Convocation Looks at Asian American Involvement in United Methodist Church
San Jose, California, August 11, 2010--More than 200 persons from 10 sub-ethnic groups gathered in San Jose, California, at the end of July for the first convocation of Asian American United Methodists in 11 years. Among the highlights were frank assessments by several United Methodist Asian American bishops on the relation of Asian American ministries to the rest of the church.
The convocation was sponsored by the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM), one of the recognized ethnic caucuses of the denomination. Representatives came from Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Formosan, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, South Asian, and Vietnamese groups. They shared in worship, study and visioning for the future.
In his comments, Bishop Hee Soo Jung of the Chicago Episcopal Area called for "new moments of dreaming about being God's people." He reported a continuing loss of confidence among members in church structures and leaders. Some United Methodists, after a lifetime's commitment, do not attend church anymore. They wonder, he said, "What's the point? What happens in those places is just disconnected from the realities of what people experience in their everyday lives."
Bishop Jung saw the present as a time of promise. "We are in this place of confusion where our maps no longer serve our needs not because of unsolvable world changes," he said, "but because the God of creation is calling us forth to imagine new things. We need to cultivate an environment of trust and expectation among people. As Asians, we need to be the relational presence in the dialogue, providing insight and guidance to the church. We need to be connected with other ethnic groups across the church. We need to attend to the whole United Methodist system, to join the vital movement of Christian witness to the world."
The bishop pointed to a number of denominational studies that promise strengthened links with the church as a whole.
Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Seattle Episcopal Area shared some of Bishop Jung's concerns, especially with regard to a decline in membership and within the church as a whole. He advised the church reorganizations taken in environments of fear and uncertainties could be unwise. "Without the deep cultural understanding of changing situations, mere reorganization does not work," he said.
The bishop from Seattle observed that as ethnic perspectives are assimilated into the dominant culture, the Asians are slowly losing their cultural identity and mission. He praised the Asians' and Pacific Islanders' unique cultural contribution to the denomination.
He said: "There is a need for a strong Asian American and Pacific Islander caucus to be heard, to be there to advocate for their community, to be consulted when asked for direction and mission. We understand our cultural values, but we have to teach the general community what those are."
Retired Bishop Roy Sano, the federation's representative to the United Methodist Connectional Table, a kind of coordinating group, provided an update on the continuing discussion about "the global nature of the church," a topic under consideration in the denomination for decades. He also shared the joys and concerns heard around the table.
One joy, he said, is the gift Asian American congregations bring through their culture and bilingual capacity, which enhances participation in the making of disciples for the transformation of the world. "Bringing another language in the church is an apostolic gift," Bishop Sano told the convocation.
Representatives of the Council of Bishops, Connectional Table, and general agencies and commissions took part in the convocation. Bishop Elias Galvan brought greetings from MARCHA, the Hispanic/Latino caucus.
Considerable time at the convocation was spent considering issues of immigration. The Rev. Bill Melford of the General Board of Church and Society, Panravee Vongjaroenrat of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Bea Pangilinan of the Asian Law Alliance, a local non-profit legal resource organization, talked about the ramifications of the current debate leading up to the proposed comprehensive immigration reform.
Don Hayashi, director of development at Wesley Community Center, Dayton, Ohio, is the current president of the federation.
Several groups and committees concerned with Asian American ministries met prior to the convocation. These include the Asian American Language Ministries Committee, the Asian American Pacific Islander Clergywomen Association, and the Western Jurisdiction Coordinating Committee on Asian American Ministries.
The convocation ended with a banquet honoring the Rev. Lloyd and Marion Wake. Wake, now 88 years old, was long a peace and justice advocate within The United Methodist Church. He retired this year after 20 years as the Asian American Endowment Fund Committee of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists.
Primary information in this account is from a report by Pong Javier, secretary of the board of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists. It is used with appreciation.
Date posted: Aug 12, 2010