Bishop preaches hope to growing Africa conference
BY MELISSA LAUBER
This summer as he transitioned as episcopal leader of the Upper New York and Baltimore-Washington-Conferences, Bishop Marcus Matthews represented the Council of Bishops, presiding over the Africa Central Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 16-18.
The conference was an important one in the life of the 12 million member denomination, which is rapidly become a global church.
In 2011, The United Methodist Church saw a reduction of 71,971 members in the United States. However, dramatic growth is reported in Africa. The Burundi and East Africa annual conferences, for example, reported an increase of more than 68,000 members.
Africa now boasts 4.2 million United Methodists and at the next General Conference in 2016, where the policies and priorities of the church are set, the majority of voting delegates will be African.
Bishop Matthews applauded this movement toward becoming a global church and as the guest preacher, delivered a message of hope to the 57 delegates of the nine annual conferences who gathered in Kenya.
“The United Methodist Church is more a global church now than ever,” he said. “We must embrace those bonds, those connections. We want to be transformational in the world, not just in our backyards, but in the whole world. We want to put a dollar in the collection plate in New York to bring hope in Kenya. But just as important, we want a stirring sermon in Burundi to bring hope to parishioners in Washington, D.C.”
One of the signs of hope that unfolded at the Africa Central Conference was the re-election of Joaquina Filipe Nhanala. In 2008, she was the first woman United Methodist bishop elected in Africa.
Nhanala is the episcopal leader of the Mozambique South and Mozambique North Annual Conferences and the South Africa Provisional Annual Conference.
Bishop Daniel Wanabula was also re-elected to serve the East Africa episcopal area, which includes the countries of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan. He will also oversee the creation of the new Burundi Annual Conference, whose formation was approved at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida.
Wanabula will be facing some challenges. Three independent audit committees found that the conference lacked financial procedures and demonstrated an inability to verify the use of funds as designated. In August, the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries voted to suspend funding to the East Africa Conference until leaders of the East Africa Conference are prepared to accept fiscal responsibility and put internal controls into place.
Finances have often been a challenging point in the development of a global church. As of 2010, about 99 percent of the money that supports general church operations through apportionments – including mission work around the globe – came from the United States.
Tension comes with the reality that the denomination’s financial base is shrinking. Sixteen U.S. conferences, for example, report planned budget reductions for this year or in 2013.
However, at the Africa Central Conference, members recognized this challenge and began taking steps so that they can become contributors to the General Church budget. Delegates approved a motion to ask every member in the Africa Central Conference to give $1 during the quadrennium as a key step toward being financial contributors.
In other action, the Conference, which conducted business in three languages:
- Heard from the Vice President of Kenya Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka;
- Elected the Rev. Forbes Matonga to serve as General Secretary for the quadrennium;
- Heard a state of the church report from Bishop Gasper Domingues;
- Adopted a budget that doubles last quadrennium’s spending; and
- Celebrated the ongoing contributions of Africa University, whose graduates continue to make important contributions in the church and society.
In his remarks, Matthews called on United Methodists to be agents of transformation.
“We must bring hope. The best way to bring hope is to facilitate change. I didn’t say that was easy, but it is the most recognizable way of instilling hope. We can be an agent for change by bringing the Word of God to people,” Matthews said.
“The power of God’s Word is awe-inspiring; its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and can heal a broken community. It builds bridges to those seeking God’s grace and its pages are like open, outstretched arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden and the disillusioned,” Matthews preached. “In that better future, in our eternal destiny decreed by Christ, we find comfort. We find joy and we find strength.”