Young adult missionary Wingamkamliu Rentta leads worship in St. Lucia in 2021.

By Elliott Wright
October 28, 2021 | ATLANTA

Discerning and realizing global mission priorities in a time of profound global change was the theme of the semiannual report of The United Methodist Church’s chief mission executive to directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, meeting virtually October 26-29.

Roland Fernandes, general secretary of the worldwide agency, described a “new mission age” shaped by near overwhelming factors such as the coronavirus pandemic, uncertainties about the future of the United Methodist denomination, the need to overcome racism and establish equity in church and society, and the ravages of climate change on the earth and its atmosphere. Both the pandemic and denominational uncertainties have a chilling effect on contributions for mission.

In remarks entitled “Witnessing and Rejoicing in a New Mission Age,” Fernandes challenged the directors, who set mission agency policy, and the church at large, to welcome and rejoice in the “hard” and “demanding” work of sharpening and shaping mission activity for today and tomorrow. For the theme of rejoicing in engaging in God’s mission, he turned to Paul’s letter to the young church at Philippi (Philippians 4:4-7).

Fernandes said that the clock is not going to be turned back to some previous “normal.” Yet Global Ministries has a strong foundation for this work: “We are blessed to have a sturdy 200-year-old legacy that we honor and from which we can learn and on which we can build. But yesterday will not recruit the missionaries needed today or tomorrow. Yesterday will not plant new congregations. Yesterday will not respond to pandemics. Yesterday will not clean the environment. Yesterday will not raise thoughtful children and the leaders of tomorrow. Yesterday cannot fully address the challenges of today. And yesterday cannot fully imagine the challenges of tomorrow.”

Fernandes’ report, which was joined by other staff members and guests, was prelude to three days of program evaluation and sharpening by directors, working with four mission priorities earlier designated. The four are missionaries, evangelism and church revitalization, global health and humanitarian relief and recovery. Global Ministries incorporates the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which is devoted to the alleviation of human suffering. It responds to natural disasters, civil conflict, health emergencies, migration needs and environmental crises without regard to religion, race or national origin.

The general secretary was joined by Amihan Jones, director of Monitoring and Evaluation, in presenting the ongoing process of evaluation and strategic planning being applied to the program inventory. To date, a roster of 30 programs has been refined to 17. Considerable time was scheduled during the meeting for evaluations of the plans by directors.

Fernandes highlighted recent program and operational issues and opportunities directly related to “new mission age” realities. These included:

  • Joining initiatives aimed at equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. For example, UMCOR is working with the First United Methodist Church of Boise, Idaho, to set up an Advance project to support UNICEF’s role in COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access).
  • Response to a new generation of refugees entering the United States as a result of the situation in Afghanistan, work done in collaboration with the ecumenical partner, Church World Service, an official resettlement agency.
  • The opening of internal conversation, started the previous day in a committee, on the operating principles for UMCOR including “capacity, accountability, partner relations and the role of the church in UMCOR’s work and vice-versa” and how to manage these issues “without violating our core principles of responding to human need regardless of religion, race or national origin.”

The general secretary’s report also included Native American ministries, agriculture in Africa and earthquake response in Haiti as items to be addressed elsewhere in the meeting.

New to the agenda was consideration of the use of space in Global Ministries’ headquarters building, property formerly owned by Grace United Methodist Church and still used in perpetuity by the congregation. With the policy of “remote” work expanding, the agency has an excess of space.

Plans were described for increasing the square footage leased by HOPE Atlanta, which seeks to eradicate homelessness in central Georgia, and which recently absorbed Action Ministries, an agency focused on hunger and homelessness, already a tenant of the Grace property.

In addition, Grace Church, now a small predominantly white congregation, is entering into a joint ministry with Cascade United Methodist Church, a predominantly African American congregation of 7,000 members. When plans are complete, Grace will become a satellite campus of Cascade and a center of community ministry in Midtown Atlanta. This is in keeping with Global Ministries’ original vision when the agency relocated to Atlanta and the Grace location in 2016, according to Fernandes.

The general secretary’s full report can be found here.