Mission agency continues transition to Atlanta

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For now, it’s a tale of two cities.

As the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries finishes renovation work on its new U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, its New York offices will remain open until the end of October.

But the continuing trickle of staff members departing from the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive — as some move to Atlanta and others retire or take other jobs — is reflected by the fact that the agency has vacated most of the 14th floor there. That’s one of several floors it has occupied for decades. Most remaining staff from that floor have been relocated to the third and 15th floors.

Then, there are the other cities: Buenos Aires, where a Latin America regional office was opened in April; and Seoul, Korea, where an Asian regional office is scheduled to open in March 2017. Both offices are a collaboration with Discipleship Ministries’ Upper Room devotional guide. Plans for an Africa office are in development.

It’s all part of a decision approved by board directors in October 2014 to vacate the Interchurch Center, where the denomination’s mission board was an original tenant when the building opened in 1961. Lower costs and the desire to create a more international presence was part of the rationale for the move. The current lease ends on Nov. 1, 2016.

New Atlanta residents

In Atlanta, Global Ministries worked out a partnership with the congregation of Grace United Methodist Church, on the corner of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Charles Allen Drive. A groundbreaking ceremony took place in January.

Among the recent transfers to Atlanta is Thomas Kemper, top executive for Global Ministries, who called the staff relocation from New York to Atlanta “an ongoing process” over the coming months.

When all staff vacancies are filled, there will be 152 positions for Global Ministries and 28 for the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Global Health, Kemper reported, for a total staff of 180.

Sixty-eight of the current New York executive staff are moving to Atlanta, he told United Methodist News Service in June, with 10 already situated there. Another 18 were in the process of moving, including parents who want their school-age children settled before classes begin in early August.

New staff hired since last fall also are working at the Atlanta headquarters, parts of which are still under construction.

A staff reorganization that took effect last April includes two new programs: the Center for Mission Innovation, led by the Rev. J. Denise Honeycutt, and the International Coaching Network, in connection with Africa University in Zimbabwe and led by the Rev. George Howard.

UMCOR is divided into two sections under the reorganization, overseen by Kemper and Roland Fernandes, the mission agency’s chief operating officer and general treasurer. Disaster response and disaster risk reduction is led by the Rev. Jack Amick, former head of international disaster response. The other section, where Javed Sheik is the interim leader, includes UMCOR’s offices in Africa and Haiti, long-term recovery and development work, WASH (Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and sustainable agriculture.

Fernandes is the head of finance and administration, which includes The Advance, a voluntary giving program, and other fundraising efforts. Other program areas and their executive directors are Global Health, led by Dr. Olusimbo Ige; Global Mission Connections, led by the Rev. Mande Muyombo; missionary service, led by the Rev. Judy Chung, and communications, led by Mary Andreolli.

Making the transition

In the midst of the transition, Kemper said his staff has been working harder than ever, under sometimes difficult circumstances. “It’s challenging to keep everybody on board because they are in so many different places,” he noted.

He said he has appreciated the years of dedication from mission agency employees, as evidenced by a recent staff recognition program at the New York offices. “Our staff has been really, really impressive,” Kemper said. “It was encouraging to see that people were proud of having served so many years.”

When board directors approved the move to Atlanta, they decided not to relocate any of 39 support staff in New York. At least 23 other staff members in New York also did not receive invitations to move. Another 37 or so staff were invited to Atlanta but chose not to go.

Two current staff executives will remain in New York — David Wildman, executive secretary for human rights and racial justice, and Jorge Domingues, executive secretary for migration and refugee work.

Both will act as liaisons to the mission agency’s work with the United Nations, Kemper said. That work includes the commitment to the “Every Woman, Every Child” initiative through its Abundant Health campaign and U.N. programs that focus on Israel/Palestine, global migration, indigenous people and climate justice. Global Ministries also is working with and providing support to the World Council of Churches U.N. office.

“I felt it was important to have this presence, and David and George are the right people to do that,” he added.

Woodruff Foundation grant

A $1.5 million grant received this spring from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation reflects the board’s attempt to seek financial support for the move to Atlanta outside of the “enormous support” from church-related organizations.

When companies move to a new location where they are creating jobs and other new business, “normally they get some incentives,” Kemper pointed out. He said he hopes to raise $3 million in foundation grants by the end of the year.

Community engagement in Atlanta will extend beyond jobs, he added, “creating a positive presence” and developing long-term partnerships.

One way to connect the local and global church in mission is the new Center for Mission Innovation. The plan is to highlight best practices and create new models that adapt to “the changing mission landscapes of the 21st century,” the mission agency has stated. Currently, more than 350 United Methodist missionaries serve in 60 countries.

Through the center, Global Ministries also will also be able to “offer the space of hospitality for the global church,” Kemper said.

Upcoming events include a gathering of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism in January 2017 and a meeting of The United Methodist Church’s Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters the following month.

Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (615)742-5470 or [email protected]

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