briefing, Levi also spoke at a symposium and book signing at Philippine Christian University. Additional speakers included Rev. Fr. Rex R.B. Reyes, General Secretary, National Council of Churches, and Norma P. Dollaga (KASIMBAYAN). Cooky Chua provided musical entertainment.

The book, “Meditations and Devotions on the Millennium Development Goals: A Prayerful Guide,” was written by Levi and 150 contributing writers, many who were present for the event. Commentaries and devotions are offered on each of the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations at the 2000 Millennium Summit, which include: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; Achieve universal primary education; Promote gender equality and empower women; Reduce child mortality; Improve maternal health; Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; Ensure environmental sustainability; Develop a global partnership for development.

The book is available for purchase at for $7.95. Proceeds benefit Imagine No Malaria and UM Global AIDS Fund. Sales of the book at the event also went to assist communities affected by Typhoon Sendong in The Philippines.

I was grateful to be in attendance at this event and meet many new friends from the Christian community in Manila. And I’m grateful to Levi and the many contributors for challenging people of faith to turn these prayerful meditations into deeds of healing, hope and justice.

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's a small world, after all....especially in the UMC connection!

I was privileged to meet Rev. Munda Dablo (left), District Superintendent of the South District, Palawan Annual Conference.

She is the sister of Terry La Guardia. Terry's husband, Rev. Levy La Guardia, is pastor of Umphress Road UMC, Dallas, Texas; we have been partners in ministry for many years. Rev. Dablo will be attending the 2012 General Conference as a clergy delegate. It was a joy to be with her in Manila and discover her connection to my home conference, North Texas!

Manila Pre-General Conference Briefing

Forty eight delegates from the 24 annual conferences of the Philippines Central Conference gathered in Manila February 4 and 5 for worship and study in preparation for the 2012 General Conference. The briefing was
patterned after the Tampa briefing held January 19-21, and included presentations from presenters both in person and also via webcast and video. UMCOM presented a workshop "Exploring Communication Tools for Local Church Marketing" on February 6.

Worship was led by Jorge Lockward, Director, Global Praise Program, General Board of Global Ministries. Bishop Rudy Juan of the Baguio Episcopal Area is pictured serving communion, assisted by Carmelina Nual, lay delegate from Cagayan de Oro UMC, and his daughter Pearl.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner (right) of Germany, President-elect of the Council of Bishops and I are in Manila for the pre-General Conference briefing. We discovered that we were born in the same year. I won't tell you how old we are, but we are the average age of a United Methodist!
On the long flight to Manila, I sat by a Filipino couple who were returning home. They are Seventh Day Adventists. As I shared about my work with the UMC, they nodded their heads and said that the challenges we are seeking to address are the same for their denomination. They asked why my husband did not come with me, and when I shared that he was a pastor and was busy in ministry at his church, they smiled. "The local church! That's what it's all about!"

It is indeed what it's all about as we focus on "redirecting 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."

Forty-eight delegates from The Philippines will join in worship, prayer and study these next two days in preparation for the 2012 General Conference. For updates about this briefing, please check And please join your prayers with ours as together we prepare for a time of holy conferencing!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Call to Action edition of Circuit Rider Magazine now available

The Call to Action issue of the Circuit Rider magazine is now available.

In advance of the United Methodist Church's 2012 General Conference, this issue explores the Call to Action, an initiative to create more vital congregations and vital leaders. Includes perspectives from denominational leaders and General Conference delegates as well as updates on various task forces and initiatives, and statistical info about the global UMC.

To read this issue online, visit:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Preparing for Change at the 2012 General Conference

During the next few weeks, I will be joining United Methodist General Conference delegation leaders and delegates around the world to prepare for the upcoming 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida April 24-May 4. I will participate in the US Pre-General Conference briefing in Tampa Jan. 19-21, as well as a briefing in Manila, Philippines and in Harare, Zimbabwe in the weeks that follow.

One major topic of conversation among delegates will be the Connectional Table’s proposed legislation, based on recommendations from the Call to Action Interim Operations Team. This has sparked conversation and debate across the denomination, which is very good. I have also noticed that some blogs and comments are raising several questions. I thought it might be helpful to share a summary of resources that we have prepared related to the proposed legislation.

All of the information regarding the Connectional Table legislation (PDF) is available online. The Connectional Table has worked to provide a wide variety of resources to help in this on-going discussion. Here's a list of resources:

Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)
The Connectional Table has made available a FAQ regarding the process of developing the current legislation. The process includes the Call To Action research conducted in 2008, the work of the Interim Operations Team, and the proposed agency restructure.

Proposed UMC Governing Structure (PDF)
The proposed legislation calls for the creation of a Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry (CCMM) under one board of directors to combine the functions of nine general agencies. The essential functions of these entities will be organized into offices of shared services and congregational vitality, leadership excellence, missional engagement, and justice and reconciliation. It also proposes the creation of a General Council on Strategy and Oversight, a diverse, representative 45-member Council that serves the General Conference by electing board members for the CCMM and ensuring that the Board is carrying out the directives of the General Conference.

For the Sake of a New World, We See a New Church: A Call To Action (PDF)
The Council of Bishops wrote an open letter supporting the proposed changes by the Connectional Table. This statement has been endorsed to date by the Iowa, Louisiana and North Texas Conference delegations.

As we prepare to come together for General Conference, there is also a Call To Action Study Guide to help not only delegates, but also local churches understand the challenges and opportunities before The United Methodist Church. The guides are available in English, French and Portuguese. We will continue to post new information and resources online at as they become available.

I do believe that we, as a worldwide church, are equipped with the tools and collective wisdom needed to address the adaptive challenge before us: to redirect our energy and resources toward increasing in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I pray that together we will see the light of Christ showing us the best way forward as The United Methodist Church.