Thursday, March 12, 2015

CT Weekly Update: "God-Sized" Vision and Prayers

Dear CT Members and Friends,

Greetings in God’s Love!  As we go deeper into our Lenten Journey, we are reminded to stop and reflect on how God has been at work in our lives in so many ways across the connection.  Recently I received a report from GCFA Statistics office and it caused me to stop again and give thanks for all the ways in which the people of The United Methodist Church are incredibly gracious and generous.  Since 2009 the benevolent giving across the Annual Conferences that GCFA collects data for has been over $900,000,000 and increased over the last five years.  In the most recent 2013 data, the reported total amount of benevolent giving (which includes apportioned funds for districts, annual conferences and the General Church, along with World Service specials, Advance Specials, Youth Service Fund, Other UM causes, other non-UM charities, and our Special Sundays) was a total of $934,654,715.00.  I think about the abundance of generosity that this represents of the people called United Methodist.  I know that this data alone is limited and doesn’t fully represent the generosity of United Methodists in other places around the world.  If we were to add in the contributions of the Central Conferences to mission and ministry within each region of the world, we would be well over a billion dollars of giving towards "changing the world for the sake of Jesus Christ."

I recognize that money is only one small representation of God's gracious gifts that we share as a connectional system, but if we could recount the story after story of transformed life after transformed life of people who have come to know Jesus because of faithful United Methodist Christians, the stories would be endless.  When I look at our unique ecclesiology and the gift of our incredible connection, I see a beautiful masterpiece of God.  The impact we can make when we focus on the mission and appreciate each God-given gift through our brothers and sisters in Christ from all the magnificent places around the world would be unbelievable.  It's this God-sized VISION that Bishop Ough invited us to dream about at the beginning of the quadrennium.  Our God is a gracious, generous, loving God who wants to see God’s people flourish because of our relationship with our Creator.

It will be impossible for us to connect the connection, if we do not first give thanks to the one who created us all.  For all the challenges and the frustrations that people may have about our connectional ecclesiology, we need to remember our Creator.  We need to remember that there is a God-sized vision out there that the people called United Methodist need to see.  We need to give thanks for every penny, every cent, every minute, every hour faithful United Methodist people have shared because they believe in the God-Sized Vision that may transform the world.

My prayer is that this lenten season, we focus on the "God-Sized" Visions that are out there and step boldly into the great unknown with our God and Savior, Jesus the risen Christ!  Because he lives – we CAN connect the connection for the sake of the mission.

LET US PRAY FOR:
General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Board Meeting (March 11-14): President, Bishop Jim Dorff and General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Kim Cape.  
General Board of Discipleship Board Meeting (March 12-15): President, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Tim Bias.
General Commission on Status and Role of Women Board Meeting (March 11-13): President, Bishop Deborah  Wallace-Padgett and General Secretary, Dawn Wiggins Hare.
Executive Committee of the Central Conference (March 12-15): Bishop Patrick Streiff
3rd National Hispanic Consultation on UM Hispanic Latino Ministries (March 12-14)

May God’s Gracious Love Surround Us All!!

With God’s Love,

Rev. Amy Valdez Barker,
Executive Secretary

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Press Release:

The Connectional Table Joins Standing Committee at Historic First Joint Meeting in Mozambique


Maputo, Mozambique – Monday, February 9 marked the first joint meeting of the Connectional Table and the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters in Maputo, Mozambique. The two bodies met to share strategies toward strengthening the mission of The United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

“The Standing Committee and the Connectional Table met together to learn about the ways we are both working for a stronger worldwide connection of The United Methodist Church,” said Bishop Bruce R. Ough, chair of the CT. “As The UMC grows around the world, we are blessed with the need to engage in fostering and nurturing relationships and deepening conversations such as the ones we had at this meeting.”

Their first day together was spent in worship and cultural celebrations with the people of The UMC in Mozambique.  Bishop Joaquina Nhanala’s team hosted the groups in congregations throughout Maputo.  The afternoon culmination was a celebration of the multiple cultures of Mozambique.

The Connectional Table has prioritized improving collaborative efforts with other church entities and building bridges across the connection.  This joint meeting focused on ways in which both groups are responding to the 2012 Report to General Conference submitted by the 2009-2012 Worldwide Nature Study Committee.  The Connectional Table was tasked with connecting efforts of several recommendations related to the church’s worldwide nature including revising the social principles to be more relevant globally, creating global apportionments, and organizing for serving the mission around the world.  The Standing Committee was charged by General Conference to “bring recommendations to the 2016 General Conference as to which parts and paragraphs in Part VI of the Book of Discipline are not adaptable.”

“Experiencing a microcosm of General Conference in a celebratory, worship-centered way was such a gift!” said Amy Valdez Barker, executive secretary of the Connectional Table.  About half of the members present were from central conferences with the other half from the United States.

