CHEVY CHASE, MD. — The Board of Directors of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) awarded two Ethnic Local Church Grants at its fall meeting here last month. The board members also engaged each other in extensive dialogue around indigenous peoples, especially on the denomination’s Act of Repentance to Native Americans and indigenous peoples of the world, and implications of global climate change.
The board’s task forces on Native American Ministries and Central Conferences led the dialogues that included an opening outdoor worship, morning Bible studies and plenary sessions featuring presenters from around the world, some via computer webcast.
Susan Henry-Crowe, who took over as the agency’s chief executive in February, identified seven areas of focus that will be important in the next 25 years. She developed the list after participating in eight annual conference sessions this summer, travelling to the Philippines in July to meet with United Methodist, ecumenical, political and non-governmental leaders there, and numerous meetings on Capitol Hill with legislators and administration officials.
Visits to the United Methodist Building by persons such as the Lost Boys of Sudan, Palestinian Christians, and government ministers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other nations helped shape this vision of the future challenges to accomplish the agency’s mandate as set forth by the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-setting body.
Henry-Crowe said the list was also influenced by GBCS’s staff members who reported on more than 110 trips in the past year across the United States, and to Africa, Europe, Japan and the Philippines.
“The visits to the annual conferences only strengthened my resolve to continue to nurture a church that inspires people the way it inspired me,” Henry-Crowe said. “My family and The United Methodist Church gave me the impulse to delight in a world that is so interesting that every day entering into it is a gift.”
Address root causes of societal ills
Henry-Crowe said GBCS’s mandate is to address the root causes of societal ills impacting communities and congregations around the world. “The Social Creed addresses human indignity, unsafe working conditions, child labor, the sweating system and a living wage,” she pointed out.
Henry-Crowe said she learned early in her pastoral career the importance of preaching from time to time on working conditions and labor principles that the denomination supports. She said this realization was prompted by seeing three of her parishioners standing in mid-calf-high water while running huge electrical equipment.
Henry-Crowe told the board that these experiences and many more have guided her in developing the following list of future issues that must be addressed:
- Impoverization and its impact on women and children
- Care of creation
- Fluid changing nature of the modern nation state
- Secularization and increased sectarianism
- Impact of changing world economies
- Global racism and intolerance
- Effects of global migration and immigration
“Advocacy is empowering conferences and communities to address social issues of concern,” Henry-Crowe said. “The ministry of GBCS undergirds the ministry that goes on in annual conferences, communities and congregations, and in seats of government. We are better together than apart.”
We are better together than apart.
The United Methodist Building, which faces the U.S. Capitol and is next door to the Supreme Court, is “a treasure that faces outward into a world in search of justice, and connection,” Henry-Crowe said. She asked the board to approve an initiative to create “Ambassadors” across the denomination. These ambassadors would promote the mission of Church & Society and the virtues of the historic United Methodist Building that was erected 12 years before the Supreme Court Building in 1935.
“This building must become more itself,” Henry-Crowe said. “It must be a place for all, a light on a hill, a place of connection for those living our principles, inspiring young people, inviting and welcoming new people from all places.” She said the Ambassadors would work with GBCS to make a difference in the world.
The board members unanimously endorsed Henry-Crowe’s proposal, and encouraged her to move forward with concept.
Ethnic Local Church grants
The board approved two grants for Ethnic Local Church Ministries, both in the Southeast Jurisdiction:
- Tennessee Conference: Belmont United Methodist Church’s “Refugee Advocate for Justice & Hope” will receive $5,000.
- Memphis Conference: “Club Hedgerow Youth Entrepreneurship Training” program of Capleville United Methodist Church and US Making in Happen, LLC, will receive $3,500.
As the board began its work on the usual business of budgets, personnel and preparing for upcoming events such as General Conference in 2016, the global nature of the denomination was repeatedly emphasized as crucial to all deliberations. All proposed petitions to General Conference were put under a microscope concerning biblical and theological implications, and their applicability globally.
