African churches desire equal voice

By Isaac Broune (UMNS)

African United Methodists desire a greater voice, more sharing of power, and the ability to adapt some church rules to local contexts. And a study committee exploring the global nature of the denomination is listening.

After meeting with church leaders throughout the continent, the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church decided to work toward goals that include defining the covenant that unites the global church, promoting greater regional connections, exploring how the denomination’s Book of Discipline can be adapted for local needs, and examining the U.S. and international roles of general agencies.

Throughout their visit, committee leaders were encouraged by the church in Africa’s great commitment to and desire to serve the United Methodist Church.

“We understood over and over again that it was a vision to not only serve the needs of people in this country, but also to be engaged in worldwide ministries,” said Bishop Scott Jones, study committee chair.

Hearing global perspectives. The committee studying the global nature of the church visited Africa in August 2010 as part of its mission to hear representative voices throughout the denomination before it makes its recommendations to the 2012 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.

Divided in four groups, study committee members listened to church representatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe from August 14 to 17.

The committee asked three basic questions: “How is God at work in your church to accomplish the mission of the United Methodist Church? What are the things that are working well? If you could change one thing in the United Methodist Church, what would you change?”

The whole committee then met in Abidjan from August 19-22, where members shared their experiences and heard from leaders of the Côte d’Ivoire Annual (regional) Conference.

After listening to African leaders speak of their desire to be of greater service to the denomination, the study committee assigned four goals to subcommittees.

The first goal is to develop a covenant that helps the church express its theology in ways—including multiple translations of resources—that serve the global church. As United Methodists think more globally, Jones said, “They understand cultural differences in relating to each other.”

Another subcommittee will look at ways to provide greater regional connections. “In Africa, there are three central conferences. How often do people from all parts of Africa meet to talk about things like theological education and other issues related to them?” Jones asked.

A third subcommittee will prepare recommendations on adaptations that can be made to the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of rules and bylaws, to meet local needs. A fourth will study general agencies to determine whether they are global agencies or U.S. agencies.

Voices of hope. “Coming to Africa to hear the voice of the church is something that we need to celebrate,” Bishop Benjamin Boni of Côte d’Ivoire said in his welcoming words to the committee.

That optimism extended throughout the consultation.

Bishop John Innis of Liberia, a study committee member, said the African visit promises “great things for the church by the time the committee completes its work.”

Boni also expects a lot from the study. He said the denomination needs to advance into “the deep waters of evangelization” and social action with efficient policies that bring forth the glory of God to the world.

“African realities are different from those of Asia or America. The study committee’s concern to hear all parties involved in the global church needs to be praised, all the more so since we all have certain features in common as well as specificities,” Boni said. “We must continue to live the global dimension of the denomination while taking into account our specific characteristics. This is extremely important.”

Isaac Broune is a United Methodist communicator based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. This article was distributed by United Methodist News Service.

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