Buenos Aires, Argentina, will be the location of the first of three new global regional offices for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
Directors of the denomination’s mission agency affirmed that decision during an executive session of its Oct. 1-3 meeting. Directors also received a progress update on the agency’s plan to relocate its headquarters to Atlanta later in 2016, approved a new mission initiative in the Central African Republic and commissioned eight new missionaries.
The new Latin American office is expected to open in Argentina in the first half of next year with an initial three-person staff, said Thomas Kemper, the board’s top executive.
It will relate to Methodists and mission partners in the region, including Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. Relations with churches in Central America and the Caribbean will continue to be handled through the Global Ministries headquarters office.
The Upper Room also will be part of the Buenos Aires office. “They were looking at a similar concept to be more present in the region,” Kemper told United Methodist News Service.
A proposal for the location of a regional office in Asia will be presented to directors next March, he said, and possibly could open during the second half of 2016. A regional office for Africa is expected to follow in 2017, after new bishops are elected there. “We felt it would be important to involve them — the new leadership — in those conversations,” he added.
Preparing new headquarters in Atlanta
The plan to establish regional offices was announced a year ago as part of a decision to vacate the board’s longtime headquarters at the Interchurch Center in New York and move to Atlanta.
Renovations are continuing on office space at the Grace United Methodist Church complex on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta, with completion projected for Aug. 3, 2016, said Roland Fernandes, the agency’s treasurer, in a presentation to directors. A few board employees already are working there. The mission agency is expected to finish vacating its offices in New York by fall 2016.
9/11 and reconciliation
As part of its fall meeting, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries hosted a screening of a documentary “In Our Son’s Name” at the Interchurch Center in New York.
The film by Gayla Jamison focuses on decisions made by Orlando Rodriguez, a member of Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains, New York, and his wife Phyllis to embrace reconciliation rather than revenge after their son Gregory died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Architects for the Atlanta headquarters project — Collins, Cooper, Caruzi — were selected in June. Pam Gwinner, a member of Grace Church, has been hired for a year as project manager, he said.
Unexpected costs have included cleanup after a study showed “widespread asbestos” and a determination that 24-hour unarmed security was needed because of area crime statistics.
A budget of “just under $15 million” for the Atlanta building project was approved Oct. 2 by the board, reported Farley Stuart, finance committee chairperson.
The Grace congregation will retain space at the church complex, along with Action Ministries, a United Methodist urban mission program, providing a “unique chance to bring the local church and the global church together,” Kemper said.
As part of a response to denominational condemnation of the use of Native American references for team mascots, such as the Atlanta Braves, the mission agency is expanding the work of its executive secretary for Native American and indigenous ministries, he said.
The Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell Jr. will lead advocacy work “around the mascot and all images denigrating Native American communities,” Kemper added.
Expanding mission in Africa
Over the past three decades, the Board of Global Ministries has introduced mission initiatives or renewed previous programs in Africa, Asia, Eurasia and Latin America, with the goal of producing new churches that are locally led and self-supporting.
At this meeting, board directors approved a new mission initiative for the Central African Republic, where several United Methodist congregations have been established. The project is in partnership with Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda of the East Congo Episcopal Area. Two pastors from the Central African Republic have completed theological studies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Central African Republic has been plagued by interreligious violence, and Kemper said the initiative would be sensitive to that strife and possibly become “a source of healing and reconciliation.”
Board directors also learned that Global Ministries has joined a United Nations’ initiative, “Every Woman Every Child: The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health,” as a faith-based participant.
With a goal of “reaching 1 million children with life-saving interventions between 2016 and 2020,” the mission agency will ask the entire denomination, through the 2016 United Methodist General Conference, to endorse the campaign.
The board meeting’s opening worship service featured the commissioning of six new missionaries for service in Latin America and two for young adult work in the United States. Federico and Veronica Apecena will be the first United Methodist missionaries to serve in Uruguay in many years. They will work with the autonomous Methodist Church there along Uruguay’s northern borders with Brazil and Argentina.