United Methodist Africa

United Methodism is alive and
energetic in Africa.

The first meeting in Africa of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church is notable for many reasons, but some are so transparent as to be easily overlooked. The leaders of the church, including bishops and general secretaries, are discussing common issues, and some not-so-common, in a forum that, to me, seems unprecedented. The common issues include church growth, training for clergy and laity, tackling poverty and ending the diseases of poverty with a clear concern for children. There seems to be more support for these four than I’ve seen in previous years.

They are being discussed within the context of church history and theology. In the days ahead I expect these leaders will find common words to describe how they will propose them to the church, but similar proposals are already coming from different places within the church. Most recently, the general boards and agencies (responsible for mission and ministry by the church) presented four variations of these to the Connectional Table, a coordinating body with no program responsibilities. And numerous presentations by bishops at the Council meeting have raised them.

The Maputo gathering has also demonstrated the reality of a global church more concretely than any pronouncement could ever capture. And it has given faces to this concept, making it personal and human.

In his welcome to the Council, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, gave a history of the church in Mozambique that was remarkable for its depth. He recounted the church’s role providing education and health care otherwise denied to Mozambicans under colonial control. He spoke of the role of the church in empowering people who were disempowered by colonization, and in recent history by war.

I’ve been impressed by the theological insights provided by African worship leaders and speakers. Bishop Benjamin Boni of Cote d’Ivoire spoke of the role of the church as a community of healing and action. As a church historian, he has a long view and given the unsettled state of Cote d’Ivoire today, his guidance is critically important to the whole church to understand how to minister in a time of great change.

In fact, the story of the church in Cote d’Ivoire deserves a narrative of its own. Brought in by vote of General Conference, the only church-wide governing body, in 2000 the annual conference of Cote d’Ivoire not only added 750,000 United Methodists, it added a well-organized and well-led conference to the global church. That this annual conference has become an integral part of the church in such a short time is more than remarkable, it demonstrates an adeptness of leadership that is admirable. Undeniably, Cote d’Ivoire United Methodists are part of the family and they bring a richness of leadership and faithfulness that is a gift to the whole church.

And it’s also rather amazing that Bishop Boni has not only led the Cote d’Ivoire church to this place of seamless connection, he has also taken responsibility for episcopal leadership for mission outreach in Cameroon and Senegal. That he has taken on this responsibility while also integrating the programs and administrative functions of the Cote d’Ivoire Annual Conference into the global church means he did more than hit the ground running. He was well down the road leading the church in his region into the future.

United Methodists in Cote d’Ivoire are playing an integral role in West Africa for church extension and mission outreach, making the claim of a global United Methodist Church an exciting and meaningful reality.

In his meditation this morning Bishop David Kikumba Yemba of Central Congo, told the assembly this meeting might be identified as the time of a “Maputo Declaration” in which the church sees itself in its wholeness as a globally connected community of faith.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Pittsburgh Area told of partnerships with significant non-church organizations including the United Nations Foundation, Sports Illustrated and the National Basketball Association Foundation, NBA Cares, to provide bed nets to children in malarial regions around the world.

There appears to be a convergence of concerns for mission and ministry that is exciting leaders and laity, and making global connections. As Bishop Bickerton said as he closed his presentation, “May it be so.”

Join the conversation!

Post a reply in the form below.

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image