Community Developers Program: Historical Background
The year 1968 is highly significant in the history of The United Methodist Church. This was a year of reconciliation. The Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form The United Methodist Church. Of particular consequence to Black Americans, the church merged with a church within a church. On this occasion, Black Methodists who had been operating as a segregated entity with parallel structures to the mother church were integrated into the mainstream of the denomination.
Against a backdrop of social upheaval and unprecedented Black political movement, the church was challenged to make a critical assessment of the hard realities of racism and oppression. It was no longer possible to dismiss the gross injustices being experienced by Black Methodists, Black churches, and Black communities in the United States. It was no longer possible to ignore the power of church-based community activism, as it contributed to the Civil Rights movement to cause constructive social change. The new United Methodist Church was being summoned to take a leading role in dispelling the prevailing oppressors' mentality that permeated American society, and its response was unique and distinctive.
The 1968 General Conference, responding to the growing movement in the Black church, particularly, established a Fund for Reconciliation that supported many programs approved as quadrennial emphases. The Black Community Developers Program was one, and was administered through the General Board of Global Ministries.
Endorsed by the newly emerging national Black Caucus, the Black Community Developers Program offered a unique model for ministry, designed to both challenge and lead the church in confronting racism and oppression. The fundamental premise of the program was that community organizing methodologies, emanating from a church base, form powerful and effective forces for overcoming injustice and oppression.
In 1970, a sister component to the Black Community Developers Program, was established through the United Methodist Women's "Call to Prayer and Self Denial." "The Indigenous Community Developers Program" employed the same model in Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American churches and communities, and articulated the importance of indigenization: local churches identifying local needs and strategies, and using the talent of local leaders to organize and carry out effective responses.
In 1972, the General Conference grouped the two programs together. In 1996, the programs' administration began to take place within the newly formed Community Ministries Unit of the General Board of Global Ministries. Over time, the Black Community Developers Program and the Indigenous Community Developers Program evolved into a one-component ministry, called the Community Developers Program and continues to be guided by an advisory board called the National Policy Committee.
Since 1972, more than 100 churches and communities have benefited from the resources of CDP. In the United States, where racism and oppression remain present throughout society, CDP has maintained the program's primary focus on racial/ethnic minority congregations and communities. At the same time, it has broadened the scope to include communities of migrants, immigrants, and refugees. With a broadened scope, the CDP has also refined it processes for church and community participation, training and resource delivery.
Photo: Community Developers Program National Policy Committee: Spring Meeting held in April 2009 at Association for Better Community Development, Inc. in Canton, OH, a CDP site.