The Rev. Sam Dixon to Lead United Methodist Relief Agency
by Linda Bloom
NEW YORK (UMNS) Oct. 10, 2007—Recent major disasters - 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Asian tsunami—have led The United Methodist Church's relief organization "to rethink how we do everything," according to its new chief executive.
The Rev. Sam Dixon, interim leader of the United Methodist Committee on Relief since Jan. 31, was elected permanently to the position Oct. 10. The election came during the annual meeting of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR's parent agency.
The 58-year-old pastor oversees the board's Health and Relief unit, which includes UMCOR and the health and welfare department, and he also leads the mission volunteers unit.
In an interview with United Methodist News Service, Dixon said the magnitude of recent disasters - along with the generous response by church members to fund relief efforts - has changed the way UMCOR operates.
The changes include more participation by staff in other parts of the Board of Global Ministries; establishing relationships with new organizations in new areas, such as with Muslim Aid in Sri Lanka and Indonesia; and dealing with other development issues, such as microcredit, sanitation and health care.
The biggest task, Dixon, added, "is just preparing for the next one."
The ranks of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission are growing, and more of those volunteers are becoming involved in disaster relief work. At the regional level, more United Methodist conferences have disaster coordinators, and warehouses have opened to store flood buckets, health kits and other emergency supplies.
Individual local churches are joining forces with UMCOR as well. The Ginghamsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church has become partners with UMCOR in Sudan, pledging $1 million in aid this year and $1.5 million in 2008, according to Dixon.
Nearly a decade of service
Dixon is no stranger to either UMCOR or the Board of Global Ministries. He first joined UMCOR on July 1, 1998, the same day as his predecessor, the Rev. Paul Dirdak. He was in charge of UMCOR's non-governmental organization unit, which secures grants from the U.S. and other governments and the United Nations to implement projects assisting vulnerable people around the world.
Three years later, he took another job within the board, and during his two-year tenure as executive director of The United Methodist Development Fund helped expand its assets to $125 million. The fund assists local churches to acquire proper facilities for ministry.
From Sept. 1, 2003, until his return to UMCOR last January, Dixon led the board's evangelism and church growth unit and two years later was given the added responsibility of overseeing mission context and relationships and mission education.
Besides working directly with Dirdak, he has had contact over the years with the Rev. Ken Lutgen and Norma Kehrberg, two former UMCOR chief executives. "I see myself building on the strengths of those who came before me," he said.
Changes at UMCOR
UMCOR has seen a number of other staff changes since the agency responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. "We've almost re-staffed UMCOR since that point in time," Dixon said.
The agency also has rearranged how some of its units operate, such as moving the nongovernmental unit from Washington to New York to more fully integrate its work within the organization. "We really want people to see every division of UMCOR as a part of UMCOR," he explained.
A North Carolina native, Dixon has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctor of ministry degree from Chicago Theological Seminary. He became a clergy member of the United Methodist North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference in 1974, serving various churches. From 1990 to 1996, he was director of missions, evangelism and VISION 2000 for the conference's council on ministries.
He and his wife, Cindy Leapley of Wilson, NC, have four adult children and two grandchildren.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.