The General Commission on Religion and Race completed a review of the California-Nevada Annual Conference at the end of January. Its report is expected to be released within about three weeks.
GCORR acts in partnership with Annual Conferences as mandated by the Discipline to monitor efforts to become a truly inclusive Church. The Rev. Barbara R.I. Isaacs, GCORR Team Leader for Program Ministries, headed the multi-cultural, multi-racial review team. The audit was requested in December, 2008 by the Cal-Nevada Commission on Religion and Race and Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., in collaboration with Director of Connectional Ministries, the Rev. Linda Wiberg.
The goal of such a review is to "dismantle racism and empower leadership," Isaacs said. The Conference's last review was in 1999.
The team acknowledged that an audit "can raise some anxiety that we are looking for fault lines, and that you may have to come before a jury of some sort." But, "This is not what this is about," Isaacs said. "This is a partnership."
"We realize that California-Nevada has been a model for immediately addressing issues of race and gender throughout The United Methodist Church," she added.
Along with Isaacs, the team consisted of the Rev. William Wallace, GCORR Board Member; Elaine Moy, Assistant General Secretary, Finance and Administration, for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women; and GCORR consultant, Dr. Karyn Trader-Leigh.
The team began its work by meeting with Conference leadership – including the bishop and superintendents, Conference staff and lay leaders, and Conference boards and agency chairs – throughout the morning of January 29. The afternoon session was devoted to hearing from Conference leaders who are persons of color, along with designated representatives of Conference racial and ethnic caucuses. The following day was given over to collaborative work by representatives of Conference boards, agencies, Cabinet, Conference staff, and leadership of ethnic caucuses and committees.
The team invited Bishop Brown to offer his observations.
"We are clay pots into which God has poured precious and holy work," he said. "It is work that we struggle to contain, struggle to be worthy of, and struggle to carry to completion in a way that will please God.
The bishop said the "power structure" is often viewed as being in the hands of the majority culture. Yet in the California-Nevada Annual Conference, he pointed out, for only eight of its 41 years has it had a white "CEO," or bishop.
"We have to be intentional about it being a community where everyone has value and place, including the majority community," he said.
The bishop said a part of his dream for this Conference is that "we will live into the full possibility of leading The United Methodist Church in being a Church for the 21st Century, in which we are genuinely multi-cultural, genuinely able to adapt the way that we are in ministry – and able to deal with the issues and responsibilities that go along with doing that."
He said, "Staff cannot lead us into that. This really requires a whole new understanding of how we are in church together. Much of it will have to take place at the local church level."
And, he added, we can have "an intentional ministry to the poor of all cultures. One of the dimensions is the reality that poor people often have been looked at with suspicion."
The bishop said we would like Cal-Nevada to be sufficiently diverse that any new person would be able to see, "in 80% of our congregations, someone who looks like them."
The work of small groups
The GCORR team created small groups, each one having a diverse representation of the people present. Some of their reflections:
Conduct multi-cultural education at all levels of our church – from children's Sunday school all the way up to adult education – having a faith component, a theological component.
"As the body of Christ we need to stop looking at the secular community to fix us. We need to look at the Gospel."
"Reclaim evangelism. Go out there and serve the people on the margins, and remember to put Christ first, in all things. Revisit the Four Areas of Focus. If we lift up and reclaim evangelism then we can, as a church, show the world we truly are the United Methodist Church we want to be."
The Rev. Jeffrey Kuan, Chair of the Conference Commission on Religion and Race, quoted colleague, the Rev. Blake Busick (Chair of the Church Revitalization Committee of the Conference Board of Missions), in saying, "The goal is not really a multicultural church – the goal really is mission in our communities. Multicultural and multigenerational churches become the fruit of our ministries."
How do we develop a ministry strategy that makes a congregation relevant to its community?
"We’ve mentioned the Four Areas of Mission Focus," said Wiberg (at left). "A huge conversation that we’re having at every table where I’m present has to do with how we’re going to embody that as an Annual Conference. This is a part of that … and what comes forward will be our vision for the Annual Conference. The review is one of the voices, a very important voice, but we’re touching base, multiple times, with the persons in this room and at other tables."
Recommendations coming out of the review will be identified in the GCORR report, and the Conference will begin to address them at that time.