Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dear CT Members and Friends,

Living into a more authentic relationship with deeper connections throughout the world is much more easily said than done.  As we prepare for Advent Season I am reminded that many places around the world emphasize different elements of their Christian traditions.  I have had the honor and privilege of being in the Philippines the last few weeks working with different groups within the Philippines Central Conference.  There are several lessons I have learned and continue to learn during my visit that I think are essential for the CT members as a whole to continue to consider as we prepare to gather in Mozambique in a few short months.

Lesson #1) Don’t assume you “get it.”
I have a little bit of an inside scoop in the Filipino culture because I can at least understand some of the language.  But, even though I think I “get it,” I really don’t.  There are so many cultural elements that affect people’s lives and effect the way clergy and laity are able to convey the Gospel message through a United Methodist lens that it becomes difficult to generalize any program.  The most authentic thing the church can do is listen to one another and equip the people to create missions, ministries and resources from within.  Programs developed in the U.S. for a U.S. context don't necessarily translate to another cultural context.  Therefore, equipping leaders from within becomes a critical element of any work we attempt to do in a worldwide connection.  General Board of Discipleship has been working on developing Discipleship Resources International in which they have been equipping people within the Central Conferences to write their own resources and curriculum.

Lesson #2) Central Conferences are organized according to their capacity.
Our WWN Missional Collaboration Group has been working with the Standing Committee on CC Matters to better understand the organization of the Central Conferences.  The Philippines Central Conference in particular is organized in the following way.  They have three Episcopal Areas with 24 Annual Conferences that come together as the Philippines Central Conference.  There are a few agencies that serve all three Episcopal Areas and are programmatically equipped to function in this way.  The Coordinating Council of the Philippines Central Conference meets once a year for 3-4 days to hear reports from the Episcopal Areas and the agencies that serve the CC.  They also make decisions between Central Conferences and General Conference.  This is what they believe is within their capacity to do.  But, their leaders are also raising questions about the feasibility of the way they are organized.  Can they do it better?  What helps get their system closer to the local churches?  When travel can be limiting, is it really feasible to have such a country-wide coordinating council or would separate regional organizations work more efficiently?  What serves the mission better?

Lesson #3) Vital Congregations in Urban – Rural – Remote areas of the Philippines will have varying capacities for mission and ministry.
This isn’t too different to other settings around the world, but what I want to lift up are the realities that some of these groups face.  Here’s a story of a thriving vital congregation in an urban area.  As many of you heard from our colleague, Jovito Sermonia, Jr. ( a member of the CT) his church has been planting mission churches in the Middle East.  In fact, they have planted and sustained several new churches and have cast a vision for 15 new church starts and a new church start in Jerusalem.  Why did they go to the Middle East?  Because the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) were begging for their own faith community in this land as they left their homes to work abroad.  The General Board of Global Ministries vision of “everywhere to everywhere” is embraced by Knox UMC in urban Manila, Philippines.

But, what is a vital congregation in the remote province of the Philippines?  Remote means an area of the country that is nearly impossible to reach by public transportation.  It has very little cell coverage and the people who live in these communities have little financial “treasures.”  But, they are rich in many other ways, and pastors still serve these areas.  Can they still develop “principled Christian Leaders?”  YES!  Can they create “new places for new people?”  YES!  Ministry with looks very different for the people in the remote areas of the Philippines and stamping out killer diseases of poverty means teaching their people how to live off the land and feed their own families.  Most of us can’t even imagine what it’s like to serve a “remote” area, so as we consider deeper connections for a worldwide church, we must stop and imagine what that means to a pastor in the northern province of Aurora, Philippines.

The work we do as a Connectional Table to build bridges of understanding, sensitivity and grace to people who claim The United Methodist Church in thousands of places around the world is critical.  We have to take off our own cultural lenses and dare to put on others.  The work that the General Commission on Religion and Race is doing to build intercultural competence is crucial if we dare become a more authentic worldwide church.  How do we share all of God’s gifts more equitably in such a way that helps all of us be open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit through one another?  It’s not going to be easy, but it means that we must work that much harder in order to find a way forward.

As you prepare your hearts and souls for this Advent Season, I invite you to pray for the pastors in the most remote places of our connection who barely live off of incomes of less than $5 a week.  I invite you to pray for the laity who make daily sacrifices in order to serve God through the missions and ministries of The United Methodist Church.  I invite you to pray for one another as we remember who we are and why we do what we do – serving our Risen Lord.