‘Journey to Repentance’
The board meeting kicked off with an outdoor worship service, “The Journey to Repentance," that featured Native American storyteller RagghiRain of the Eastern Cherokee and flute player Robert Willasch, Baltimore-Washington Conference. Suanne Ware-Diaz (Kiowa) and the Rev. Cynthia Abrams (Seneca) prepared the congregation for Holy Communion, presided over by Bishop Robert Hoshibata, board president.
RagghiRain, Willasch and Ware-Diaz were invited to attend the board meeting. Abrams is GBCS’s director of Health and Wholeness Programs.
Ware-Diaz led a plenary session on repentance in which she shared an Iroquois teaching that states in part, “We are a part of everything — that is beneath us — above us — and around us.” She said it underscores Native Americans’ sense of place, creation, relationships, identity and values. She asked the board members to consider similarities or differences they have been taught, and to address why any of this matters. RagghiRain shared more stories
Board member Jim Nibbelink of Tucson, Ariz., told about his experience joining the Rocky Mountain Conference “Act of Repentance” at the Colorado site of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre led by a Methodist pastor turned soldier.
Bishop Peggy Johnson, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, led a Bible study, “What does repentance as decolonization mean to you?” Using Isaiah 58 as a text, she asked the board to consider why those we have and are oppressing dismiss our acts of repentance, and why we who repent and ask others to join in our acts of repentance find them feeling shallow and empty.
Indigenous peoples and climate change
“How is global warming, deforestation and desertification related to our colonial attitudes and how will our repentance help heal the land?” Bishop Johnson asked in her Bible study. That question dovetailed with the presentation on indigenous communities and climate change led by the Central Conference Task Force in cooperation with the board’s work area on Economic & Environmental Justice.
Board members Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic-Baltic Area, Daniel Obergfell of Germany, Nancy Caluya-Nicolas of the Philippines, and the Rev. Liberato Bautista, GBCS assistant general secretary for U.N. & International Affairs, were joined via webcasts in discussing the worldwide implications of climate change.
Climate change is affecting how we enjoy and use air, water and land, according to Bautista. “Toxic gases spewed into the atmosphere in one far-flung place, call it China or United States, Saudi Arabia or Brazil, sooner and not later,” he said, “will form part of our atmosphere and the air we breathe.”
Joining via webcast were:
- Norma Capuyan, vice-chairperson of KALUMARAN (Strength of Indigenous Peoples, based in Mindanao, Philippines;
- May Vargas, secretary general for Panalipdan Southern Mindanao, a nongovernmental development alliance to defend the environment, food security, land rights, and national patrimony against the destruction of the Philippines’ natural and mineral resources;
- the Rev. Kristina Peterson, who helped create safe venues for participation and discourse on coastal issues with and for traditional and indigenous high-risk coastal communities in Southeast Louisiana; and
- Chief Albert “White Buffalo” Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, the indigenous subsistence community of a disappearing island.
The first two called in from New York City, the latter two from New Orleans. Vargas, by the way, recently joined The United Methodist Church citing the influence of the denomination’s Social Principles, and Church & Society leaders in Mindanao as major reasons for doing so.
Among business items, the board of directors also approved a budget for 2015 of $7,255,000, and heard a report from the trustees on the status of the United Methodist Building, which has had some space converted to apartments for interns.
A hunger offering at a meal consisting of soup and salad was split between Asuncion Perez Memorial Center in the Philippines and Hickory Grove United Methodist Church in South Carolina. The offering of $3,293, consisted of $1,013 raised among attendees and the cost differential to the agency of providing the simple meal rather than a full-course menu.
The 2015 Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25 again at the National 4H Youth Conference Center here. GBCS meetings have been held outside of Washington, D.C., in recent years to comply with the General Conference resolution condemning the use of certain nicknames as demeaning and offensive to Native Americans.
The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.