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UMC Africa Initiative gathers to prepare for GC2016

Some African leaders want to add bishops, create a fund to support theological education in Africa and maintain the church's current ordination rules and definition of marriage.

The United Methodist Church Africa Initiative will host a gathering for delegates from the 30 annual and provisional conferences in Africa on May 4-6 at Canby Retreat Center in Portland, Oregon. The denomination's top legislative assembly begins on May 10.

A group of about 60 leaders, many of whom are delegates to General Conference, gathered in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, in January, partly to plan the May retreat.  

"Our gatherings strengthen our connectional and missional ties and facilitate the sustainable growth and development of the United Methodist Church in Africa," said the Rev. Jerry Kulah, general coordinator of the Africa Initiative, a movement of clergy and lay leaders formed prior to the 2012 General Conference.

The Africa College of Bishops endorsed the initiative, but Bishop John K. Yambasu said the college had requested more information about how the meetings were funded, the role of the bishops and other issues.

"We especially work with the International Leadership Institute based in Carrollton, Georgia, to provide leadership, missions and evangelism training for pastors and leaders of the laity in Africa. We sometimes work with Good News, which plays some hospitality roles for us," Kulah said. He said the group is "at liberty to partner and associate with anyone or group we so choose to associate with; just as you all do in the states."

The Africa Initiative group wants to increase the number of bishops in Africa — an increase that would be fully paid for by the Africa conferences. The group also supported proposals to increase African representation on general church board agencies and boards.

Matonga said Africans are under-represented in the general church. He believes membership should be the baseline for calculating all representation. The church has 7.2 million members in the U.S. and 5.1 million in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Africans are at a further disadvantage at General Conference because many do not have experience writing or presenting petitions, Matonga explained, which means most African delegates are limited to voting for or against proposals.

Lambrecht, though, said he was encouraged by the sophistication and commitment of African leaders.

"They are fully engaged with the issues confronting the church and desire to have a voice in how the church moves into the future. I was inspired by the African worship and their expressions of faith in Jesus Christ, as well as their heart for evangelism," he said.

While Good News is handling logistics for the Portland meeting, Lambrecht said he and other Americans at the Lubumbashi meeting attended only as observers.

"All the speakers and moderators were Africans and led by Africans. We contributed to the discussion only when asked," Lambrecht said.

Kulah said the Portland meeting at a Christian retreat center will provide time for delegates to recover from jet lag.

"Additionally, this would be the only opportunity for African delegates to come together to share issues of common concerns prior to General Conference 2016."

Vicki Brown, managing editor, United Methodist News Service

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