Roundtables for Mission
by Elliott Wright
The concept of the roundtable is finding a fresh application in the global mission of The United Methodist Church. Although "round table"may conjure the image of King Arthur and his knights sitting in a circle symbolizing their equal standing and unity of purpose, the roundtable is also a process.
"Roundtables bring equality, equity, and empowerment into mission relationships," says Thomas Kemper, chief executive of the church's General Board of Global Ministries. Kemper is a strong supporter of the roundtable approach for maintaining mission momentum in particular contexts--typically where mission outreach is well-established.
Recent mission roundtables sponsored by Global Ministries have focused on mission in South Sudan, Cambodia, Argentina, Haiti, and Russia. Their purpose is to bring together participants and partners involved in a particular mission area to consider priorities, resources, and timelines. Critical to the process is the full participation of the communities served by the mission. They are equal partners in the venture, with the same standing as funders and supporters. "Everyone at the table has equal value, voice, and influence," says Kemper.
Participants typically include representatives from Global Ministries (including UMCOR and the Women's Division); other mission agencies (such as the five that constitute the mission in Cambodia); regional United Methodist leaders; the emerging mission area itself; US annual conferences; central conference and ecumenical partners; and large congregations involved in mission partnerships.
Mission roundtables are different from mission summits or consultations, which are primarily spiritual and social celebrations. The roundtables include prayer and worship around work sessions, often dealing with difficult issues having biblical and theological ramifications. Agendas must account for the interests and commitments of all participants. Some examples of tough questions that come up are as follows:
South Sudan Roundtable
The South Sudan Roundtable, held in August 2011, exemplifies a roundtable in action. South Sudan is a relatively new United Methodist mission area in a newly independent country. The UMC there--part of the East Africa Annual Conference--first began in the early 1990s with an internal structure, a growing number of congregations, and significant support from the Holston Annual Conference. There are strong ties to Global Ministries, particularly UMCOR, and to the Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio.
To organize the roundtable, participants convened for two days in Kampala, Uganda. The representatives from East Africa included six Sudanese pastors and lay leaders, five Individual United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) in South Sudan, and two conference officials--one of whom was Bishop Daniel Wandabula, the East Africa Central Conference leader. Global Ministries sent six representatives; the UMVIM network, one. Three each came from the Holston Annual Conference (including Bishop James Swanson) and Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio.
The event opened with worship and an overview of United Methodism in South Sudan. The Sudanese team laid out three primary areas of concern: lifting the burden of poverty (increased by the decades of insurgency and conflict that led up to independence from Sudan, now its neighbor to the north); addressing health needs (including malaria prevention, clean water, nutrition, and health services); and evangelism (increasing the number of congregations and districts). One goal is to develop congregations in the large city of Juba in South Sudan's northern area. United Methodists are currently concentrated in the area of Yei, a city in the southwest.
Fred Dearing--a mission volunteer from the Holston Conference who serves as South Sudan's mission superintendent--registered the hope that Sudanese United Methodists will carry responsibility for achieving their priorities. Bishop Swanson confirmed his conferences' continuing commitment to assist with ministries of education, health, and church development and to provide volunteer labor and supplies. Ginghamsburg Church will continue to focus on the Aweil district in the north, while working with Global Ministries to identify another large US congregation willing to partner in expanding the mission to Juba. According to Grace Nakajje, the East Africa Annual Conference communicator, several other US conferences and congregations have the region on their mission radars and could probably be encouraged to join in the next roundtable in a year or two.
Also last August, a different kind of roundtable--one in a series of annual events--took place in Cambodia. The Methodist Mission in this Southeast Asian country has five sponsoring agencies: Global Ministries; the mission arm of The United Methodist Church in France and Switzerland; the Korean Methodist Church; the Methodist Church in Singapore; and the World Federation of Chinese Methodist Churches. After separate mission launches, the five agencies came together in the early 1990s to pursue a collaborative mission. The Cambodia Methodist Mission has developed a plan for realizing an autonomous Methodist Church in Cambodia by 2016. Cambodia is a Global Ministries' mission initiative and has garnered numerous US partners.
The Cambodia Roundtable--a kind of coordinating board--meets in Phnom Penh with equal Cambodian and US participation, according to the Rev. Jong Sung Kim, Global Ministries' staff liaison to Cambodia. "We review the ministries, set mission and funding priorities, and look at the whole budget," Kim explains. One recurring priority is the education and ordination of pastors and, more recently, equipping indigenous pastors to serve as district superintendents.
In November 2011, there were 140 Methodist congregations with 8,000 members in Cambodia. The church had 10 districts corresponding to 10 provinces; by mid-2011, all had indigenous superintendents. The superintendent of the church body is still a missionary, but Kim predicted that a native Cambodian would fill that spot this year.
