Most of the time we hear about the decline of United Methodism. General Conference is struggling mightily with how to deal with the growth, even if not in the United States: hence the problem.
There are nearly 4 million United Methodist Christians on the African continent. There is exactly one accredited United Methodist university with a graduate-level theological school, Africa University. There was a good deal of talk today (because today is the last day to deal with legislative items that have implications for the church’s budget) about how to help support the church’s growth in those areas. Imagine an annual conference in one of the African countries growing like crazy. They have new congregations, but the pool of even minimally-trained pastors is very tiny. If they could start some sort of theological school in their area to train their pastors, it would be a great help.
But who will pay for these schools? Who will train the professors? Who will pay their salaries? How will they purchase even the barest minimum of property and buildings in order to establish a visible presence? The money – most of it – has to come from the United States. Will we change our way of operating to make it possible? Will we give sacrificially? It’s testing our mettle.
It also takes an action of General Conference to increase the number of bishops in these areas. One of the really interesting decisions today was a vote to decrease the number of bishops in the United States in order to free up more money for adding bishops in places where the church is growing.
The United Methodist Church is having growing pains!
Another special happening today was the speech by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia. She went to a United Methodist High School and is an active member of the United Methodist Church in Liberia. Bishop John Innis (a seminary classmate of mine) is her bishop. She spoke of the historic struggles of a country that, in the early 1980s, was a failed state, and has made tremendous progress since then. The Christian presence of The United Methodist Church has been a necessary and important help in the rebuilding of that country. Her speech was a stirring call to sustain the mission.
Can we do it? Of course. Will we?