Graphic courtesy of MFSA
By UM Insight
A coalition of United Methodist groups has unveiled a proposed structure for the global 11-million-member denomination that counters the scheme put forth in the "Call to Action" report from the Connectional Table.
The alternative plan was unveiled in early November during a telephone conference organized by the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Participating in the teleconference were representatives from MFSA, racial-ethnic caucuses, the Reconciling Ministries Program, and Affirmation.
The Call to Action plan proposes collapsing nine of the current 13 United Methodist boards and agencies into a single organization call the United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry (see report and graphic). According to a United Methodist News Service report, the center would have a 15-member board of directors, which would be accountable to a 45-member advisory board called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. The council replaces the Connectional Table, which was created by the 2004 General Conference and coordinates the denomination’s mission, ministries and resources.
The coalition plan proposes downsizing to four mission-based agencies – Congregational Development, Global Mission, Justice, Reconciliation and Witness and Operations. A coordinating council would oversee these agencies to ensure diversity, partnership and common governance.
Legislation for both alternatives has been submitted for consideration by delegates to the 2012 General Conference scheduled April 24-May 4 in Tampa, FL.
"MFSA believes there many shortcomings to the Call to Action, as well as with the global nature of the church and the ministry, especially when viewed together," said Tracy Merrick, a lifelong United Methodist and financial services professional who has represented the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference at each General Conference since 1988.
"Call to Action does little to address the UMC outside the United States where church is growing fastest. It obviously considers these precious United Methodists as an afterthought," said Merrick, who previously served on the General Council on Finance and Administration, and co-chaired two denomination-wide task forces.
Merrick noted that more than 36 percent of United Methodists now live outside the USA, but their regional bodies known as Central Conferences aren't accorded same standing as U.S. jurisdictions in the Call to Action.
"In the Call to Action, United Methodists from Central Conferences get only 11 percent of the representation in the governing structure, while the rest favors the U.S.," Merrick said. "The Southeastern Jurisdiction alone has 24 percent of the governance representation. This approach just isn't consistent with our demographics or our heritage of inclusiveness."
Likewise, Merrick criticized the report on the global nature of The United Methodist church.
"There's some legislation on the global nature of the church, and there's a litany, but still it's U.S.-centered; the Central Conferences weren't included," said Merrick. "They've asked for another quadrennium (four-year church period) to continue the study, but we believe it's time to act. Half of United Methodists will be in Africa, Europe and Philippines by 2016."
Merrick added that the coalition has submitted several legislative proposals, including constitutional amendments, to address the regional disparities in churchwide governance.
'Not United Methodist or Wesleyan'
Donald Hayashi, director of development and finance of Wesley Community Center, Inc. in Dayton, Ohio, and president of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, said that when he first read the restructure proposal from the Connectional Table, "I thought: This isn't United Methodist and it isn't Wesleyan.
"We cherish relationships: clergy-laity, men-women, generations, racial-ethnic," Hayashi said. "The United Methodist Church has been inclusive since its start [from the 1968 merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church]. This restructure will eliminate racial-ethnic inclusiveness. There will be no leadership training, no congregational development and no congregational revitalization for racial-ethnic churches."
Hayashi noted that the coalition's economic estimates showed the proposed $60 million for Call to Action implementation would have a devastating impact on racial-ethnic missions and ministry. United Methodists in the Philippines and Asian Americans from Southeast Asia are particularly concerned about the plan's effects, he added.
In response to a journalist's question, Hayashi said that the racial-ethnic caucuses are worried about local as well as national and international impacts of the Call to Action plans.
"Part of the history for people of color is that in many annual conferences, including those who think they're inclusive, because racial-ethnics are seen as an add-on, we've been given more prominence and more exposure at general level," Hayashi said. As I understand the Call to Action plan, it distributes more money to annual conferences. History doesn't bear out anticipated results for other than mainstream ministries [in that scenario].
"We have a Vietnamese United Methodist pastor who translated the Bible into Vietnamese and got permission from the Vietnamese government to distribute 100,000 Bibles," said Hayashi, who has served previously on the staff of the General Council on Ministries [predecessor of the Connectional Table] and the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. "Would this ministry and other ministries in Southeast Asia be advanced under the Call to Action structure? It doesn't appear likely."
Jill A. Warren, the new MFSA executive director, cited her 30 years of experience in the non-profit sector in assessing the Call to Action Plan.
"With non-profits you need to be accountable, transparent, responsive and include stakeholders in decision-making to be effective. So through my non-profit leadership lens, I say the Call to Action doesn't measure up in the way I would hope for the UMC," said Warren, who has been a Sunday school teacher for 38 years.
"Centralizing decision-making results in less effectiveness, accountability, transparency and flexibility to respond to stakeholders."
The Rev. Steve Clunn, coordinator for the groups' Common Witness effort at General Conference, also criticized the "Vital Congregations" program (see blogs) that is a part of the Call to Action report. Clunn has been an ordained elder in the Upper New York Annual Conference and its predecessors for more than 21 years, serving rural, suburban and urban churches.
Vital Congregations Called 'Punitive'
"As a pastor, I find the 'Vital Congregations' initiative to be punitive rather than encouraging," Clunn said. "Frankly, neither of the churches I last served would cut it as 'vital congregations' according to the Call to Action. Vitality and effectiveness go far beyond sheer numbers in ministry. Vitality draws people closer to their Savior and to one another.
"I believe the MFSA plan helps that to happens, offering sensible, equitable, hopeful trust-building approach to clergy and membership."
Merrick and Warren also weighed in on the issue of using only metrics as the tool for evaluating clergy and congregations.
"I think all of us share a concern about a limited number of metrics proposed as measure of effectiveness," said Merrick. "With my business background, I understand that in addition to quantitative metrics there are qualitative metrics. Qualitative metrics are incredibly important to encourage a broader view. Metrics aren't a bad thing, but need to look at the greater portfolio."
Added Warren: "Metrics are simply measurement tools. In the non-profit sector, around metrics, look at the Center for Effective Philanthropy that knows how to advise on quantitative and qualitative. Non-profit leadership sources have been having this conversation for years.
"The United Methodist Church isn't an industrial, post-industrial manufacturer winning souls; our measurements should fit our mission as a church, not a post-industrial driver of industry."
Warren said that the coalition would be inviting other concerned groups and individuals to join its efforts in the coming months. Those interested in joining the coalition can find more information on the MFSA website, she said.