Bishops set plan to expand ministries with children, poor

Bishop Donald A. Ott
Bishop Donald A. Ott

The United Methodist Church’s bishops want to expand efforts to help children and the poor.

During the denomination’s 2004 General Conference, the bishops said they may merge the critical points of the Episcopal Address with “Our Shared Dream: The Beloved Community,” a paper the body adopted last November. The Council of Bishops anticipates that merging these two documents would create a new episcopal initiative for 2005-08.

The convergence of the two papers could provide the council with “marching orders” for the next four years, according to Bishop Donald A. Ott, coordinator of the Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty. The bishops anticipate selecting a new initiative during their November council meeting, with contributions from the 20 new bishops who will be elected this July.

The episcopal initiative seeks to “reshape the United Methodist Church” with a focus on Jesus and the “least of these,” Ott said. “God has a bias for the poor,” and through evangelism and theological reflection, the bishops must enlighten the church about “this critical and urgent matter for our time,” he said.

Meeting before General Conference, the bishops urged a task force to present a way in which the council’s paper on the “beloved community” could become an evolving initiative that could be affirmed as an initiative for the next four years.

The council does not want to relinquish its work with children and the poor during the past eight years, explained Ott. The council wants to continue and enlarge its efforts because of the belief that “this is where God is calling us.”

The “Beloved Community” document notes that the plight of children is tied to economics, politics, globalization, war, family breakdown, the AIDS epidemic and other problems. It also states that the root causes of poverty and the neglect and abandonment of children “lie in a society in which people live in fear.”

Ott said the proposed new initiative would reclaim the bishops’ responsibility to be teachers of the church, which is focused on blending the Wesleyan principles of acts of piety and acts of mercy.

“We should not be a people who cultivate our own spirit, but we must act on it and care for the poor,” he said. He lamented that the church and many congregations today are inwardly focused on other concerns and must be taught about caring for children and the poor.

“We must turn the eyes of the church and its leaders to the world around it and to where God would give attention.” Except for the church in Africa and in the Philippines, the United Methodist Church is not a church of the poor, he said. “We need to turn our eyes toward Jesus, (and) the way to do that is to turn our eyes to the poor and see that they are not a burden, but they are God’s gift.”  

According to the “Beloved Community,” the church must broaden its understanding of local mission because too many congregations and individuals are satisfied with being involved in direct-service ministries with the poor without the faith-sharing and congregational inclusion essential to Christian community

A “beloved community” is one where all people are valued for the gifts they are and the gifts they bring, Ott said. The important gifts include mutuality, diversity and inclusiveness.

*Green is a staff writer for United Methodist News Service.

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