Author: Rev. Dr. Mark R. Holland, Executive Director, Mainstream UMC
On behalf of Mainstream UMC, I am spending 11 days in the Philippines to learn, to share, to advocate, and to grow our mission together. Mainstream UMC is regularly asked and sometimes criticized for a perception that we are simply trying to preserve the institution. We have been told by some that our advocacy work feels like it is putting the institution above people. This trip to the Philippines reinforces more than ever the power of our mission together as a global church. We would do well to remember our Sunday School lesson: the church is the people. We are not lifting up the institution, we are lifting up the people it serves. We must find a path for both justice for LGBTQ persons and support for the global mission.
I am here with Rev. Rachel Baughman of Uniting Methodists/UMC Next and Rev. Rob Spencer with Mission Together. They are pastors in the North Texas Annual Conference and we share a passion for the work of the global church. We have spent the first part of our trip on the southern most island of Mindanao touring the United Methodist ministries with resident Bishop Rudy Juan in Kidapawan City. You will be glad to know Kidapawan City uses the initials KC for their hometown, just like we do for Kansas City. (You might remember that the Kansas City Chiefs just won the Super Bowl! A victory for KC’s around the world. Go KC!)
Mindanao Island is among the poorest areas of the Philippines, struggles with terrorist guerrilla groups, and this past October was hit by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake that killed at least 300 people and damaged tremendous amounts of infrastructure. Thank God the United Methodist Church is here with our global connection.
Today we met about 20 local pastors and members of the United Methodist Men who were taking their day off to volunteer to re-build the District Superintendent’s house. Picture that in the US! We also visited the Southern Philippines Methodist College that educates more teachers than any other college in the region. The college is led by President Framer Mella, herself a United Methodist preacher’s kid who is so grateful for the global connection. We also met Daniel Ela who is the liaison for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). They are doing invaluable work to help this region. These ministries are touched by the General Board of Global Ministries is assisting and the General Board of Higher Education.
We also visited Living Word Mission, a United Methodist middle/high school with 294 students. Their grounds have become a temporary tent city for 26 families displaced by the earthquake. On Valentines’ Day this week, the families will move out of the camp, after nearly 4 months, and into their new homes. Many groups have partnered with the church to make this possible.
It is easy in the United States to become crass about the “overhead” of our general agencies and our global partners. And, on that point, most of us agree we need to rethink our work in a more sustainable way. At the same time, seeing the powerful witness on the ground in hard-hit, hard-living areas is a reminder to not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We are more than an institution, we are a connection, we are the church, we are the body of Christ.
We see a lot of hope that here, literally halfway around the world, we can find the balance of justice and support. Later this week we will be at a gathering of all the 52 General Conference delegates from the Philippines as they consider both their own Christmas Covenant as well as the Protocol. The Christmas Covenant has been authored by Central Conference delegates from the Philippines, Africa, and Europe and is a path towards regional governance for the United States and the rest of the connection. The regional conference model is the best way to maintain our connectional system and allowing different regions to legislate in a manner that best fits our respective mission fields. Regional conference plans are not in conflict with the Protocol, but complimentary.
For the United States and Western Europe, the Protocol immediately stops the greatest harm by giving us an abeyance (moratorium) on trials against LGBTQ pastors and allies. The regional conference plan gives us a tangible way to eliminate the harmful language from the Book of Discipline. We need both.
Many in the Philippines are struggling with the Protocol because it allows for separation. Part of the message we are bringing is that the separation has already happened, we need to make it as amicable as possible. We have also heard that $27 million for separation is a bananas amount of money in the Philippines. Our messaging here is that other US denominations that have gone through these same divisions have spent far more than this on litigation over property. If this keeps us out of court, it is a much better use of resources.
We look forward to talking directly with delegates about how we can work together to meets the needs of those of the US and how we stay in mission together to meet the needs of United Methodists around the world. I will post an update on this conference and the dialogue that takes place. This is a rich and chaotic time in our church, to be sure. The good news is that God does God’s most creative work in the midst of chaos. Let us pray for the Spirit to move powerfully over the face of our deep division.
Please visit our Facebook page to see pictures from our trip (pictures are hard with this email server). You can find us at www.Facebook.com/MainstreamUMC. While you are there, be sure to “like” and “follow” our page.
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