Highlights of the meeting included: learning about the Standing Committee’s work on the Global (General) Book of Discipline; a progress report on global apportionments by Rick King of General Council on Finance and Administration; and updates from leaders of the Vital Congregations Collaboration Group of the CT and COB.  CT and StC-CCM Members gained a deeper understanding of what it means to focus on the United Methodist mission in different cultures around the world.

“I can really appreciate the challenges our central conference members experience traveling to the U.S. on such a regular basis,” commented Josephine Deere, a CT Member from Oklahoma talking about the distance required to travel to the joint meeting.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Press Release:

The Connectional Table’s Human Sexuality Task Force hosts its third panel on human sexuality and its Human Sexuality Legislative Team presents possible approaches for General Conference 2016



      On February 10, 2015 in Maputo, Mozambique, The Connectional Table’s Human Sexuality Task Force hosted its third and final panel on human sexuality which emphasized the denomination’s central conference perspective. Ricky Harrison, Connectional Table member  and Master of Divinity student at Duke Divinity School, moderated the panel. Panelists included Rev. Nday Bondo of Africa University and elder in the North Katanga Annual Conference, Rev. Israel Alvaran of Reconciling Ministries Network and elder in the Philippines Annual Conference, and Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal area of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference. Panelists introduced themselves by answering two questions. The first addressed the relationship between sexual orientation and one’s membership, baptism, and full involvement in the life of The United Methodist Church. The second question inquired about the potential outcomes of a change within The Book of Discipline on the current stance regarding homosexuality. Panelists responded to these questions and others from the Human Sexuality Task Force, members of The Connectional Table, and from the DreamUMC Twitter conversation held on January 26, 2015. The panel was recorded by United Methodist Communications and will be available online starting February 13, 2015 at http://umc.org/connectional-­‐table-­‐webcast.
      Immediately following the panel, members of The Connectional Table gathered and discussed possible approaches to respond to their April 2014 motion concerning human sexuality. The Human Sexuality Legislative Team asked the Connectional Table for direction in accordance to this mandate.
      Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, district superintendent of the West Michigan Annual Conference and Connectional Table member, presented a report to The Connectional Table on the process taken by the Team. The report emphasized three theological assertions that directed their work. They were the centrality of mission, unity for the sake of mission, and baptism as the basis for our identity as Christians and as United Methodists.
      After the presentation, Connectional Table members spent the afternoon in discernment and conversation as they prayerfully considered the response to the motion. The Connectional

Table read each approach and discerned in small groups. Responses from individual members and from the small groups were gathered at the conclusion of the session and will be used to direct the continued work of the General Conference – Missional Administration Group.
      Though the CT did not take a formal vote at this meeting, the group did affirm the consideration of a particular approach that could provide a “Third Way” beyond The United Methodist Church’s impasse over homosexuality.
       “This approach maintains the unity of the church, focuses the church on its mission, and provides spaces of grace in which there could be the exercise of conscience,” stated Kennetha Bigham-Tsai. “The group also affirmed that this approach would best allow for the contextual practice of ministry.” The CT will continue it’s discernment and decision-making process at it’s May meeting. Following this meeting their final recommendation will be released.

###


Contact:
Any questions or comments on this panel or the two previous panels should be sent to:
Ashley Boggan, aboggan@umc.org, 773-714-1517

Note:  For more information on the two previous panels or to watch the archived videos of the panels, click here:
April 29, 2014: umc.org/who-we-are/connectional-table-online-christian-conferencing-on-human-sexuality
November 1, 2014: umc.org/who-we-are/connectional-table-webcast-finding-our-way-love-law-united-methodist-church

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Human Sexuality Task Force Hosts its Third Panel

Connectional Table
The United Methodist Church

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 16, 2015

Human Sexuality Task Force Hosts its Third Panel
The Central Conference Voice on Human Sexuality and Our Wesleyan Identity

Chicago, Ill: The Connectional Table’s Human Sexuality Task Force will be hosting its third and final panel on human sexuality Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at 10:00 am CAT in Maputo, Mozambique. This panel will highlight the central conference perspective on our Wesleyan identity, the life of the church, and human sexuality.

While this panel will not be live-streamed, there is an opportunity for those who wish to participate to pose questions to the panel beforehand via Twitter. On January 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm EST, DreamUMC will host a Twitter chat where participants will get a glimpse of the types of questions and topics for the panel, an opportunity to answer or comment on those questions and topics, and an opportunity to pose questions of their own, which will be presented to the panel. Any submitted questions will be asked of the panel during the last 20 minutes on February 10.

“We want to thank DreamUMC for helping us to provide this opportunity to reach out to our UMC connection via Twitter,” said the Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, executive secretary of the Connectional Table.

DreamUMC is a grassroots movement that arose out of General Conference 2012. They conduct biweekly chats about the mission and vision of The United Methodist Church including such topics as the role of social media in church life, racism, sexism, community engagement, domestic violence, women in ministry and more. Over 400 United Methodist clergy and laity have been involved in those chats.

