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Connectional Table explores church relationships

May 23, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
 
The group responsible for developing and interpreting a global vision for the United Methodist Church spent its second meeting reviewing its relationship with bishops, annual conferences and churchwide agencies.

The 60-member Connectional Table, meeting May 17-19 in Chicago, affirmed the collaborative efforts of agencies in programming and ministry in the 2005-08 quadrennium.

Churchwide agencies have been perceived as working in “silos”—apart from one another—in some ways, said Bishop John Hopkins, chairman of the table and leader of the denomination’s Ohio East Area. “I think that has had some merit in the past, but we celebrated that there seems to be a realization that it takes more than one and that you can’t do it just from your agency,” he told United Methodist News Service May 20.

The table affirmed the denomination’s global nature and collaboration, reflected in the church’s response to the Dec. 26 tsunami; the progress of the Central Conference Pension Initiative; and interagency collaboration to support church growth in Africa.

The members of the table also discussed the Council of Bishops’ 2005-08 focus, “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”

“We are trying to understand how annual conference and churchwide agencies work to get results in making disciples for the transformation of the world,” Hopkins said.

General Conference, the top legislative body of the 11-million member denomination, created the Connectional Table in 2004. The table comprises staff executives and officers of denominational agencies, as well as representatives of ethnic caucuses and jurisdictions around the world. Delegates to General Conference eliminated the General Council on Ministries, a Dayton, Ohio, -based agency that had served as the program-coordinating agency since the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches merged in 1968.

Two sessions of the table’s gathering focused on developing a state of the church report, which the table decided at its January meeting to present to the denomination in 2006. The members discussed the report’s purpose, audience and format, and how it would help the worldwide church.

“The members don’t want the report to be something else that people feel they have to read but (something that) will engage them on significant issues,” Hopkins said.

The table also heard an update from a bishops’ task force on unity, formed in response to talk of schism in the denomination. The task force is seeking to discern “the main thing that we all are so passionate about,” believing that “if we can move on the main thing, some unity will occur as we become more intentional in working together,” Hopkins said.

Historically, the church’s unity has been as a Wesleyan group that combines Christian formation with personal and social holiness, he said.

“A lot of people want to fix the church, repair it, problem-solve,” he said. “We’ve pointed out that whenever you try to problem-solve, you impose your idea on the church rather than appreciating what God gives you.” The table is engaged in a process called “appreciative inquiry,” which uses phases of discovery, dreaming, designing and destiny to figure out how the make disciples for the transformation of the world.

Hopkins said people often ask what can be done about disunity in the church instead of try to find signs of unity among people with differences in opinion.

“The Connectional Table is saying rather than us trying to design a way to unify the church, how can we find a way to call forth that kind of passionate exuberance and thanksgiving that comes when one has been in a community of love and acceptance,” Hopkins said. The table wants to find ways to increase collaboration and broad-based action in the church, he said.

He wants the table to become a place where “we take things out of the parking lot and hallways and bring them into the living room, family room and kitchen of the entire church and talk about it.”

In other action, the Connectional Table:

  • Approved the disbursement of World Service dollars for agencies and groups to study ministry and global AIDS, and for the survey from the churchwide Commission on the Status and Role of Women to study sexual abuse.
  • Decided that its April 2006 meeting will be in Varna, Bulgaria. The church in Bulgaria was oppressed for years under communism and is now thriving.
  • Honored the Rev. Joe Harris, who leaves the head post of the churchwide Commission on United Methodist Men, and Irene Howard, who was counsel for the General Council on Finance and Administration and staffed the table’s transition team.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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