By Vicki Brown*
Enabling and supporting the health and well-being of institutions, systems, and networks critical to the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church is the best way for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry to be a source of renewal and growth for the church, the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino told Board directors.
"Institutions matter; they have power; they shape our lives. And they matter particularly during times of transition, change, and disruption, as the recent global financial crisis has brought home to us. Institutions in the church matter, too. They, too, have power; they, too, shape lives. And they, too, matter more than ever during times of transition and change, as the church is experiencing today," Del Pino, GBHEM's general secretary said.
Del Pino told members of the Board of Directors at the Oct. 8-10 fall meeting in Nashville that one example of how supporting institutions can be effective is the work on building a "culture of call."
"We have expanded our capacity to provide Web-based and print resources, consultations with boards of ordained ministry, theological school, and boards of higher education and campus ministry," Del Pino said.
Del Pino cited the consultation on theological education in Africa in Kampala, Uganda, as another example. Participants at the consultation identified an urgent need for assistance in developing institutions and infrastructure for theological education that are "sustainable over the long haul."
"These African representatives saw clearly what we in the church in the United States do not always grasp as clearly: Sound, healthy institutions matter, and they matter more than ever today, especially in places of volatility, transition, and instability," Del Pino said.
Del Pino said staff and directors must wrestle with questions together in the years to come.
"In nurturing an educated leadership for the church, how do we keep ourselves open to new, creative ways of learning - ways that may take us beyond the classical means for attaining a theological education, perhaps at times beyond the academy?" he asked.
Del Pino, Bishop David Yemba, and Bishop James Swanson Sr. reported in more detail on the Kampala event. GBHEM, United Methodist Communications, the General Board of Global Ministries, and the African College of Bishops collaborated on the event.
Participants were clear that theology schools in Africa need to collaborate more effectively in sharing the expertise of their respective faculties. "For example, a school in need of a trained New Testament scholar may enter into an exchange arrangement with another school that has a faculty member with the requisite training and scholarship," Del Pino said.
Swanson, resident bishop of the Holston Annual Conference, said the church in the U.S. could learn from Africa. He said he was impressed with the spouses' schools that are offered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in conjunction with theological education.
Yemba, resident bishop of the Central Congo Area, said that in congregations in Congo, members seemed to think the pastor's spouse had as much theological education as the pastor.
"Spouses are called on to lead Bible studies and do all kind of things. Because of that, we created a school for spouses," Yemba said. They learn basic Bible study, how to lead a meeting, and other skills.
"It is now a tradition in the Democratic Republic of Congo," he said.
During the opening worship on Thursday, Bishop Charles N. Crutchfield, resident bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference, talked about Peter and the disciples returning to their fishing boats after Christ was crucified.
"For Peter, the Christ adventure is gone, vanished in the denial," Crutchfield said. "Then, John sees Jesus on the shore and when they return, Jesus asked Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?'"
Peter's response that Jesus knows he loves him is "nothing short of a claim on the incredible grace of God," Crutchfield said. And when we make that claim, "We begin to understand that all our tomorrows belong not to ourselves, but to God."
The Board heard a report from Bruce Blumer, chair of the Loans and Scholarships Committee, who warned that even as online applications have increased the number of United Methodist students applying for scholarships and loans, funds are expected to be down about $1.1 million in 2010 due to declines in Special Sunday offerings and investment declines.
"Those of us who have the privilege of reviewing the applications, know what amazing people we have in The United Methodist Church," Blumer said. "Their activity in local churches and throughout the world is nothing short of stunning."
Blumer said he is especially concerned about the Gift of Hope Scholarship, which provides a $1,000 scholarship to those students who show leadership in the church.
"We all have the opportunity to help," Blumer said. He urged churches to observe United Methodist Student Day in November, and noted that contributions can now be made online at anytime through www.umcgiving.org/umstudentday. Another avenue to support loans and scholarship is through wills and annuities, Blumer said.
In other actions:
- Del Pino announced that the Rev. Randolph Cross, will join the GBHEM staff on Dec. 1 as assistant general secretary of Clergy Supervision and Accountability in the Division of Ordained Ministry. Most recently, Cross has been superintendent of the Lower James River District of the Dakotas Annual Conference, where he also served as director of connectional ministries/leadership development and dean of the cabinet.
- A 2010 budget of $39 million was approved. That puts planned expenditures down by 13 percent from 2009.
- The Board voted to hold a spring board meeting in 2010, exact dates to be determined.
- The Board elected the Rev. Ramon Evangelista to serve as chair of the Board's Personnel and Policies Committee, after the resignation of the Rev. Jimmy Nunn due to scheduling and work conflicts.
- The Rev. Kim Cape was elected by the Division of Higher Education as the division's representative to the Personnel and Policies Committee.
- Sam Taylor fellowships were approved for 27 applicants, with a total of $53,100 awarded.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.