Church Leaders Speak Out On Economic Suffering
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
Feb. 24, 2009
The world's financial crisis is bringing hardship and suffering to people across the globe, and The United Methodist Church's focus areas of ministry are among the most effective responses, according to three United Methodist leaders.
United Methodists must engage in ministries with the poor; tackle the diseases of poverty that limit life, health and wholeness; and develop principled Christian leaders for the church and the world, the three leaders said in a statement. The message, addressed to the people of The United Methodist Church, was signed by the president of the Council of Bishops, chairperson of the Connectional Table and chairperson of the table of general agency executives.
The letter, signed by Bishop Gregory Palmer, Bishop John Hopkins and Neil Alexander (in photo at right), notes a loss of 50 million jobs in the world by Dec. 31, adding to the poverty rolls and leading to an increase in global unrest and violence and the death of up to 400,000 children by 2015 if the situation continues. It acknowledges the economic constraints placed on churches, annual conferences and churchwide agencies, forcing them to reevaluate their ministries while keeping their focus. The situation is affecting the wealthy and poor alike, creating misery and scarcity of necessities, they note.
"It is a prophetic reminder that our destiny as a worldwide community and a global church is interwoven with complex bonds of prosperity, security, dignity and justice," the three leaders said. "We reclaim anew Jesus' teaching, 'as you (cared for) the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' as an urgent appeal for how we can live today."
The financial crisis was discussed recently at a meeting of the Table of General Secretaries, presidents of the agencies, the Council of Bishops' ecumenical officer, Bishop Hopkins (in photo below) and Mary Brooke Casad from the Connectional Table, and Bishop Palmer (at left).
They wanted to use the opportunity to let United Methodists know that church leaders are focused on the mission and "upon ways in which we can respond to the church and world that is experiencing dis-ease because of the downturn in the global economy," said Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
Acknowledging the challenges and hardships faced by people in every part of the world, Palmer said "the church is needed now more than ever" and that he and church leaders are "absolutely convinced that our four foci will help us stay on task around the mission of reaching the world for Jesus Christ and making it a transforming world."
A conversation is occurring across the church about ways to reenergize outreach to the world and to offer hospitality to those seeking deeper spiritual fulfillment. Rethink Church, the leaders say, is an avenue United Methodist constituencies are using in self-examination to move their outreach beyond the church doors. Rethink Church is an awareness campaign designed to redefine church as a 365-days-a-year experience, in which people seeking a church community can become involved at many different levels.
During the 40 days of Lent, people engage in the practice of self-denial and sacrifice as they look for hope, resurrection and new life. However, the three officials declare, faith "does not rise and fall with the financial markets but resides in the enduring love of God, who is present with us as we struggle and strive to love God and our neighbors." They advise United Methodists to recommit to three basic rules: do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.
The letter invites United Methodists to embrace life with hope, expectancy and the assurance that God, through Christ, "is calling us to prepare our hearts, minds and hands to work for the New Creation."
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.