With God’s Love and Grace,

Rev. Amy Valdez Barker,
Executive Secretary

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Connectional Table to host human sexuality live stream event Nov. 1

Seeking input and questions from United Methodists

The Connectional Table's Human Sexuality Task Force is hosting the second of three live stream events on Saturday, November 1 from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. Central Time. The Connectional Table is a 59-member body which is responsible for guiding the vision, mission and ministries of The United Methodist Church.

The panelists participating in the live-stream are members of the
Council of Bishops who contributed to the book Finding Our Way: Love and Law in The United Methodist Church, as well as the Editor and President of United Methodist Publishing House.

Confirmed participants include:

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Bishop Michael J. Lowry, Bishop John K. Yambasu and Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, and Neil Alexander.

They will be discussing their perspectives on human sexuality based upon their chapter in the book. Viewers are encouraged to read the book prior to the live stream discussion. United Methodist leaders are also
encouraged to gather church members for viewing and joining the discussion on Saturday morning. Additional resources to support the discussion can be found at:

United Methodists who would like to participate in this discussion, are encouraged to create a YouTube video explaining a personal story that pertains to unity and/or human sexuality and pose a question about
Finding Our Way to one of the bishops or the editor. Videos must be no longer than 2-3 minutes. Tag the video using #cttalks and email a link to aboggan@umc.org prior to Friday October 17, 2014. Three videos will be selected and shown at the event.

Additionally, participants may ask questions about the book via Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #cttalks during the live stream on November1 from 8am-10am (central time). The panel will answer relevant questions from these platforms.

To view the live stream on Nov. 1, go to http://umc.org/connectional-table-webcast on the day of the event.

Members of the Connectional Table hope these events will foster ongoing dialogue to provide an opportunity for them to listen and consider varying theological perspectives, as well as to create an ongoing
conversation in the wider church.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thomas G. Kemper: Worldwide Nature of the Church

      Word definitions can become stumbling blocks in our deliberations on the worldwide, global, or international nature of The United Methodist Church. Are we talking about structure, geography, or vision? I find it a daily challenge to know in what context to use which of these overlapping terms. In my work as General Secretary of Global Ministries I have come up with a functional delineation: Our worldwide, our global, nature as a church is in our mission, ministries and vision, not in our structures, where we are at most international—the United States, continental Europe, parts of Africa and the Philippines.  But vast areas of Asia, Africa and almost or all of Latin America and the Caribbean are incorporated into our work, our vision of God’s mission—the missio Dei, but not our structure, which is defined by membership in the General Conference.
      We as a church and through Global Ministries have personnel, projects, and active mission partnerships in more than 125 countries of the earth. That is still not “global” in a literal sense but it is worldwide. In mission we work with autonomous Methodist, united, and ecumenical partners with as much commitment as we do with the annual conferences that send delegates to the General Conference.
      We have recent mission initiatives, for example, in Southeast Asia that may eventually become annual conferences and others that will become autonomous, self-governing churches.  We are as committed to one as to another. “Each” and “all” are “us,” just as the Korean Methodist Church or the Methodist Church of Brazil, which both have been independent since 1930. They are “us,” even though they send only fraternal, non-voting delegates to annual conference.
      Our structure discussions are primarily considerations of how we arrange the internal, international aspects of one part of worldwide Methodism. It is connectional in a limited way, while our mission is essentially connected in Jesus Christ and secondarily linked in the Wesleyan tradition. Our structure is about power politics and funding, about voting majorities, committee organization, and intercultural negotiations.
Our mission is about the steadfast, redeeming love of God that enlivens and sustains us through the Holy Spirit.  Our mission is to show Jesus Christ to the world, and let us pray that our structures do the same.

General Secretary

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Judi Kenaston: The Worldwide Nature of the Church

