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Religion and Race agency charts new future

By Heather Hahn*

The new, streamlined board of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race announced Monday, Oct. 29, that it is embracing a mission that goes beyond monitoring the denomination’s handling of racial matters.

Erin Hawkins, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. A UMNS photo by Kathleen Barry.

The agency “is in the business of building bridges of hope by equipping the Church at all levels to reach more people, more young people and more diverse people,” the board said in a statement to the denomination.

Among other actions, the board has empowered its  top executive, Erin Hawkins,  and president, Bishop Minerva Carcaño, to begin conversations with leaders of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women about aligning the work of the two agencies in preparation for General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, in 2016.

This conversation follows the vote at the 2012 General Conference for a restructuring plan that would have combined the churchwide commissions into a United Methodist Committee of Inclusiveness. On the last day of General Conference, the Judicial Council — the denomination’s to court — struck down the restructuring plan as unconstitutional. The lawmaking assembly scrambled to pass legislation submitted by agencies, including the Commission on Religion and Race, to reduce the size of their boards.

As conversations begin between the commissions, the Commission on Religion and Race will be looking at ways to help equip annual (regional) conferences, seminaries and local churches to become more diverse and more vital.

“The actions taken at this board meeting are small but significant steps to ensure that the ministry of (the commission) effectively supports the church in becoming a relevant and credible witness to the power of Christ in a diverse world,” Hawkins said in a statement.

Read the full release:

General Commission on Religion and Race Board Members Announce New Direction for Agency

Washington, D.C.  October 29, 2012 — A streamlined Board of Directors of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) has announced a commitment to change by embracing a new model of ministry centered around three priorities: supporting culturally diverse, relevant and vital congregations; developing culturally competent leadership and ministries  and promoting  institutional equity, while upholding the agency’s historic promise of racial justice in the Church.

In a statement to the denomination, directors of GCORR affirm that “the agency is in the business of building bridges of hope by equipping the Church at all levels to reach more people, more young people, and more diverse people. Changing demographics in the U.S. and the increasingly global nature of the church requires a reinvention of GCORR’s ministry. The Board of Directors is committed to changing GCORR’s work over the next four years in style, focus and direction, in order to ensure the relevance of the denomination in a changing cultural landscape.”

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, President of the Board characterizes the change GCORR will undergo in this way, “GCORR has historically worked to promote the full participation of people of color in the life of the church through the task of monitoring.  Now partnerships with annual conferences , seminaries and other connectional groups will be the focal point of our efforts to equip the church to welcome and empower the diversity in our midst.”

Twenty-one Directors met in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 25 to 27 to begin laying out the vision and strategy for the agency.  In a presentation to the board Dr. Lovett Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C., challenged GCORR to become an indispensible denominational resource by engaging in ministry that directly contributes to the mission of the church. “The United Methodist Church in the United States has a future only to the extent that it can find ways to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people. All three of these categories are directly related to the purpose of GCORR because people of color are central to all three. The United Methodist Church will either successfully achieve all three goals or will achieve none. They are inextricably linked. If we reach more people, they are likely to be younger and more diverse. If we reach younger people, they are likely to be more diverse since the younger population is vastly more diverse than the nation’s older population.”

The new board is smaller in size, reduced from 43 persons.  Elected officers include Bishop Minerva Carcaño (President), episcopal leader of the Los Angeles, California area, Rev. Joseph Harris (Vice President), Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Communications, Oklahoma Annual conference, Rev. Justin White (Secretary) Associate Pastor at Wells United Methodist Church, Mississippi Conference  and Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone (Treasurer) District Superintendent in the Northern Illinois Conference.

Other actions at the board meeting included:

  • Reducing the number of board committees from seven to five.
  • Approving a reduced budget of $2,312,854.
  • A planning session that will culminate in the spring with a detailed direction for the quadrennium.
  • Empowering the General Secretary and President of the Board to initiate, on behalf of GCORR, a conversation with the leadership of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) about aligning the work of the two agencies in preparation for General Conference 2016.

General Secretary, Erin Hawkins feels very hopeful about the changes made by the Board.  “The actions taken at this board meeting are small but significant steps to ensure that the ministry of GCORR effectively supports the church in becoming a relevant and credible witness to the power of Christ in a diverse world.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.