Religion and Race focused on awareness, equipping leaders

Part of a series on how the church works

From Eastern Pennsylvania to the Philippines, the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race worked to overcome barriers and increase understanding of cultural differences in 2016.

The agency provided “resources to intentionally raise awareness and deepen understanding as we learn to embrace and appreciate who we are as people made in the image of God,” said Bishop Peggy Johnson, who leads the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.

In response to questions from United Methodist News Service, executive staff of the commission discussed the agency’s role and accomplishments in the past year.

What were the top goals of your agency in 2016?

  1. To equip clergy and lay leaders, boards of ordained ministry and cabinets to support contextually relevant ministry.
  2. To increase the number of congregations that are adequately prepared for and supported in healthy cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments.
  3. To implement a research program that provides valuable data and best practices in global and multicultural ministries.

Were you able to fully or partly accomplish these goals? How was that done?

The commission accomplished its goals by focusing on three core aspects of work to ensure impact: program and service excellence, operational excellence and transformational leadership.

For cabinets, boards of ordained ministry and congregational leaders, the commission created partnerships with 21 specific annual conferences in the U.S. and central conferences and developed specific, need-based leadership development trainings.

In 2016, Religion and Race trained over 350 lay and clergy leaders, resulting in more than 1,000 hours of coaching and consulting with church leaders across the globe, conducting individual, group and organizational assessments of intercultural competency and institutional equity. The results, based on feedback from training impact evaluations, are that:

  • Clergy leaders are better equipped to engage in ministry in culturally diverse settings.
  • Lay leaders are better equipped and empowered to lead ministries that reach diverse populations.
  • Congregations are made more vital because they possess the skills to build bridges in the midst of diversity.
  • Conferences are provided with resources at every step in the appointment process as they support contextually relevant ministry.  

To increase the number of congregations that are adequately prepared for and supported in healthy cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments, Religion and Race worked with conference leaders to identify and provide training and support for congregations going into their first cross-racial/cross-cultural appointment, creating four ready-to-use resources including:

1. “The First 100 Days” Handbook: This guide, written for pastors and congregations, is intended to make the first 100 days of a new cross-racial/cross-cultural appointment the foundation for strong lay-clergy relationship and congregational ministry.

2. Bible studies that provide congregations receiving a cross-racial/cross-cultural appointment with theological perspectives to aid in preparing for and welcoming a new pastor.

3. Cross-racial/cross-cultural transition workshop module: Many annual conferences offer transition workshops for pastors moving into a new appointment. The commission has created a training module and related materials to be incorporated in these workshops that deal specifically with cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments. 

4. A best-practices manual on cross-racial or cross-cultural appointments that highlights steps that cabinets, clergy and congregations can take to support stronger appointments. 

In 2016, the commission also continued to conduct research on topics such as multiculturalism in The United Methodist Church, the state of cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments, racial disparities in the lives and careers of clergy, multicultural ministry in Europe, and cultural diversity among leadership of the denomination. Results have led to resources that have been created to have a practical impact on local church ministry, including a best practices manual and an operational definition of multiculturalism for the denomination. 

What was your budget for 2016? How much of that budget was put toward each goal?

The annual budget in 2016 was $3,247,352. The projected programmatic expenditures of the agency in 2016 are $810,827, not including staff costs and time. The amount was distributed between the areas of Leadership Development, Disciplinary Mandates, Church Growth and Creating New Places for New People and Revitalizing Existing Congregations.

Please give a specific example of how one of your programs benefited a United Methodist, a church, or a specific community.

During the past two years, GCORR’s partnership with the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has intentionally provided many opportunities for learning, interacting and engaging in conversations intended to foster a broader knowledge, deeper understanding and genuine appreciation for those who are "different."

GCORR staff led:

  • Eight one-day "Conversations for Intercultural Communication" events for all six districts of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, as well as for the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference.
  • A two-day session on "Emotional Intelligence" at an annual fall cabinet retreat for the two annual conferences.
  • Two annual, one-day trainings for clergy and laypersons serving in CR/CC appointments.
  • Six district conversations occurring between lay and clergy on reactions and responses to racism.

GCORR’s intercultural training support in the Philippines, at Union Theological Seminary in Manila, is another example of how the agency is working to help church leaders bridge barriers that are created by physical, cultural and spiritual differences.

Union, with GCORR’s support, is helping to increase the intercultural competency of its seminarians through ecumenical education, community integration, dialogue and self-expression. Seminarians there spend six weeks participating in a full immersion program that exposes students to the indigenous Moro/Muslim and Lumad communities in the mountainous areas of Mindanao and Mangalindan above Manila.

A student from Union shared how she plans to use the intercultural competency knowledge and skills she obtained while attending the GCORR-facilitated sessions.

“Intercultural competency is a vital training for each person who desires to establish meaningful relationships with those of a different culture,” said Deo Grace Borlado. “This training helps us to be more open, inclusive and relevant to the things/events happening all around the world. It will also allow us to cross the borders that divide us and reach out to the neighbor with love, compassion and humility as one desires that all may be granted an opportunity to live a peaceful, joyful and full life.”

What challenges did the agency face in accomplishing these goals?

GCORR is in a learning and listening phase with central conferences to best determine how the agency’s work can best support and equip ministry in real and relevant ways across lines of difference. The agency is becoming more adaptive and learning through partnerships. That means expanding our network, vocabulary and resources so they are multilingual and relevant to cultural realities in central conferences. This takes time, money and relationships.

If the goals are ongoing, what do you plan to accomplish in 2017?

Priorities for this quadrennium will be to:

1. Focus on developing practical resources that impact leadership and ministry at the local church level.

2. Continue developing deeper relationships with the central conferences.

3. Discern the best placement for the work of Religion and Race if a new global structure is proposed for the church.

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