The transfer of church leadership to local conference members can be a difficult task. Even the Apostle Paul, evidenced in his New Testament letters, harbored a tendency to want to maintain influence with the churches he founded. Yet he realized that local leadership was essential, in part so he could move on to other places. He had to trust the new Christians to become the bearers of faith. In First Thessalonians 1:4-5a, Paul states that the holy spirit had come to the new churches and into his own life: "For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction...."
The Argentina roundtable meets every two years and last convened in November 2010. Partners of this Latin American roundtable include the Evangelical Methodist Church of
The 2010 roundtable was the fifth meeting for this body, which seems to expand each time it is convened. Bishop Raoul Sosa of Uruguay attended in the interest of expanding mission collaboration in the region. Proceedings got underway with a presentation on political and economic conditions in the country. It was noted that increasing democratic freedoms, beginning in 2007, were welcomed. Bishop Frank de Nully Brown of Argentina reported on the strategic planning of the Argentine Methodist Church.
Partners laid out their own situations and financial capacities. One issue on the table concerned funding. It is likely that block grants to the Argentine church from both the Canadian and French/Swiss churches may be reduced or eliminated. Other pressing concerns included growing pluralism within churches, ministries with college students, clergy training in Wesleyan studies, and funding to cover pastors' needs. Methodists in Patagonia are concerned about mining safety, which struck cords of interest among the Canadians. Consensus was reached on new proposals for funding through The Advance, the second-mile mission giving channel of Global Ministries. One such project is the Cristo Rey Congregation on the north side of Buenos Aires. Other new church starts are in Jujuy and San Louis provinces.
Haiti and Russia Roundtables
The roundtable approach has been of enormous value in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. The need was--and is--so great and the response so massive that a mission roundtable was quickly organized to set relief and rehabilitation priorities. Key to the success of this process is the involvement of the Methodist Church in Haiti. Other key partners include UMCOR, the UMVIM network, and the Methodist-related humanitarian-response organizations in Canada, Great Britain, and the Caribbean. Habitat for Humanity and several health organizations are also working with the Methodist response.
The Haiti Roundtable, which has met several times, has a particular interest in assuring that post-earthquake rehabilitation programs take communities and families into economic account. UMVIM teams work alongside paid Haitian workers in cleanup and rebuilding. The teams are scheduled in ways that allow the completion of projects in stipulated time frames.
The Rev. James Gulley, Global Ministries/UMCOR coordinator in Haiti, finds the roundtable model valuable in setting the course for long-term rehabilitation. He emphasizes the central role of the Haitians in the extensive network of ministries.
A process of consultations linked to the Russia Mission Initiative evolved smoothly into the roundtable process, with the first such event held in the spring of 2009 at the conclusion of a meeting of Global Ministries' directors. Methodism in Russia and surrounding countries was revived in the early 1990s after decades of suppression by the Soviet Union. In fact, Russia became the first of Global Ministries' new mission initiatives and has garnered significant support from partners in the United States and Western Europe. Many large congregations provide both financial assistance and short-term technical and educational personnel. Most Russian congregations have partner support from US churches.
Today the Russia Initiative, organized into annual conferences, has all-indigenous pastors. On its own, the Russian Church has planned for a more proactive, self-sustaining future. By 2015, Russian United Methodists aim to be growing dynamically, helping people become committed Christians, and attaining recognition in their society through their quality of ministry, education, self-sufficiency, evangelism, and social service.
This developing roadmap was at the heart of the 2009 Russia Roundtable, which was attended by Russian church leaders, Global Ministries' staff, and partners from annual conferences and US congregations. Bishop Hans Växby of the Eurasia Episcopal Area explained that, when the church in Russia spoke of greater self-sufficiency, it did not mean it wanted less mission money but that it "might want to spend money in a different way...allowing congregations to reach toward greater maturity."
"We build a church together," Bishop Växby said at a meeting in April 2011. The value of the United Methodist connection, he noted, is that mission partners help one another not only with money but in building spiritual courage--in supporting the belief that God can accomplish God's purposes.
A Roundtable Guide
In collaboration with partners, Global Ministries is developing a "Mission Roundtable Guide." It will be released after review by a wide range of past and future participants. "Mission roundtables are more than instruments of mission," Thomas Kemper says. "They also include theological and philosophical understanding that goes beyond method. The concept does not need an owner, not even Global Ministries. The manual will describe the spirit and practical steps for making the roundtable experience one of empowerment, equality, and full participation."
Elliott Wright is a freelance writer who formerly served with Global Ministries in the area of public relations and communications.
Date posted: Feb 15, 2012