              When I was elected chair of the Commission on General Conference, I realized that at this time in the church, things would not be “business as usual.”  I was somewhat overwhelmed, but I prayed that I would be of use as we sought to go where God was already leading the church.  I believe that those of us who are thinking about and longing for God’s direction, are here “for such a time as this.” It has been my privilege to sit at several different tables engaged in multiple conversations about how the General Conference can help us understand what it means to be a World Wide Church – what we should embrace in our current way of doing things and what needs to change.
                I am a UMC lifer – I was baptized as an infant in a Methodist Church by my grandfather who was a Methodist pastor. I went through confirmation in the brand new UNITED Methodist Church and I stood before my patient and supportive congregation as they heard me declare my faith in Jesus Christ. I went to church camp, where I made crosses of nails, crosses of plastic beads, crosses of macramé thread and cross bookends. I went to conference youth events where I learned new songs that they didn’t yet sing in my congregation, made best friends and had romances – one of which eventually led to my marriage. I am grateful for my idyllic UMC background; I also realize that my experience was highly influenced by where I lived and the culture that dominates that region.
                It wasn’t until college that I was even asked the question, “Why are you a United Methodist?” So I began thinking about it, and questioning whether it actually made a difference. I was challenged to think in a UMC campus ministry bible study after I had been told by a Non-UM friend that I “thought too much to be a Christian.” I discovered that as United Methodist Christians we combine a warm-hearted faith with rigorous intellectual engagement.  I believe that my experience of the United Methodist faith, in college and the years since, awakened me to a world where God was active in leading me into a deeper faith and ministry as a lay person. 
                So, now what does it mean to be a United Methodist Christian? It can’t be that we have to all think alike. It can’t be that our worship has to be the same, or that our church buildings (when we have them) look alike. We know we don’t have to speak the same language.   I believe that being a United Methodist means being committed to a holistic ministry.  We are a people transformed by the grace of God.  As new people in Christ, we are committed to an expression of ministry that is personal and communal; evangelical and missional; compassionate to individuals in need and seeking justice in society; a ministry that needs individual devotions and corporate worship.  This comprehensive nature of United Methodism is what makes us who we are. 
                The challenge to the church is that unless we embrace this broad spectrum, we create a climate that is modeled on the narrow path of winners and losers in the discernment of the church’s future.  Consequently, we respond to each proposal with distrust. We look for the ulterior motive – something we can strike down.  Every proposal has an opposing view that points out what won’t work. We may need to let go to create a new vision for the World Wide church. 
                For American United Methodists, that means letting go of our U.S. centric world view.   After returning from a meeting where there had been representatives from around the global church, I went to my Sunday School class in southern West Virginia. I had told them where I had been and some of what we had talked about. Even so, as members of the class prayed that morning the prayers were for our local church and “churches all around the United States.” I realized that we had a long way to go before a global church is part of our U.S. understanding!
                A second area where God may be calling us to let go is in the area of personal priorities which we attempt to impose on everyone.   This includes traditional mission emphases and rigid structure. Our family has experienced the changing nature of mission through our son, who is a new Global Mission Fellow now serving in Missouri in the midwest United States. He was trained and commissioned in the Philippines with 41 other young adults from all over the world.  These young missionaries reflect the truly global nature of the World Wide church.  They are sent from everywhere to everywhere. It is a new venture and may be a bit messy at first, but there are lives being transformed and disciples being made.
                Letting go may bring a feeling of losing control and entering into chaos.  But God has moved in chaos before and God created from chaos and said it was good. The Spirit can move still and we must be ready to move alongside God as once again God creates what is good for The United Methodist Church and the transformation of the world.

Judi Kenaston, Chair
Commission on General Conference

Judi Kenaston is a lay woman from the West Virginia Conference, where she serves as Annual Conference Secretary. She has served on the Commission on General Conference since 2008, and is currently chairperson of the Commission. She was a reserve delegate to the 2004 General Conference and a delegate to the 2008 and 2012 General Conference.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bishop Ough: Covenant, Schism, and Unity


We are a covenant people. And, everyone in this room from all perspectives in the debate regarding human sexuality within The United Methodist Church is in covenant with each other and the whole.
First, and foremost, we are in covenant with God – a covenantal relationship initiated by God. This is a covenant maintained by God’s faithfulness toward us more so than by our efforts to obey Wesley’s admonition “to stay in love with God.”

At the heart of our being in covenant with one another, is God’s initiating, unconditional, universal, unrelenting and uniting love and Jesus’ prayer that we will be one “so that the world will believe.” (John 17:21-22)

Covenant is relational. It is a gift to be received; a gift we cannot deny. Covenant is Spirit-born and Spirit-driven and Spirit-maintained. Paul got this right when he wrote to the Ephesians:

Accept each other with love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:2b-6)

And, covenant has a purpose; it is intentional. It not only serves to bind us to the one God and to all members of the one Body, but it is, in the words of Eugene Peterson in The Message, to “give the godless world evidence that God sent Jesus and to show that God loves us in the same way God loved Jesus.”

