UMCOR in Spotlight at School of Congregational Development
By Elliott Wright
Nashville, Tennessee, August 2, 2010--Disaster relief was in the spotlight at a public celebration during a United Methodist training institute on starting and strengthening churches, and the unusual combination made perfect sense.
The event was in part a benefit that raised $6,500 for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), notably its work in Tennessee and Haiti; it was also an affirmation of Christian daring to be at work in the world on behalf of persons in crisis and in support of economic and social justice.
Taking the love at the heart of the Christian faith into all sorts of places was a recurring theme at the 2010 School of Congregational Development. Sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Discipleship, and PATH1, the annual event brings together clergy and lay leaders seeking to hone their skills in planting new churches and revitalizing those already or about to be in decline.
UMCOR provides humanitarian relief and rehabilitation services in the wake of natural or human-caused disasters around the world. It asks no questions about religious, ethnic, or political affiliation but is motivated by the example of Jesus' embrace of those in need.
Sunday night, August 1, at the School of Congregational Development was set aside for an UMCOR Benefit for Haiti and Tennessee. The agency is currently engaged in massive rehabilitation work in Haiti as a result of the January 12 earthquake. It is working with regional United Methodist groups in response to the devastating May floods in Middle and West Tennessee.
The big-name speaker at the benefit was Dr. Tony Campolo, an internationally-known author and speaker, who, while an American Baptist, made clear his admiration for Methodism, its Wesleyan heritage, and the work of UMCOR.
He praised UMCOR for its strategy of involving Haitians in every aspect of the cleanup and rebuilding process. He added that in his view Christian groups too often go into poor countries or those hit by disasters and do harm by "doing for the indigenous people what they can do for themselves." This takes jobs away from local people and can wreck entire local industries.
Campolo said that The United Methodist Church was among the first denominations to understand that mission and aid programs must "not disempower people." He went on to commend United Methodists for their willingness to oppose government policies in the name of justice, including US economic policies regarding Haiti.
US "free trade" attitudes, he said, "dump" US-grown food in Haiti and other poor countries in ways that so undercut prices that local farmers are forced out of business. He also said that the shipping of used clothing to Haiti over the years destroyed the garment industry. "Free trade is not fair trade," the speaker said, acknowledging the United Methodist endorsement of the latter.
Job creation, said Campolo, is the only way to end poverty.
Bishop Dick Wills of the Tennessee Annual Conference opened the event with a prayer of thanks for the work of UMCOR.
Craig Miller and Betsey Heavner, executives from the General Board of Discipleship, honored the memories of the Rev. Sam Dixon, director of UMCOR, and the Rev. Clint Rabb, a Global Ministries executive working with mission volunteers, both of whom died as a result of injuries sustained in the Haiti disaster.
The choir of Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville sang to great acclaim at several points in the benefit. Sheltered Reality, a youth drum corps from the 61st Avenue United Methodist Church, presented a concert as a lead-in to the benefit.
The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, an executive with the General Board of Global Ministries, of which UMCOR is a part, and Christy Smith, an UMCOR disaster response consultant, presented "The UMCOR Story" regarding the Haiti earthquake and the Tennessee floods.
The King Has One More Move
Campolo, who is a retired professor of sociology at Eastern University outside of Philadelphia, spoke broadly on the topic, "Missional Discipleship for a More Just World." He attributed at least some of the decline in United Methodist Church membership in recent years to the denomination's stands on justice issues. "The United Methodist Church is one of a handful of denominations that has lost members for all the right reasons," he said.
He enumerated United Methodist support for racial integration and for women's rights; its opposition to capital punishment; and its support for the equal rights of Palestinians with Israelis in the Middle East.
The author of 38 books focused on some of the reasons that American mainline Protestant denominations, his own and The United Methodist Church, are having trouble appealing to today's young adults.
One reason, he said, is that "we are giving them religion when youth want spirituality." Campolo described contemporary young people as craving "an experience of Jesus" and along the way are rediscovering liturgy and classical forms of prayer.
Campolo admonished United Methodist not to despair about the future because, using a phrase from chess, "the King has one more move."
Supporting UMCOR Relief Efforts
Six months ago, an earthquake unleashed massive destruction in Haiti, killing nearly 300,000 people and leaving more than one million people homeless. UMCOR is there, providing immediate assistance to survivors and laying the groundwork for a large-scale, long-term recovery effort. The recovery in Haiti is still in its earliest phases. Support will continue to be needed, as tents give way to temporary shelters and ultimately, to permanent homes, schools, places of worship, and small businesses. To support UMCOR's work in Haiti, please make a gift to UMCOR Advance #418325.
Within two days in early May, more than 15 inches of rain fell upon Tennessee, causing widespread flooding. The torrential rains caused interstate highways to close, displaced thousands of people from their homes, and covered city streets with water. The best estimates say it will be at least two years before the people of Tennessee fully recover from the flood of 2010.
During the most turbulent storms, UMCOR is there to walk with disaster survivors, help communities rebuild, and stay until the job is done. UMCOR's domestic disaster response personnel and specially trained early response volunteer teams stand ready to be dispatched whenever there is a need. To support UMCOR's relief efforts in Tennessee, please make a gift to US Disaster Response UMCOR Advance #901670 and indicate that it is for Tennessee flood relief.