By Linda Bloom*
NEW YORK (UMNS) — A few years ago, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries began an extended, and sometimes painful, process of re-inventing itself.
The results, which include a significant decrease in the size of its board of directors, staff reductions and a realigning of structure and priorities, were apparent Oct. 22-24 when the mission agency had its first meeting of the new quadrennium in the board’s headquarters at 475 Riverside Dr.
Overall, the bureaucracy of The United Methodist Church is changing, and the church’s agencies and commissions are focusing attention on shared services and common missional priorities.
For someone like retired Bishop F. Herbert Skeete — who was dispatched by the denomination’s Council of Bishops to preside the first day as the new mission board officially organized itself — it’s not an entirely new situation.
Skeete served eight years as clergy and eight years as a bishop on the board and was its president from 1992 to 96. During that time, he recalled in his sermon during opening worship, there were three changes to the agency’s structure and three attempts by others in the church to move its headquarters out of New York City.
“We lost a lot of missional impact during those quadrenniums, just fighting those battles,” the bishop said.
Skeete, a New York resident who has pastored in Harlem during part of his retirement, reminded the new board that its impact can be local as well as global, starting in its own neighborhood. “We sit on a hill with Harlem below, a great mission opportunity,” he said.
Thomas Kemper, the board’s top executive, acknowledged the changes in his report to directors and stressed the need to be “open to innovation and new forms of collaboration” and to come together “not only in faith but also in hope.”
With approval of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, Global Ministries downsized its board of directors from 92 to the current 36, of which 30 percent represent regions outside the United States. Raleigh Area Bishop Hope Morgan Ward is the new president.
Earlier this summer, Kemper explained that the proportional increase in Central Conference members was an attempt to make those voices stronger. “Some of our (U.S.) jurisdictional directors were struggling with this,” he said then, “but, in the end, everybody agreed that we have to reduce some representation from the U.S. if Global Ministries wants to be the global agency for the global church.”
Elvira Moises da Silva Cazombo of the West Angola Conference in Africa told her fellow directors she is inspired for mission because of the denomination’s mission station in Quessua.
Many Angolans were educated at the Quessua station, which was left in ruins by war but is slowly being rebuilt. “When I look at those ruins, I think, ‘What can I do to build mission there again?’” she said.
Among the changes in the agency’s structure was the separation of the Women’s Division from the Board of Global Ministries into an independent body, United Methodist Women. Approved by General Conference, the separation was made final Oct. 1.
Another structural change relates to the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the integration of its nongovernmental unit into the relief agency as a whole. Refugee ministries work has been removed from UMCOR’s budget, replaced by an annual grant to the Church World Service refugee program. National Justice for Our Neighbors, formerly a part of UMCOR, is now independent and will receive a $700,000 grant in 2013.
Besides UMCOR, the board’s other main units are mission and evangelism, mission theology and evaluation, communications and development, and finance and administration. Throughout those units, some work areas have been combined or rearranged and some staff positions have been merged, realigned, moved or eliminated.
As of the board meeting, the total number of staff positions at the Board of Global Ministries was just less than 200, including 16 employees added through the UMCOR realignments.
All of the 38 staff members who took a voluntary severance package offered to all board employees in June will be gone by the end of the year. Twenty-one of those staff members will be replaced, Kemper said.
But not all the departures were voluntary. The further elimination of eight support and technical positions at the end of September was difficult for the staff, Kemper acknowledged in his report. “These terminations were necessary to support emerging program initiatives, but they were painful, deeply painful, to make and I know they resulted in anxiety and sadness,” he said.
At the request of the board’s Committee to Eliminate Institutional Racism, a tally of those leaving the agency was provided to directors. The number included 17 males and 29 females; 14 Africans or African-Americans, 17 whites, 10 Hispanic and 5 Asians.
“There was no pressure on anybody to take a voluntary package, but, in the end, it reflected the diversity of our agency,” Kemper said when he reported the breakdown.
The mission agency’s global presence is spreading, with staff based in Europe and Latin America; plans for an East Asia Office in Hong Kong, with special focus on China, in collaboration with the autonomous Methodist Church of Hong Kong, and a partnership with United Methodist Women on a program in Tokyo to “enhance community-based ministries with Japanese mission partners.”
Kemper said the opening of a Jerusalem office this month, co-directed by two missionaries, reflects the church’s historic work and connections in the region.
“The formal opening of the office was a wonderful ecumenical event, attended by many Christian leaders in the region, including the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem,” he told the directors. “Our missionaries across the years have left a positive impression of the love and hope that dwell within Methodist hearts.”
‘Mission from the margins’
Kemper stressed to the new directors the need to focus on “mission from the margins” as the agency pursues its four mission goals to: Make disciples of Christ; strengthen, develop and renew Christian congregations and communities; alleviate human suffering; and seek justice, freedom and peace.
“We are aware that the face of United Methodism is changing globally and within the United States and we are being called to look toward those places and people once considered on the margins for spiritual energy and for examples of faithfulness to the hope of God’s realm in history,” he said.
Eight new missionaries were commissioned during the board meeting and the mission agency expects to add 80 more missionaries in 2013, including 50 in the mission programs for young adults. The total now is 316 serving in various types of mission placements through the Board of Global Ministries.
Kemper noted that about half of the church’s worldwide missionaries now come from outside the United States and many have had some experience with living on the margins. Young adults in mission also “comprehend the importance of seeing Jesus in lives on the margins,” he said.
As their new president, Ward told the directors she wants them to be witnesses to God’s mission in the world and offered by example her own encounter of mission on the margins.
The bishop visited Amelia Poswa, who cares for orphans in a township near Capetown, South Africa. Her organization, the Sakumzi Children’s Care Centre, has received food assistance through the United Methodist-related Stop Hunger Now.
“I was not prepared for what we saw when we got to Amelia’s place,” Ward recalled, describing how she watched Amelia stir a large pot of soup that would feed many children.
The bishop said she was amazed at her determination and ability to pull together modest resources to feed, clothe and shelter — and love — some 100 children. “Day by day, Amelia trusts the grace of God for what’s going to be in that soup pot,” she said.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.