The very nature and intent of God’s covenant with us is under immense pressure within The United Methodist Church. The talk and actions related to schism have reached a fever pitch, driven by the 42-year-old debate over homosexuality, same-gender marriage and scriptural authority. This heightened energy around schism is fueled, in part, by the dynamics of our highly political global church polity. Individuals and groups on opposite sides of this debate are actively working for separation. Many are now openly stating that schism has already taken place; all that remains is division – dividing up the people, assets, episcopal leadership, and governing structures. Several formal and informal groups are preparing legislation for the 2016 General Conference to facilitate an amicable division of The United Methodist Church. Others are simply prepared to practice ecclesial disobedience on a scale that would overwhelm the capacity of annual conferences to manage the potential consequences. Still others are promoting a local option compromise. Some are advocating for more church trials. Others, including myself, view church trials as an affront to discerning a way forward.

In the process, this debate is reducing covenant to purely a governance or political issue. The more conservative folks claim that the covenant is about upholding the current disciplinary language on all matters related to human sexuality and same-gender marriage. The more progressive folks claim the covenant is about biblical obedience to Jesus’ radical love ethic. Both arguments, in my opinion, are incomplete and make a mockery of covenant based in the mysterious power of God’s love and Jesus’ missional prayer for unity.

I have recently read Douglas Hall’s book, Waiting for Gospel:  An Appeal to the Dispirited Remnants of Protestant Establishment. In reviewing the book for the Christian Century, Walter Brueggemann focuses attention on Hall’s claim that both evangelicalism and liberal piety have dumbed down the faith and reduced the gospel to either ethical urgency on the one hand, or pre-occupation with public issues of justice on the other hand. In doing so, they have not paid attention to the mystery of God in the life of persons.

Hall claims the culture around us is waiting for gospel. And, that the culture is not waiting for the tired clichés, compromises and conflicts of the institution, but for the news of God’s transformative grace and mercy. Likewise, he claims the church (or any of its factions) does not possess the gospel, but must always wait to receive it again in fresh, contemporary, radical terms of gift and task.

Schism is the way of the world -- of the culture. Schism would be one more example of the disestablishment and demise of the Christian witness; a witness that increasingly offers no compelling response to reality. Schism is unacceptable in the Church of Jesus Christ. Schism is unacceptable in The United Methodist Church!

In late May, I was in a judicatory heads’ meeting in Minneapolis in which we talked briefly about the 500th  anniversary of Luther’s reformation. The ELCA bishops shared their distress because they do not know whether to lead their people into a season of celebration or into a season of repentance for having not maintained the unity of the church.

One reason, among several, that so many covenant relationships and denominations, including The United Methodist Church, are strained or depleted, in decline or despair, is that there is so little reliance on the Holy Spirit. We need some Holy Spirit breakthroughs! It is the mystery – the Spirit-energy – of God’s redeeming work that ultimately unifies, compels and sends. Authentic unity and rich covenantal relationships are ultimately fruits of the Spirit rather than fruits, exclusively, of correct doctrine, structural sameness,  church rules and law, or even (if Bonhoeffer is to be believed) liking each other. Authentic unity flows from the presence of the Holy Spirit. Authentic unity is incarnated in Christ and made real in the loaf and cup. Authentic unity is expressed in loving God and loving our neighbors.

It makes some of us in very uncomfortable, but the boundaries of the Church have always been charismatic, not canonical. Thus, we know where the Church is, but not where it may be operating beyond our sight or knowledge. We have to admit that while we are gathering in meetings halls or in electronic chat rooms, the Spirit is at work outside our “walls” – perhaps, outside the Church. The boundaries of the Church will not likely be defined or discovered in our rancorous debates, because we do not control the boundaries of the Spirit’s work.

Increasingly, I have trouble with using the word “unity” to describe what we are trying to maintain. In our Western-world view, unity tends to indicate structural sameness or political conformity. Perhaps what we are really trying to achieve or maintain is koinonia – Christian community and relationship. Perhaps what we are really trying to achieve or maintain is covenant – being bound to one another through God’s initiating love and steadfastness.

The history of the Church, recorded for us in the Book of Acts, is instructive to me and to our current reality within The United Methodist Church. Christians and Gentiles came together as one when two conditions prevailed. First, a leader or leaders filled with the Holy Spirit proclaimed Jesus’ expansive, extravagant and unconditional love. Second, the community of believers, again inspired by the Holy Spirit, affirmed that the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the “other” would never be forgotten or excluded.

Our own Wesleyan renewal movement led by John and Charles Wesley is a prime example. It arose, as you know, in response to the deplorable conditions of the poor in mid-eighteenth century England. It formed and inspired by (1) the Spirit’s movement within the Holy Club, (2) at a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street, and (3) in the decision to preach in the fields, wharfs and mines.

