Monday, April 15, 2024

My Metho-nerd Credentials

Greetings to my friends, old and new. 

my confirmation, Sunrise at Geist UMC

As I previously shared, last year I started teaching United Methodist (UM) History, Polity, and Doctrine courses at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, but you might not know why the school wanted me to teach leaders in The UMC about The UMC. It isn’t a question I normally get asked, but if you are a delegate to this month’s UM General Conference, you may have spotted my name on a nominations list and thus googled me. This post was mostly written for you. 

Cradle United Methodist— I was born and raised in the old South Indiana Conference, daughter of an itinerant UM elder. Church activities filled my evenings and weekends, and being a UM pastor’s kid became a core part of my identity. (My family’s ties to Methodism in the Americas go back at least to the 1800s, but that’s a story for different day.)

Active in UM leadership since my youth—By age 12, I was serving on district and conference youth boards, and by high school I was a youth representative on numerous UM committees, including at the national level. 

    • Elected as a youth delegate to the South Indiana Annual Conference in jr high and continued serving as a youth delegate every year until I moved away for college. I was “that kid” who showed up to AC having read all the pre-conference packets, reviewed Robert’s Rules of Order, and was able to list all the districts and committees in my conference and the conferences in my jurisdiction.
    • Served on the UMC's National Youth Ministries Organization and co-chaired the national gathering planning committee.
    • Attended and/or coordinated many, many large gatherings organized by UM boards and agencies. If the event was organized in the 1990s and 2000s and aimed at my demographic, I was probably there and got the t-shirt.
    • For my BA/MA program, I attended the United Methodist-affiliated American University in DC and immediately sought out a UM congregation to attend and ways to plug into the student movement. I was awarded the Allan Burry prize (General Board of Higher Education) at the UM Student Forum for my work in re-launching a UM student ministry and worshiping community on my campus.

North Katanga Conference Connection—In the early 1990s, my father was making frequent trips to UM communities in North Katanga (to learn about his work and journeys, read The Last Missionary and Pastors, Chiefs, and Warlords), and at age 15 I traveled to Katanga to attend an annual conference session there. It was the first of my many trips to DR Congo, including an extended period serving as an individual Volunteer in Mission. I eventually was ordained an elder in the North Katanga Conference, which is a long story I’d be happy to share over a cup of tea. You can find portions of it in my published doctoral monograph Decolonizing Mission Partnerships

UM Boards and Agencies— I spent a lot of time at the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill (DC) back in my undergrad and grad school days, serving as a part-time program assistant at the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) and the UMC's Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence. The experience taught me about the inner workings of UM agencies as well as the difficulties they faced. Some of the tasks I was assigned included editing committee-created proposals for General Conference resolutions and drafting replies to hate mail. Due to the latter task, I kept the IRD website tab open so that I could generate form letters responding to brazen lies that had been published about the agencies and its staff. Through this exposure, I began to understand the politics of the fighting within the denomination. 

Later in my 20s, while living in North Katanga, I got to know the folks at United Methodist Communications better, as I served as a translator for francophone delegates to UMCOM trainings at Africa University and as an advocate for increased coverage in the UM News Service on the challenges and accomplishments of African UM leaders. My doctoral research in my 30s gave me yet another opportunity to dig into the history of our denomination and the role its agencies have played. (side note: I am very grateful for the work the UM Archives and History team has done to digitize its collection).  

In 2017, I was appointed as Bishop Mande Muyombo’s Executive Assistant for Partnership and Engagement and have continued in this role until today. In other words, I act as my bishop’s strategy advisor and Gal Friday—does that term age me too much?— for interactions with the anglophone world. Bishop Mande is not only bishop over three conferences covering two countries, he has also during this period been Chair of the Africa University Board, Chair of the Connectional Table, and Secretary of the Council of Bishops. As his personal assistant, I have been the proverbial fly on the wall and observed in real time as recent historical debates and events have unfolded.  (This knowledge informed the chapter I wrote in Methodism and American Empire  about empire politics in The UMC harming the central conferences in Africa and endangering their leaders.)  

Global UM Connection—If I was hyper-involved in The UMC in the ‘90s and ‘00s, where have I been “hiding” the past 15 years? In 2009, my spouse became a diplomat, and we began our super-itinerant life outside of the USA. Thus, while I was commissioned in the Indiana Conference, my first post-MDiv clergy appointment was to a UM congregation in the slums of Lusaka, Zambia. Later I served as the pastor of the UM congregation in Algiers, Algeria (France-Swiss Conference), was on loan for three years to the The Church of England’s parish in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and have even preached in Methodist congregations in my current home of New Delhi, India. Soon I’ll be moving to Cairo, Egypt, which will make travel to my episcopal area (North Katanga-Tanganyika-Tanzania) easier and put me in a better time zone for when I’m on Zoom with my colleagues and students in the USA.     

Roaming the globe (I have called 8—soon to be 9—countries home) has given me a broader perspective on what it means to be Methodist, the structure and traditions of Methodism outside of the USA, and where the story of The UMC fits into the bigger picture. I still care about what will happen next, but watching from a physical distance over the past few years has helped me to spot patterns, problems, and possibilities that those immersed in the work don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to reflect upon. I have been able to become a non-anxious sounding board for my colleagues, which—ironically in my eyes—has led since the last General Conference to me being “discovered” and recruited for teaching and consulting roles by institutions and agencies within the denomination.   

This week I am once again packing my bags for The UMC's General Conference. The last few have been brutal, but nevertheless I decided to return. I go to provide pragmatic support to my bishop and episcopal area, to see old friends, to witness a moment for the history books, and, most importantly, to sit with the wounded. If you would like to meet-up in Charlotte April 21-May 3, drop me a line. I'm always happy to expand my circle of kindred spirits.


No comments:

Post a Comment