'Worldwide' is more than geographic

Look at any map showing the locations of United Methodist churches, congregations and faith communities. It is easy to see that the denomination is worldwide in mission – and in membership.

However, what does it mean to be "worldwide" in nature? What does it mean to be "worldwide" in recognizing the gifts that United Methodists bring to and receive from each other?

To Bishops Patrick Streiff and David Yemba, mission and relationships are key. Yemba, episcopal leader of the Central Congo Area and a member of the Faith and Order Committee of the Council of Bishops, and Streiff, bishop for Central and Southern Europe, chairman of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters (StC-CCM) and a member of the Connectional Table, were featured in the #CTTalks online video series.

Being worldwide is a "result of our commitment to do mission," Yemba says. "With our emphasis on making disciples, it is normal that we are more to understand the church as being global or worldwide."

"It is around relationships," Streiff says, "the relationships we now have together, how we work together, how we support each other. To build relationships has a lot to do with persons who need each other."

At the same time, how do we ensure that polity and official teachings are the same across the globe? How do we let the contexts in which they occur shape mission and ministry while maintaining the United Methodist identity?

Throughout the 2012-16 quadrennium, several groups have worked in various configurations to address questions related to making United Methodism's worldwide nature more real.

There are advocates who think that changing the wording in the Book of Discipline and rewriting The Social Principles is key to the unity of the global church.

Bishop Streiff told his audience at the 2016 Pre-General Briefing in Portland, Oregon, that the Central and Southern Europe Area have an adapted Book of Discipline, used by United Methodists in seven annual conferences in 16 countries who speak 10 languages and live in the diverse cultures of Eastern Europe, Western Europe and North Africa.

"My hope and dream," he said, "is that when we get a global or general Book of Discipline and we get it right and what is truly essential, we do not need to change it every four years.

"Honestly in our central conferences, we would like to do mission and not just translate the Discipline."

The General Board of Church and Society is tasked with rewriting the denomination's Social Principles to make them "more succinct and theologically relevant."

The rapid growth of The United Methodist Church in Africa has led to a call for "a comprehensive collaborative plan for Africa," Benedita Penicela told Pre-General Conference Briefing attendees. Penicela serves on the Standing Committee and Connectional Table and is a member of the Africa Central Conference. She said the plan, to be presented in 2020, would propose increasing the number of episcopal areas from 13 to 18 and new boundaries for the central conferences.

The Rev. Kathy Noble is editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.

This article was firs printed in the January/February 2016 Interpreter magazine.

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