Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
Maputo , Mozambique
Nov. 1-6, 2006
Nelson Mandela Appearance, Presence of President, Generous Hospitality
Highlight Council’s First Meeting Outside Continental United States
The surprise appearance of former South African President and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela capped off a busy and exciting meeting of United Methodist bishops in Maputo , Mozambique . It was the first full council meeting ever held outside United States territory.
Mandela’s Nov. 5 appearance at dinner, with his wife, Gracia Machel, former first lady of Mozambique , highlighted the important role of the United Methodist Church in Africa . Both were educated in Methodist schools. Machel is an active United Methodist. In calling for an increased role for women in Africa , both said the church is leading the way in education, health care, and the fight against HIV/AIDs.
Mozambique President Armando Emilio Guebuza met twice with bishops. On Oct. 31, a 12-member delegation spent 35 minutes with him in his office. On Nov. 1, he attended the opening worship at a government civic center, where he praised the church and asked it to start a new university in his country. Both events received extensive media coverage in Mozambique .
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, president of the council, presented him with gifts and a resolution of appreciation. During the week, representatives of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry began meetings on broadening the church’s relationship in the country through distance learning and Africa University .
The generous hospitality of Mozambicans was evident everywhere the bishops and guests went. After the opening worship, the host conference catered a banquet featuring local foods on the grounds of the civic center. After a Nov. 4 storm rained out an outdoor cultural celebration, the bash was moved indoors to a local United Methodist Church . For three hours, bishops ate, danced, sang, and celebrated with local United Methodists.
On Nov. 5, bishops split up into 16 groups to visit local United Methodist congregations for worship. At each church, they were presented with gifts and enjoyed traditional Mozambican and African dishes.
At one church, Catembe United Methodist Church , in a poor, rural area less than 10 miles from downtown Maputo , members of the congregation celebrated the laying of the first building blocks of a church building by Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase. The growing congregation meets under a large cashew tree.
Bishops Become Africans During First Council Meeting Outside U.S.
Host Bishop João Somane Machado greeted colleagues warmly when they arrived at their headquarters hotel by telling them “when you are in Mozambique , you are an African. Welcome to Africa . Welcome home.”
Vision Pathways Complimented by Bishops’ Adoption of ‘Call to Action’
Acting on a Plan Team proposal, the Council adopted a “Call to Action” for the people of The United Methodist Church.
The Call to Action represents a convergence of the Council’s Seven Vision Pathways with work of churchwide agency executives and The Connectional Table . The four adopted elements are grounded in Wesleyan theology, global in nature, action-focused, and should be readily understood by United Methodists around the world, said Bishop Bruce Ough, plan team chairman.
A United Methodist Call to Action:
ü Live the United Methodist way
ü Start new churches
ü Reach and save children
ü Stamp out the killer diseases of poverty: malaria, HIV/AIDS
Bishop Ough emphasized the Call to Action does not replace the Vision Pathways. In effect, it is a distillation of the work of the Council, general secretaries and The Connectional Table . Bishops who have begun using the pathways document in their annual conference ministries are encouraged to continue doing so, Bishop Ough said.
Bishops Approve Clergy Pension Pilot in Liberia
A pilot pension plan for clergy members and surviving spouses of the Liberia Annual Conference was approved by the Council. The proposal will use investment earnings from $1million in over-funding from the pre-1982 United Methodist pension program as seed money to create an income stream.
Many pastors outside the United States who served 20, 30, 40 or more years have little or no pension.
The Central Conference Pension Committee has been collecting information and developing models. The General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits is working on developing funding streams for pension plans, beginning in Africa .
Barbara Boigegrain, top executive of the pensions’ board, said bishops are leading the way in the effort.
The Central Conference Benefit Fund, Boigegrain said, has built to $2.25 million. Annual conferences have donated their share of money they receive annually from the United Methodist Publishing House to start the fund. In two years, she said, earnings from the fund will begin to be used for pension benefits.
Draft plan Would Create Central Conference for United States
In what would be a dramatic change in church governance, a joint task force of bishops and members of the Connectional Table is suggesting the United States become a Central Conference.
The proposal would end the current system that splits the United States from the Central Conferences that govern the church outside the U.S. The existing U.S. jurisdictional conferences would exist within a U.S. Central Conference. Since 1964, the church has had numerous studies, task groups and legislative attempts to clarify the world-wide nature of the denomination.
The Book of Discipline would be revised into a general book of doctrine, mission and discipline, deleting all portions that apply only to the United States . Each Central Conference would have a book of discipline outlining rules applicable to its life and ministry. These changes would require approval by the General Conference.
Authority of the General Conference would essentially remain the same. General agencies will remain as agencies for the whole church. The Judicial Council would remain as a general church body elected by the General Conference. The Council of Bishops remains as the council for the entire church. U.S. jurisdictional conferences would continue to elect bishops in the United States .
Central conferences would consider resolutions pertinent to their regions. They could create and fund their own agencies. They could establish mission initiatives appropriate for their context.
(A previous story on this proposal erroneously said the plan would eliminate the U.S. jurisdictional conferences.)
New Thinking Urged on Controversy, Debate Leading to 2008 General Conference
The Council’s Task Force on Unity is asking bishops to open a wider dialogue when speaking to denominational caucuses.
The task force wants bishops to show leadership by making sure theological, jurisdictional, and racial ethnic lines are crossed when they speak at caucus events.
The task force has offered a model “Covenant for Conversation” for the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth .
Stemming from Wesley’s General Rules, the biblical model is based on James 1:19, “Be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger,” and Ephesians 4:15, “to speak… the truth… in love… together.” The elements are:
- To speak: we invite all voices into the conversation
- The truth: it takes all voices to discern the truth; requires “I” statements
- In love: speaking to and about others with generous compassion
- Together: truth and love come only through community, the need to broaden the conversation, not to remain in isolated pockets
Study of Episcopacy Group Seeks Bishops’ Input
The denomination’s Task Force to Study the Episcopacy is seeking input from bishops on a number of suggestions that have arisen out of its work. Bishops are receiving a questionnaire asking them to rate the issues that rose from their work. Participants are asked to give ratings of 1 – absolutely not; 2 – worthy of exploration; and 3 – absolutely. The issues are:
- Limiting bishops’ terms to 8-12 years with an option for re-election.
- Ending a bishop’s term at retirement, and returning the bishop’s membership to the annual conference from which he/she is elected.
- Annual conferences pay for its bishop’s health benefits.
- Reduce the number of bishops in the United States .
- Establish a permanent office of presidency for the Council of Bishops.
- General Conference legislation on the complaint process, administrative leave for ineffective clergy, expanding 8 year assignments to 12 years.
- Designating bishops as a third order.
- Aligning changes in the episcopacy to a strong theology on the bishop’s relationship to making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Comments may be directed to Bishop Sally Dyck of the Minneapolis Area.
Bishops Congratulate Democratic Republic of Congo on Democratic Election
Bishops sent a message to the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, congratulating it on the country’s Oct. 29 election. In that election, Jean-Pierre Bemba faced off against incumbent President Joseph Kabila.
Calling the election a “glorious occasion,” the Council congratulated Kabila’s government for “this historic accomplishment.” The bishops said they hope the results of the election will be accepted by the candidates and the people. They expressed their prayers for the government and the Congolese people in this new era that is dawning.
Results from the election are scheduled to be announced on Nov. 19.