To participate in the chat, you will need a Twitter account. If you log in to your account on January 26 at 9:00 pm EST and enter the hashtag #DreamUMC in the search box, you will be able to see other posts related to the conversation. To join the conversation, simply tag your tweet with #DreamUMC. More detailed step-by-step instructions are available at dreamumc.net/2012/08/how-to-join-the-dreamumc-tweetchats.html.

The panelists for the third panel are academics and ministers in the central conferences and will bring a fresh insight to this ongoing discussion. Panelists include:


  • Nday Bondo: Rev. Bondo is a lecturer at Africa University (Mutare, Zimbabwe) in the Faculty of Theology and an elder of the North Katanga annual conference of the UMC in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His research area is Practical Theology in which he studies United Methodist Church Polity and Doctrine as well as Church Administration. He also teaches a course in Ethics and Christian Values, a University wide-course.
  • Kongolo Chijika: Married and the father of five children, Dr. Chijika completed his Ph.D. at Laval University in Quebec City in Canada. He is currently a Dean of Theology, a faculty member, and Professor of Old Testament at Katanga Methodist University in Mulungwishi, Democratic Republic of Congo. 
  • Israel Alvaran: Rev. Israel I. Alvaran is an ordained elder in the Philippines Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He has served in various ministry settings as pastor, youth minister, and faculty at a United Methodist university and seminary in the Philippines. Rev. Alvaran is currently appointed to serve as Western Regional Organizer for Reconciling Ministries Network, a growing movement of United Methodists working for the full participation of all people in the life and ministry of The United Methodist Church.
  • Bishop Christian Alsted: Bishop Alsted has been a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1984; 20 years were spent serving in Copenhagen. He assumed office in May 2009 and serves the seven conferences in the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal area of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference. He also serves on the board of directors of the General Board of Church and Society, the Commission on the General Conference, and on the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. He is a member of the European Methodist Council, the World Methodist Council, and the Funds for Mission in Europe. 

The panel will be available for online streaming beginning February 15, 2015 by going to umc.org/connectional-table-webcast.

###


Contact:
Any questions or comments on this panel or the two previous panels should be sent to:
Ashley Boggan, aboggan@umc.org, 773-714-1517

Note:  For more information on the two previous panels or to watch the archived videos of the panels, click here:
April 29, 2014: umc.org/who-we-are/connectional-table-online-christian-conferencing-on-human-sexuality
November 1, 2014: umc.org/who-we-are/connectional-table-webcast-finding-our-way-love-law-united-methodist-church

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday Morning in North Georgia: The Audacity to Pray


Originally sent by North Georgia Annual Conference in Monday Mornings 
By Phil Schroeder

My brother and I showed up early for church. We crossed the threshold into the narthex. We could see that no one was sitting in the sanctuary. The greeter at the front door handed us a bulletin and asked us not to enter yet. We could see a group of people gathered in a circle at the front of the room with their heads bowed in prayer. She explained, “That’s our worship team, and they are praying for you.”

They were praying for the people God was sending to worship there that day. I wonder how many churches actually list that on their prayer concerns: The people God will be sending us in 2015.

Maybe that is a habit we all need to take up for the New Year. “Lord, thank you in advance for those you might be nudging to visit church this week. May our welcome be worthy of your trust. Help us to not wait for them to come to us, but to meet them where they are . . .”

Don’t get me wrong.  After spending countless hours in the hospital and rehab with my mother this past year, I am thankful for local church prayer lists. But . . .how many prayer lists have the audacity to pray in advance for what God is about to do?

At the beginning of 2014 the young church we visited that day did not have a place to worship. They had been steadily growing in a rented space, but needed to find a more permanent home. We began praying for God to lead them to the right location.  Numerous site visits were made to warehouses and other church facilities.  Then, the Martha Brown United Methodist Church in East Atlanta began having discussions about opening their doors to this young “homeless” church.  Under the guidance of their District Superintendent, Sharma Lewis, and their pastor, Alvin Lingenfelter, the vast majority of the 27 members of Martha Brown voted to merge with and welcome this new church into their beautiful, historic facility.

Yet, long before any of this was even considered, this new church had changed its name from Oakhurst Church to Eastside Church. Who knew they would choose the perfect name for a move to East Atlanta? Isn’t God’s “about to do” simply amazing?

There were about 60 people at that early service as the pews filled up with young people from East Atlanta and beyond. We were warmly greeted despite our attire. (Go Steelers!)

We are thankful for what God has done and is yet to do in that place. Send someone to visit soon! They are already being prayed for in advance.

Rev. Dr. Phil Schroeder is Director of Congregational Development for the North Georgia Conference. You may contact him at pschroeder@ngumc.org.

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:
 
http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/human-sexuality-homosexuality

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.