Reflections on Connections
By Kimberly Woods
Yesterday was only the second day of General Conference and it was filled with more information than I felt comfortable processing in one day. It was, for lack of a better term, overwhelming. Aside from debating amendments, as we often do, we also met with our legislative committees for the first time yesterday. We were introduced to one another and engaged in the basics of Christian conferencing.
As a first-time delegate, I was not certain what to expect when I grabbed my Chicken Caesar Wrap and walked into our group’s room for session. My group seemed to consist of a diverse number of persons from different parts of the delegation. This became clearer still when I sat down at an empty table, which soon became filled with delegates from across the connection. I was the only American present at my table for our small group conversations. My fellow delegates were from the Philippines, South Congo, and Nigeria. We were asked to engage in conversation regarding our context and connection in The United Methodist Church. My eyes were opened to the differences which are present and should be acknowledged in our connection. While I do not wish to elaborate on all of the conversations that took place, as some could be considered confidential or personal, I will list some highlights below.
- A current issue regarding the Book of Discipline lies in accessibility. We do not even print the Book of Discipline in all the languages which exist in our connection. A related issue is that many of our English terminology either does not translate well or can be difficult to understand for persons for whom English is not their first language (and truthfully, for some whom English is their first language!)
- There are differences in how we approach the sacraments globally. In the Philippines, Jesus is not the “bread” of life, but the “rice of life” as is relevant to their context. Also, they do not always use what those in America might consider “standard” Eucharist, as they use what is available in context, like banana bread and coconut water.
- In Nigeria, if a person has more than one wife, they are welcome in church. However, they cannot take part in Communion. Many other countries also have very negative views regarding divorce in their context.
- Language barriers can be present even within one’s own context. For example, an itinerant clergy person might find themselves appointed to a region with a completely different language than their own, or at least a different dialect. Also, the Methodist church is the only denomination (as shared by my colleagues) in their context which allows the ordination of women.
- The strength of our connection is present across the globe. This is seen largely in the context of disaster relief and response, such as through UMCOR and in health initiatives like that of Imagine No Malaria.
While these are just a few of the many reflections and observations from our conversations yesterday, I do feel that they are important to lift up and to be shared. Many of us in the United States tend to forget just how privileged we are. We have many publications in the church that we can read; some do not and cannot. We may put up a Power Point slide with the words to a well-known hymn and tell them to sing in their first language, but we haven’t provided them with a hymnal to supplement their singing in their language. This does not make us accessible, but exclusive. There are many things to which we turn a blind eye in the United States, mainly that what we understand and think of as being normal or simple does not always translate into other contexts. Part of being a global connection and a global church means recognizing where we stand as a denomination. We are not perfect and we have much work to be done, but the first step is acknowledging that we do not always connect well with our siblings in Christ in contexts which differ from our own.
I hope that my reflections can open some eyes and some hearts to the wonderful diversity of our church and the hurdles which we still must overcome to be closer in our connection as children of God and persons of The United Methodist Church.