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 www.umccalltoaction.org/resources or at www.cokesbury.com.

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 http://umccalltoaction.org/the-challenge.)

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 www.umc-gbcs.org 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 www.umc.org And please join your prayers with ours as together we prepare for a time of holy conferencing!