The witness from Acts, chapter 11, of Peter recounting his vision while in Joppa to the believers in Jerusalem, is instructive to us. You may recall, Peter gets called on the carpet for baptizing some Gentiles in Caesarea. Can’t you hear them saying to Peter, “What do you think you are doing, rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?”

Peter goes on to tell the Council at Jerusalem that when he began to address the “outsiders” in Caesarea, the Holy Spirit fell on “them” just as it did on “us” the first time. And, he recalls Jesus’ words:  “John baptized with water; you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Peter concludes with a penetrating question. A question that often haunts me; but, a question that I believe must guide my, and our, efforts to maintain unity, affirm covenant and express our common witness in Christ. The question is:  “If then God gave them the same gift God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” Who was I that I could hinder God?

This question has the same effect that Jesus’ scribbling in the dirt had on the explosive situation where the men were poised to stone the woman caught in adultery. Space is created. Holy space is created. We need such a space in our rush to judgment, schism and division with The United Methodist Church.

Space enough for us to look again; look deeper for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Space enough to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Space enough to let the Spirit bless us with the gift of one heart, one mission. Space enough for the Holy Spirit to inform our doctrine and our decisions. Space enough for the “other” to be included. Space enough to remember we cannot change or withhold God’s covenantal love toward us or anyone else. Space enough to exercise the pastoral office. Space enough for the reign of God to break forth, so that the world may believe. Space enough to exercise the pastoral office.

I conclude with these prayerful expressions of hope:

Perhaps, just perhaps, our unity and the fullness of God’s covenant grace, will be found in our fire – our passion – for the Gospel and what Pope Francis calls the first proclamation:  Jesus Christ has saved you.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our unity and the fullness of God’s covenant grace will be found in our ministry with the poor.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our unity and the fullness of God’s covenant grace, will be found in remembering it is God’s work, not our political and caucus agendas or theological camps, that we are called to.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our unity and the fullness of God’s covenant grace, will be found not so much in knowing and protecting what we believe, but in loving and living what we believe.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our unity and the fullness of God’s covenant grace, will be found when we earnestly and collectively pray for, and submit to, the powerful and unifying gift of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our unity and the fullness of God’s covenant grace, will be found when the first thought on our minds and on our lips is:  “Who am I to hinder God, if God gave the same exact Spirit-gift to them as to us?”

Perhaps, just perhaps, the only question we need to ask one another is the one John Wesley stated in his sermon on The Marks of a Methodist:  “Do you love and serve God? It is enough. I give you the right hand of fellowship.”

Bishop Bruce R. Ough
Dakotas-Minnesota Area
The United Methodist Church

Monday, July 21, 2014

Brad Brady: Worldwide Nature of the Church

I can’t get the hymn, “In Christ There Is No East or West” out of my mind as I participate in our ongoing discussions around the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church.

It is easy to sing and celebrate our unity in mission.  Across the globe there are signs of spiritual transformation flowing out of the congregations and ministries of United Methodism.  As the hymn states, our joining hands in the disciple-making mission of Christ is the “golden cord” that binds us together.

Like in so many areas of our Christian experience, there is a “present” and a “not yet” dimension to United Methodism’s pursuit of fully living as a worldwide church. 

You do not have to look hard to find examples of this unrealized vision, especially when you begin talking about our organization, structure and governance.   One can feel the struggle of the “not yet” whenever the inevitable power-shifting discussions unfold.  As in any system, those with power naturally seek to protect their control and influence. 

It doesn’t take long in these conversations to have the Apostle Paul’s teaching about the Body of Christ challenge me to fully recognize and value each part of the body.  For me, I suppose the core question we are pursuing is what would our church look like if we more fully lived up to Paul’s image of the Body of Christ?

The last verse of the hymn places before us an invitation as we continue to prayerfully discuss and discern matters related to the worldwide nature of The United Methodist Church.
In Christ now meet both east and west,
in him meet south and north;
all Christly souls are one in him
throughout the whole wide earth.
In Christ There Is No East or WestThe United Methodist HymnalHymn 548

Brad is Pastor of Perry United Methodist Church in the SouthGeorgia Annual Conference. He has been active in almost every aspect of the Church including pastoring local churches, serving as District Superintendent, as Director of Connectional Ministries for 11 years, as Conference Secretary for 13 years and as SEJ Conference Secretary from 2008-2012.