Religion and Race, GBHEM Event Draws UM Leaders From Around the U.S. to Face the Future of the Church

May 18, 2011

By Jeneane Jones
GCORR Team Leader,
Communications and Media Relations

More than 200 United Methodist leaders from every jurisdiction in the U.S., including several from the California-Nevada Annual Conference, gathered this week in Los Angeles to discuss cross-cultural/cross-racial appointments as a key to the church's future vitality. The General Commission on Religion and Race and General Board of Higher Education and Ministry partnered to co-sponsor Facing the Future: Cross-Racial and Cross-Cultural Appointments in a Global Church. The registration list filled up quickly for the event, and a Sunday (May 15) pre-event training on cross-cultural competency was presented to a sold-out crowd. 
"Facing the Future brings together United Methodists throughout the connection, across the boundaries of race, gender, language, age, and culture at a time when society is becoming more diverse, more global, more multicultural," said GCORR General Secretary Erin Hawkins. "Our church is struggling to keep pace. We believe that cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments present a unique and underutilized opportunity for the church to engage in vital and relevant ministry across all boundaries, and could be a key to our revival as a global movement."
Similarly, GBHEM President Marcus Matthews hopes that this event will bring the local church, Annual Conference and General Church together to collaborate on dismantling the relational roadblocks that undermine effective cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments. "We pray that everyone will gain great insight and wisdom to return to each community equipped to help educate, nurture, and prepare Christian leaders for The United Methodist Church and the world," said Bishop Matthews.
New Research Findings
Participants were the first to hear new findings on the state of cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments in the United Methodist Church. Learning Tracks ran Tuesday and Wednesday for bishops, Cabinet members, Boards of Ordained Ministry and theological school leaders, as well as clergy and laity. The design of the workshops was directly tied to the research showing that for the cross-racial cross-cultural appointment process to be embraced by congregations, it must have the commitment of everyone from the person in the pew, to the bishop.
Key speakers and presenters at the Facing the Future event included Church leaders Bishop Earl Bledsoe; Bishop Minerva Carcaño; Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar; the Rev. Anna Mulford; California-Nevada's Dr. Shan McSpadden [at right, accepting the 2010 Talbert Award from Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. at the CA-NV Annual Conference Session]; Bishop Marcus Matthews; the Rev. Dr. HiRho Park; the Rev. Anita Phillips; the Rev. Jasmine Smothers; the Rev. Eradio Valverde, Jr.; and the Rev. Randy Cross. 
Why a West Coast Venue
As a long-standing ethnically and culturally diverse city which attracts people from around the world to live, work, and pray within the city's limits, Los Angeles seemed the perfect fit to host such an event.
Home to nearly 3.8 million people, 50.1 percent of them considered racially diverse (according to 2010 Census figures) the California-Pacific Annual Conference, which stretches from Hawaii to the Colorado River and includes the city of Los Angeles, is a logical backdrop to examine why The United Methodist Church must step out of character as a predominantly white denomination and promote new understanding and commitment to cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments if the denomination is to remain relevant in the 21st century.
Facing the Future used an Appreciative Inquiry framework utilizing the art and practice of asking powerfully positive questions. The event was designed to "bring an interfacing of denominational leaders together in a new way to be prophetic and practical as we address systemic roadblocks within the church," said event organizer, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Isaacs.
"Together, we can help people grow as Christian disciples so that we can share Christ with one another and see the world transformed by God's grace," said Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, hosting bishop.