There are moments when the church makes me so proud I am a member. One occurred today during our legislative committee. General Conference is an international body. Over 40% of delegates are from Asia and Africa. This is good, because the church is flourishing there and it gives the rest of us a feeling of hope to know that the church is not just growing, but growing so quickly they can barely keep up with it. In many parts of Africa, like the Ivory Coast or The Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is a shortage of pastors for the churches where people are converting to Christianity. One of the problems is that the pastors have very little theological education. Things that we take for granted, like access to books, working internet, or educational paths like Course of Study or a seminary degree, are not available. The church is growing rapidly, but in the midst of the broader poverty issues of the developing world, the infrastructure of theological education is simply not in place, nor does it appear to be in place for a very long time. Some of our U.S. seminaries have reached out through video based curriculum, in country training, and other means to assist the church in the Central Conferences, but everyone agrees that there is much more to be done.
In our legislative committee today we were dealing with a lot of legislation. The pension plan, petitions on divestment related to Israel and Palestine, the denominational budget and many other items filled the day. It felt a bit complicated. And sometimes boring. It was moving slow there for awhile. But along the way we approved a plan that was created by some of our General Secretaries to allocate $5,000,000 of the existing budget toward ministerial education in the Central Conferences. This was a stellar example of people working together, aligning resources to the needs of the church in ways that will impact the vitality of the local church. The proposal creates a task group with representatives of the various conferences that will benefit from these funds so that they can create a plan that fits their context. The expertise of the UMC in accounting and auditing will make sure that money is tracked, just as it is in the U.S., and report the use of the funds. This idea sailed through our 80 person committee. People across the theological spectrum of liberal and conservative all sang its praises. The central conference delegates were very pleased that they were finally receiving the funds they so desperately needed. More importantly, they did not have to stage a protest or make a scene. They just stated the truth: it would benefit all of us to bless their pastors with greater access to theological training. The church responded. We all voted. It was unanimous. And for a moment, we were all visibly delighted with ourselves.
All this will still have to come before the plenary session of the General Conference for approval, but I think it will do fine there as well. Because sometimes we really can all agree on something. While $5,000,000 is not sufficient to meet all the needs of the central conferences in this regard, it is a good start and heralds a new hope for many. Lots of things didn’t go as well today in many other committees at General Conference and certainly won’t next week when all 1,000 of us meet together in one big room. But as I close my day, I find some joy recalling the smile on the faces of the delegates from Africa in our committee when that motion passed and the smile on my face as well. When I complain about paying apportionments in the coming four years, I will try to remember that smile and those faces, and enjoy the good things we are doing across the globe.