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The lights of passing cars trace the Dongdaemun Design Plaza at night in Seoul, Korea. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and The Upper Room plan to open a regional office for Asia in Seoul by April 2017. Photo by Eugene Lim, Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Eugene Lim, Wikimedia Commons

The lights of passing cars trace the Dongdaemun Design Plaza at night in Seoul, Korea. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and The Upper Room plan to open a regional office for Asia in Seoul by April 2017. Photo by Eugene Lim, Wikimedia Commons

Seoul office will help church connect with Asia

By Linda Bloom
March 21, 2016 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

A new regional office in Seoul, Korea, will help coordinate the mission outreach of The United Methodist Church.

Directors of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries approved the recommendation of Seoul over Singapore or Hong Kong — cities also considered for the joint office of the Global Ministries and The Upper Room — during the board’s March 17-18 spring meeting. The Asia office will open no later than April 2017.

The decision, part of a relocation plan for the New York-based agency’s staff and programs, came just two weeks before the official opening in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of a similar joint office for Latin America. A third regional office is planned later for Africa.

The goal of the Asia location was to provide both United Methodist agencies access to Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well as boosting programmatic priorities in Southeast and East Asia, including China, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan.

A question about whether Manila should be considered as a potential office location did arise periodically, the proposal said. “However, while the office will devote considerable effort and attention to partnership with The United Methodist Church in the Philippines, the international airports in Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul offered better logistical access across the region,” the team report noted.

Wisconsin Area Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, a board director, praised the decision and the partnership between The United Methodist Church and Korean Methodists, noting that what had been a mother-daughter relationship was evolving into “an equal partnership in ministry.”

In relation to efforts toward peace and reconciliation between North and South Korea, the Korean-American bishop declared, “Our presence there will promote that very strongly.”

Evaluation process

Glenn Kellum, special assistant, office of the general secretary, told the mission agency’s directors about the evaluation process of the three cities that occurred between October 2015 and January 2016.

The challenge, he explained, was to provide access to a large geographic region and address the programmatic priorities of the two agencies at a reasonable cost. Both Global Ministries and The Upper Room also want to find a more refined strategy of engagement in China in the coming years, he noted.

 “Part of our discerning process in each of these three cities was really to look at … the local Methodist Church and other potential partners and really try to get some sense of the relationship,” said Kellum, who was principal author of the report. 

In all three locations, the Board of Global Ministries has a warm relationship with local Methodists as well as ecumenical partners, but in Seoul, the team found “a devotion to the relationship that is discernably different,” he said.

Korean Methodists and other partners in Korea “came to the table with a well-thought-out plan” and a readiness to engage that didn’t happen in Singapore or Hong Kong, Kellum said. He said they also followed up with economic incentives.

“The Korean Methodist Church, within a couple of days after our return, offered a letter to us essentially providing about 2,700 square feet of space in a downtown commercial office at the cost of monthly utilities,” he added.

Global Ministries also controls two foundations in Korea with assets of approximately $17 million “whose income could be used to help offset operational and/or programmatic expenses, especially if the office were in Korea,” the proposal stated.

Part of a larger plan

The establishment of regional offices in Latin America, Asia and Africa is part of an October 2104 decision by Global Ministries directors to vacate the mission agency’s long-time headquarters at the Interchurch Center in New York.

References were made at several points acknowledging the fact that the March 17-18 board meeting would be the last while the agency was still in New York. The mission agency is in the process of renovating Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta for its new headquarters. A groundbreaking ceremony took place in January.

Thomas Kemper, top executive, and Roland Fernandes, board treasurer, updated directors about status of the agency’s current staff and progress on the new headquarters.

Kemper reported that of the board’s staff positions, 71 employees are continuing on staff after the move to Atlanta, with 12 of those employees working in other geographic locations — including a small presence in New York — outside of Atlanta. Another 37 staff members invited to Atlanta decided not to make the move, he added.

Twenty-three staff members did not receive invitations to relocate to the Atlanta headquarters, Kemper said. In keeping with an earlier decision to hire support staff locally in Atlanta, 39 employees who serve as support staff in New York also will leave the agency.

Fifteen employees currently are based in Atlanta at a third-floor workstation in the North Building of the board’s new headquarters, where 144 staff members eventually will be housed. 

At their own request, another 20 staff members are expected to transfer to the Atlanta headquarters in late May or June, Fernandes said, with the reminder of the employees expected to move next August or September as the bulk of renovation work is completed. The $15 million budget for the move remains the same, he added.

Looking forward in mission

Kemper acknowledged the denomination’s nearly 200-year-old mission presence in New York, pointing to April 5, 1819, the day a group of young lay men came together to form the Methodist Missionary Society, with a women’s auxiliary society following a few days later.

One hundred years later, in 1919, a World Methodist Fair in Columbus, Ohio, drew 1 million people, an “amazing” feat. Kemper said the Board of Global Ministries does not intend to replicate that event, but does want to celebrate the 200th anniversary on a global level. “We think it’s an opportunity for us to not only go back to our roots but inspire mission for the 21st century,” he told board directors.

Representatives of Global Ministries had an initial meeting March 16 at Drew University with staff of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History. “We want to emphasize everyone’s own place in the mission history,” Kemper said. “The idea is to develop a program where every church, every annual conference around the world digs into its own mission history.”

Tentative plans include the creating resource materials; organizing a study conference in 2019 to look at the mission history in a more academic way; establishing an online, crowd-sourced database and making a request to shape the United Methodist General Conference in 2020 as the “mission conference.”

Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org