By Elliott Wright*
New York, NY: October 21, 2013. Efforts are underway to expand, strengthen, and promote United Methodist ministries with the poor in the United States.
This intensified work includes connecting local models of successful ministries that cross class, ethnic, and racial lines to address the causes and conditions of poverty. It seeks to engage more people in these ministries and to bring about a church more vital, diverse, and welcoming of those who are marginalized.
A series of regional training events in 2014 and 2015 will utilize the expertise of practitioners in such fields as community development, financial literacy and management, employment, and multicultural encounters.
Ministry with the Poor is one of four current focus areas of The United Methodist Church. A strong emphasis is on “with,” rather than ministries “for” or “to” the poor.
The new efforts reflect a four-point plan agreed to earlier by the Justice and Reconciliation Table of the denomination’s Council of Bishops and representatives of the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries. The two agencies share overall responsibility for the Ministry with the Poor area of focus.
Step one is a request, already made, that each resident bishop in the United States identify up to three existing ministries with the poor to consider as models to be shared, studied, and adapted for wider use.
In making this request of colleagues, Bishop Michael McKee of North Texas, chair of the Justice and Reconciliation Table said, “We want to know about ministries that are about more than charity and show persons of various economic backgrounds responding to the love of God in Jesus Christ in economic as well as spiritual ways.”
“We know that there are already many excellent and varied examples of ministries with the poor in, or associated with, United Methodist churches throughout the United States,” said James Winkler, general secretary of the Church and Society agency. “Some are known only to their immediate communities. We want to identify those that can have broader value or suggest a variety of approaches to poverty reduction.”
The action plan includes three other measures to strengthen the Ministry with the Poor emphasis, according to Thomas Kemper, who leads the Global Ministries agency.
Global Ministries will organize regional experiential training events featuring local ministries with the poor that can inspire and equip others to development creative approaches.
Church and Society will lead, or arrange for, training in community organizing relevant to ministries with the poor.
Global Ministries will continue to collect, publicize, and distribute Ministry with the Poor materials and best practices and partner with United Methodist Communications on other communication strategies for spreading the gospel of ‘Ministry With.’”
“Bringing in local ministry models that have proven track records will strengthen our connectionalism as well as deepen our reservoir of resources and trainers,” Kemper said.
The training events to begin next year will be preceded in late 2013 by two Ministry with the Poor roundtables, or forums, one in Dallas in November, hosted by Bishop McKee, and the other in Chicago in December, hosted by Bishop Sally Dyck. These events will provide opportunities for those engaged in ministries with the poor to get to know one another and to interact with annual conference and general agency personnel.
While these particular efforts relate to local ministries in the United States, the Ministry with the Poor focus is global in nature, relating to international programs in humanitarian relief, health, and education.
The other three focus areas of the church are Global Health, Leadership, and Congregational Development. These overarching priorities are meant to intersect in ways that spark the transformation of individuals, the church, and the society in response to the Christian call to bring about a world of love and justice. (See Ministry with the Poor Guiding Principles and Foundations: Answering Jesus’ Call to Discipleship in God’s Mission of Love and Justice.)