Report: Deepen ties with Latin America, Caribbean


By Linda Bloom
United Methodist News Service

United Methodists should officially reconnect with their Methodist brothers and sisters in Latin America and the Caribbean

That's the conclusion of a report for the United Methodist General Conference, which meets April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.

A study commission will present its findings to the delegates April 26. The study panel was authorized by the 2004 General Conference to consider the relationship between The United Methodist Church and autonomous Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Three recommendations awaiting General Conference consideration come from a 2007 consultation in Panama City with delegations of bishops, presidents and other leaders from each of the Methodist churches of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The purpose of the recommendations, according to United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Phoenix Area, is to strengthen a relationship that already has existed for more than 165 years.

"Even today, The United Methodist Church is contributing to the emerging Methodist work in such countries as Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Colombia," said Carcaño, chairperson of the study committee. "Our ongoing relationship with our brothers and sisters to the south continues to help in the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ."

The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies began mission work in the region in the 1800s. During the 1960s, a push toward autonomy took about half of the Latin American churches on that path. But while the churches gained the ability to make their own decisions, the official connection with the U.S.-based church was weakened.

"Agreeing to work together into the future corrects a theological error that we made in moving too quickly toward the autonomy of Methodism in Latin America and the Caribbean," Carcaño said.

"In retrospect, it is now clear that our Wesleyan theology and ecclesiology do not support the concept of full autonomy," she added. "Being autonomous, one from the other, stands in direct conflict with our self-understanding of being members together of the one body of Jesus Christ, as well as in conflict with our Methodist connectional identity."     

The committee's first recommendation is to "affirm a mutuality in mission," recognizing the need to cooperate on issues such as evangelization and discipleship, missions, pastoral and theological formation, Christian Education, projects of sustainable development and worship and liturgical renewal.

To achieve that, the report recommends formation of a Committee on Connectional Program to meet once every four years, with representatives from The United Methodist Church, the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America (CIEMAL) and the Methodist Churches of the Caribbean and the Americas.

In addition, an ongoing exchange of visits of leaders from the Latin America/Caribbean churches and United Methodist church is encouraged to "facilitate a better understanding of the realities of each mission partner's context of ministry and mission." Direct church-to-church and conference-to-conference relationships also would be supported.

The Conference of Methodist Bishops could be activated "to serve as a forum where closer relationships can be developed" between the bishops of the north and south, the recommendation said.

Over the years, Methodists from Latin America and the Caribbean have had an impact on the U.S. church, according to Carcaño. The first Hispanic elected to the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church, Bishop Elias G. Galvan, is a son of the Methodist Church of Mexico. Other Latin American/Caribbean Methodist leaders have served through United Methodist boards and agencies, and pastors have come to work with the growing Hispanic/Latino community in the United States.