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United Methodist initiatives make progress, bishops learn

4/30/1998 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

By Robert Lear*

LINCOLN, Neb. (UMNS) - Two United Methodist programs are making headway toward their goals of helping Hispanics and serving communities in need, the church's bishops learned at the midpoint of a weeklong meeting.

"Some of the seeds of faith that have been planted" in ministry among Hispanics are yielding results, said Hank Ayala, a lay "missioner" from Grand Island, Neb. The training of 2,000 such missioners is a major goal of the churchwide National Plan for Hispanic Ministry.

Other goals include starting 100 new congregations, 1,000 faith communities, 62 church school programs and 3,000 outreach ministries, and revitalizing 100 congregations. A report to the bishops showed that three of those five goals have already been more than halfway achieved, and progress is nearing the 50 percent mark on a fourth.

The Hispanic ministry program was one of several efforts on which the Council of Bishops focused April 29. They also discussed an urban ministry program, efforts to relate more closely with African-American Methodist churches, and an appeal from the bishop in Indonesia. More than 100 active and retired bishops are in Lincoln for their weeklong spring meeting, which ends May 1.

About two-thirds of the 66 annual conferences in the United States have responded positively to the Hispanic ministry program, said the Rev. Jose L. Palos of New York City, director of the effort. "We are progressing slowly but surely."

"The plan has given us material to focus this outreach," said the Rev. Patrick Bruns, a Rockford, Ill., pastor who is part of a multicultural team of ministers and others. "The highest form of Christian love is when we reach out to strangers."

Turning to the urban ministry effort, the bishops heard that 170 sites are active in the United States and Zimbabwe. New sites are being started at a rate of 15 or more per quarter, and 34 annual conferences and more than 200 congregations are participating.

Known formally as "Communities of Shalom," the initiative was begun in l992 in the wake of riots in Los Angeles. Lives "are being transformed because Shalom is becoming a reality in the midst of far too many unreal circumstances," according to a report by the national Shalom committee, chaired by Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, Chicago.

The program has a goal of starting 300 Communities of Shalom throughout the world by the year 2000. "Six years after the Los Angeles riots, Shalom is on the move," said program director Lynda R. Byrd of New York City.

In many instances, work is carried out in cooperation with existing community organizations. In Philadelphia, 25 jobs were created, seven abandoned homes were rehabilitated, 24 townhouses were built and a senior citizens' apartment building was constructed through the efforts of United Methodist churches and community organizations. In Houston, communities in three wards are being served by a mobile medical team assembled with the help of hospitals and groups.

In other business, the bishops:

· Heard a report on conversations aimed at fostering a closer relationship among the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist churches.

"We've moved to a new level of bonding among people" in conversations so far, said the council's ecumenical officer, Bishop William Boyd Grove of Charleston, W.Va. All four churches have approved creation of a Pan-Methodist Commission on Union, and the panel held its second meeting April 15-16. Next March, the bishops of all four churches will meet again in Atlanta, with the theme "Requirements for Union -- Repentance, Forgiveness, Reconciliation."

When the 2000 General Conference meets in Cleveland, the United Methodist bishops will be asked to endorse an "Act of Repentance for Racism," proposed by the church's General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Grove also said that bilateral dialogue with the Episcopal Church in the United States is about to begin. The archbishop of Canterbury, head of the world's Anglicans, has said he may visit the Council of Bishops and the General Conference in 2000.

· Heard an appeal for help from Bishop Humala Doloksaribu of the Methodist Church in Indonesia.

"Indonesia is in an emergency situation" politically and economically, Doloksaribu said. He cited the 53-cents-per-day standard minimum wage, the collapse of 85 percent of the country's stores and factories, the 35 percent annual inflation rate, and the burning of more than 500 churches as evidence of the nation's straits. Indonesia needs help along the lines of the Marshall Plan, with which the United States assisted in Europe's recovery after World War II, the bishop said.

Such a plan, he said, would be used to rescue the 157 ordained and 119 supply pastors who lead Indonesia's Methodist Church. Money is needed for medicine, basic necessities and assistance for farmers, he said.

Though regular financing is coming from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Doloksaribu said, Indonesia needs about $200,000 in emergency help.

The council expressed concern and referred the appeal to its standing committee on relational concerns for action.

· Gave special recognition to Bishop Emilio de Carvalho of Angola and Bishop Onema Fama of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Each of the African bishops has served 26 years as an active bishop, longer than any of their colleagues on the council.

· Gave a standing ovation for Barbara Ricks Thompson, the outgoing staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, for her service to the church.

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*Lear is a retired staff member of United Methodist News Service living in Wernersville, Pa.

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