Texas Clergywoman to Lead Relief Agency

April 27, 2010

By Linda Bloom*

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) - A Texas clergywoman who has helped coordinate the distribution of mosquito nets in Côte d'Ivoire, plan disaster response to Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and develop a leadership program for pastors is the new chief executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
The Rev. Cynthia Harvey, 50, was elected as deputy general secretary of UMCOR and its parent agency, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, on April 13 during the board's spring meeting.
West Ohio Bishop Bruce Ough, the board's president, called Harvey "an exceptional leader" who brings all the qualities needed to the job. For the past two months, she has been serving as a temporary liaison between UMCOR and the conferences, churches and individuals responding to the Haiti earthquake.
"It's an awesome privilege to be able to serve the church in this capacity," Harvey said.
Since February 2008, Harvey has been director of missional excellence for the denomination's Texas Annual (regional) Conference, helping local congregations engage in ministries in the areas of peace with justice, immigration, restorative justice and other issues related to the church's social principles.
She oversees two fully staffed disaster response offices, as well as staff members who coordinate volunteer mission teams. She worked with Texas Bishop Janice Riggle Huie and a small team to develop a program called Advancing Pastoral Leadership, which received a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.
'A heart for mission'
Huie, who also serves as chairperson of the Health and Relief unit for the Board of Global Ministries, said Harvey "has a heart for mission in the local community and the world."
Harvey helped create a partnership with The United Methodist Church in Côte d'Ivoire – through both the Texas Conference and her position as a member of the Commission for United Methodist Communications – that led to the net distribution, establishment of a radio station, development of Dabou Hospital and improvement of schools.
The Texas Conference alone raised more than $1 million for the distribution of 855,000 insecticide-treated bed nets in November 2008.
Harvey's tenure with the conference -- including 12 years as an executive associate at the 6,900-member Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston – has "given her experience in both resourcing congregations to act locally and connecting the church in mission globally," Huie added.
A pew perspective
Harvey said she hopes to bring stability and steadiness to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. The agency lost its former chief executive, the Rev. Sam Dixon, when he died after being trapped under rubble when an earthquake struck Haiti in January.
But she also recognizes the relief agency's need for "nimbleness" as it responds to disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.
Harvey pointed to the board's new staff leader as inspiration for a dynamic new direction. "I think Thomas Kemper is a gift," she explained. "He brings renewed energy and spirit."
Kemper said he is counting on Harvey to help UMCOR and the Board of Global Ministries combine mission with development and relief. "She brings a perspective from the pew, from the annual conference, which we also need at the agency," he added.
Harvey – who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1980 – had a career in marketing and property management before assuming pastoral duties in 1992. She earned a master of divinity degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in 1999 and was ordained an elder in 2001.
She grew up in a household where both Spanish and English were spoken, considers Spanish her "second first language," and is somewhat conversant in French and Portuguese. Married to Dean Alan Harvey, she has a 19-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who is a freshman at Baylor University.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.