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Christian Unity directors explore church's global nature

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    CALLED OUT From United Methodist News Service ... Monday, September 30, 2002 Christian Unity directors explore church s global nature By Linda Bloom* DAYTONA
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2002
      CALLED OUT

      From United Methodist News Service
      --------

      Monday, September 30, 2002
      Christian Unity directors explore church's global nature
      By Linda Bloom*

      DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (UMNS) � The challenge of what it means to be a
      global denomination has become part of a continuing discussion within
      the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious
      Concerns.

      During its Sept. 26-29 annual meeting in Daytona Beach, the
      commission considered its connections with United Methodists
      elsewhere, other Methodist bodies, and ecumenical and interfaith
      partners.

      As part of its effort to reach out internationally, the commission is
      dispatching directors to visit United Methodists outside the United
      States. A small group of directors met in September with United
      Methodists and members of the ecumenical community in Norway. Other
      directors will visit Nigeria, Russia, Switzerland and the Philippines
      within the next year.

      In a draft version of a paper on the global nature of the church
      given to directors, the Rev. Bruce Robbins, the commission�s chief
      executive, provided an outline for the discussion. He noted that
      between 1 and 3 million United Methodists live outside the United
      States, and that Methodism worldwide is about four times greater in
      membership than United Methodism. In addition, partner church
      arrangements with other denominations have existed in various
      countries around the world.

      As U.S. United Methodists increase their contact with those in the
      church's central conferences (regional units) elsewhere, they find
      differences. "Nearly everyone in the church believes that the present
      structure is inadequate. It assumes an equality and justice among all
      United Methodists and it does not exist," Robbins wrote. "For reasons
      of history, geography and social context, the central conferences �
      and their place and role within the UMC � shall be a significant
      focus of the 2004 General Conference."

      Other challenges arise when the circle is widened to include other
      Methodist bodies and ecumenical partners from, say, the World Council
      of Churches. "Historically, it is difficult to draw a doctrinal or
      theological line firmly around United Methodists," he continued.
      "However, it may be more theologically sound to draw the line around
      Methodists worldwide. There, the 'distinctives' of the tradition are
      more obvious; that which sets us apart from other families of the
      Christian community is simpler to articulate."

      As part of a response to Robbins' paper, Bishop Walter Klaiber of
      Germany told directors he sees two compelling issues forcing the
      church into being as "catholic" � meaning universal � as possible.
      One issue is to express the universality of the church and the other
      issue is to function ecumenically at the local level.

      He noted that the Roman Catholic Church is the most impressive
      example of how a church can be truly global but also connected
      locally. A Protestant model, he added, is the Lutheran World
      Federation, in which national churches come together in a global
      organization.

      A current problem among Methodists is the separation of bodies
      emerging from the British Methodist Church and the United Methodist
      Church. "Methodists are competing in some regions more than some
      (different) denominations do," Klaiber said.

      Acting on behalf of the European Methodist Council, Klaiber raised
      that concern at the 2001 World Methodist Conference in Brighton,
      England, asking that a "manual of etiquette" among Methodist bodies
      be developed. When the World Methodist Council Executive Committee
      met in Norway in September, it unanimously adopted a resolution
      offering "Guidelines for the Mission and Ministry of Member Churches
      of the World Methodist Council Working in the Same Area."

      According to the guidelines, Methodist churches planning new work in
      a region should notify other council members and try to minimize or
      prevent duplication of resources. Where member churches already work
      alongside each other, they should "be encouraged to join together or
      at least to work in a spirit of consultation and cooperation." The
      different Methodist traditions also should communicate fully, sharing
      their "resources and experiences for the furtherance of God's
      kingdom."

      Klaiber, who serves on the presidium of the World Methodist Council,
      believes the council could be strengthened to become "a real
      connection" for Methodist bodies on a global level.

      Within the United Methodist Church, other agencies, such as the
      General Council on Ministries, continue to explore the "global
      nature" concept. A major issue, according to Don Hayashi, a council
      staff executive, is whether the denomination is willing to be
      transformed into a "servant body" rather than hold on to its power
      base.

