By Elliott Wright

February 5, 2020 | ATLANTA

Thomas Kemper will not stand for reelection as chief executive of The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries, the worldwide mission and humanitarian service agency that he has headed for the last 10 years.

“Since his first election as general secretary in 2010, Thomas has brought innovation and vitality to our global mission and service,” said Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of Wisconsin, president of the agency that includes the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “I look forward to his continued leadership through this critical year.”

Global Ministries has personnel, projects and program partners in more than 125 countries. It currently supports more than 400 missionaries in 70 countries, links to 300 hospitals and clinics, and provides relief and development around the world.

Kemper, a layman from Germany and a former missionary in Brazil, said in a February 5 memo to staff he had informed the agency’s executive and personnel committees in January he did not intend to seek reelection to the executive post he assumed in 2010.

In explaining his decision, Kemper said in his memo to staff:

As many of you know, my wife Barbara and I have long worked together to support one another in our respective ministries since we served as missionaries in Brazil 30 years ago. In our move together to Atlanta, we have continued this partnership. She has encouraged and supported my work in Atlanta, and I have encouraged and supported her work here and also the part increasingly based in Germany. 

At this time, so that we can reside again in one place, as well as find additional time with our children who are living in Germany, I have decided to relocate there. That’s why I will not stand for reelection as general secretary. As a lifelong United Methodist, rest assured, however, I will stay connected to the worldwide mission and ministry of the church.
Kemper said that until the transition occurs, he will focus on the mandates of Global Ministries and UMCOR during this time of special importance and challenge in the church.

His administration is especially well-known for its emphases on inclusiveness and diversity in mission planning and action and for bringing persons of many nationalities, races, cultures and languages, including those on the economic margins, to the mission table. He has stressed missionary recruitment and placement “from everywhere to everywhere” and promoted and funded international young adult mission service. 

With an emphasis on mission partnerships, Kemper was responsible for a new organizational operation that included the move of headquarters from New York City to Atlanta and the establishment of regional offices around the world. He put renewed focus on global health as a mission priority and forged stronger ties between mission activities and disaster relief and community development. He also led the observation of the 200th anniversary of the agency’s oldest predecessor mission society in 2019.

“Thomas Kemper came to Global Ministries at a time of missional redefinition and has led us to a clearer understanding of what it means to engage in God’s mission in a troubled world, even a troubled church,” said Bishop Jung, the agency president. “He has taught us courage, patience and how to live with a hopeful spirit, confident in God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ.”

Elliott Wright is a communications consultant with Global Ministries.