Education Agency Promotes Collaboration

April 08, 2010

By Vicki Brown*

Collaboration is key to addressing the challenges facing The United Methodist Church today, including a widespread mistrust throughout the connection, says a theology professor.
"We have a lot of mistrust of one another," the Rev. Russell Richey, a professor of church history at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, told members of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry meeting March 18-20 in Nashville. "We don't trust the bishops; we don't trust the agencies; we don't trust the annual (regional) conferences.
If there were some way of dispelling this mistrust, I think that would be key."
Richey's talk informed a larger conversation among board members and staff at the spring meeting. Much of their time was spent brainstorming and crafting plans for closer collaboration in the work of developing principled Christian leaders.
"We can't be effective leaders if we think we are going to do it ourselves. That doesn't work at the local church level, and it doesn't work at the general church level," said the Rev. Laurie Haller, a district superintendent in the West Michigan Annual Conference. "We're hoping this board will lead the way to create a collaborative model for leadership for the whole church."
After small-group discussions, board members and staff of the agency suggested specific actions, such as assessing the skills and interests of board members to determine their passions and expertise, creating a think tank and developing team projects. Several proposals will be refined and brought back to the board for final action.
Together we can
In the opening plenary session, Seattle Area Bishop Grant Hagiya noted a growing discontent with the centralization of The United Methodist Church. He told the 62-member body that there is a cynicism that apportionment dollars would be better spent locally.
The bishop celebrated the ability of local churches to reach around the world, citing the work in Darfur that Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church of Tipp City, Ohio, has done. However, he warned that a decentralized church could not build Africa University. He suggested one response might be a shift away from a centralized structure to a "deployed regional hybrid model."
"For example, our general agency's expert staff could provide a training-of-the-trainer model, deploying members of the board regionally to help execute the model," Hagiya said.
In other business, board members empowered the personnel and policies committee to begin a search process for a new top executive, with the goal of presenting a candidate at the August 2011 board meeting. The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, current top executive of the board, will reach the 12-year limit for that post in 2012.
The board also honored Angella Current-Felder, executive director of the Office of Loans and Scholarships, and the Rev. Mary Ann Moman, top staff executive of the Division of Ordained Ministry, who will be leaving office in June.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.