      Bishop Melvin Talbert reminded commission directors that the
      denomination�s Council of Bishops had taken up the "global nature"
      issue during the 1988-92 quadrennium and added that the bishops'
      report had stressed the importance of discussing the concept with
      Methodists worldwide "before we start putting something on paper."

      Talbert, who serves as the bishops' ecumenical officer, said he
      thinks the council and Commission on Christian Unity and
      Interreligious Concerns should continue to pursue the issue together.

      In other business, commission members received a report from a newly
      formed search committee charged with finding a successor to Robbins,
      who will complete a 12-year tenure as general secretary this year.
      Bishop Fritz Mutti, commission president, had written last fall to
      the General Council on Ministries � which elects general secretaries
      � asking that Robbins be allowed to continue in his post until July
      2004. In his Sept. 20, 2001, letter, Mutti, who also leads the search
      committee, cited the commission�s demanding responsibilities from
      General Conference, touching on the issues of racism and
      homosexuality, as reasons for the extension.

      Mutti reported that he expects the General Council on Ministries to
      act on the request at its meeting this October. The search committee
      will proceed in its work once a response is given.

      The commission is continuing to schedule "listening events" as part
      of its mandate from the 2000 General Conference to encourage broader
      participation on issues related to homosexuality and the unity of the
      church.

      So far, such events have been held in the North Central, South
      Central and Northeast jurisdictions; within one central conference
      (Northern Europe); with one general church body, the Council of
      Bishops; and with representatives of unofficial caucuses of United
      Methodists.

      The Rev. Greg Stover, who leads the commission's task force on
      homosexuality and unity with Jan Love, reported that the next
      listening event is set with the General Council on Ministries on Oct.
      25, and another will follow Dec. 11-12 in the Western Jurisdiction.
      The team designing an event with ethnic groups will meet Dec. 5.
      Still to be scheduled are listening events with youth and church
      members in the Southeast.

      "We�re making significant progress on a rather ambitious agenda for
      this quadrennium," Stover said.

      Offering personal observations about the process, he noted a
      "reticence" on the part of many United Methodists to speak publicly
      on the issue of homosexuality. Some bishops, for example, are
      reluctant to make comments for fear of being "labeled" or seen as
      "divisive" within the church.

      Another issue is whether the discussions should even continue. "There
      are a number of persons that think the dialogue is over," Stover
      explained, either because they believe General Conference already has
      settled the matter or because they believe that dialogue just delays
      any real change in the church.

      The task force will make an analysis of the listening events once all
      are complete, and it hopes to prepare resource materials eventually.

      Directors adopted program priorities for 2003-2006, setting goals for
      the areas of interreligious concerns, the nature of the church,
      Christian unity, Christian/ecumenical formation, the Wesleyan
      tradition and emerging opportunities.

      Top priorities within those categories include:

      � Exploring relations with people of other faith traditions.

      � Recognizing the church�s common humanity with Muslim people while
      exploring a deeper understanding of Islam.

      � Working toward eradicating racism in the church.

      � Continuing to develop opportunities for dialogue around issues
      related to theological diversity in the church.

      � Examining the ecumenical and interreligious dimensions "of what it
      means to make disciples of Christ."

      � Providing leadership to the denomination in understanding relations
      with other Christian denominations and bodies.

      � Continuing existing bilateral dialogues and responding to new
      opportunities for dialogue.

      � Strengthening the commission�s communications with annual
      conferences, districts and local congregations.

      � Making training and resources available.

      � Promoting understanding among seminary students of the
      Wesleyan-United Methodist heritage.

      � Continuing pan-Methodist discussion through the Commission on Pan
      Methodist Cooperation and Union, which includes members of the
      historically black African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist
      Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal denominations in
      addition to United Methodists.

      � Continuing to address the impact of racism and seek avenues for
      healing, reconciliation and justice for "those who left" the church
      and "those who stayed" � African Americans who belong to one of the
      historically black denominations as well as those in United
      Methodism.

      *Bloom is news director in United Methodist News Service�s New York
      office.


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