A voice for all

ELCC begins work on comprehensive racial-ethnic plan for S.C.

By Jessica Connor

This fall, South Carolina United Methodists begin work on a comprehensive plan designed to give voice to various racial-ethnic groups within the conference.

Developed by the Ethnic Local Church Concerns Committee, the plan will encompass all racial-ethnic groups in the conference, including African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Korean, Native American and more, said the Rev. Carleathea Benson, chair of the ELCC.

“It’s important because there has to be a voice within the conference about this,” Benson said, noting the old plan expired, but actions by the UMC’s General Conference 2012 put the “shall” language back in in the Discipline regarding ELCC and its mandate.

Benson said the Discipline now requires that conferences “shall have an ELCC and shall have a comprehensive plan,” so the UMCSC is working to be in compliance.

Crafting the Comprehensive Plan for Racial-Ethnic Churches in the S.C. Annual Conference will be Benson, along with the newly reconstituted African-American Task Force, as well as congregational specialist for African-American Ministries the Rev. Jeffrey Salley and others who represent or work with Hispanic, Korean and Native American ministries. While the Native American Committee is independent from the ELCC, they report through that body, so they will be included in the plan.

The ELCC team is in the information-gathering phase now, collecting information on where racial-ethnic groups exist in the state—not only geographically, but specifically which churches and districts have a racial-ethnic ministry in the works.

“For example, with Hispanics and Latinos, we’re asking what’s going on in Charleston? In Walhalla, we have a high population—are we connected with them?” Benson said. “Are they coming to Euro churches? To African-American churches?”

Alongside the “where,” the ELCC Committee is also gathering information about needs—after all, Benson said, a comprehensive plan cannot be effective unless it adequately addresses real needs, both now and in the future. Many churches and ministries have building needs, but there are other concerns as well, from language barriers to funding.

They hope to have all data collected by the end of the year. In the spring, they will sit down with various racial and ethnic groups to start writing a draft of the comprehensive plan, which they plan to present to Annual Conference in June 2015.

“The more we can get out there and speak to needs, the more we can do,” Benson said. “We hope this can be the shot of adrenaline needed to make our churches and ministries better. …This is a journey we should be walking hand-in-hand.”

Good idea—if followed

Salley said a new ethnic and racial plan will be great for the conference, because not only will it ensure we are identifying the various needs of local churches and communities, but also will “help us to make sure, as we are doing ministry, that we’re just not adding another program. It’s making sure we are meeting the needs of our zip code and making sure that we are providing relevant resources to make our churches more viable.”

Tracy Pender, chair of the conference’s Native American Committee, said he would love to see the conference have a comprehensive plan that is read and followed.

“It would be great to have both an individual voice specific to Native Americans, but a unified voice as a conference in the support for all. We need to celebrate both our differences and similarities,” Pender said. “I treasure the day that (Native Americans) are seen as Christians. Even this week, I was approached by someone asking if we sing Christian songs; do we follow Jesus. ‘I thought you were pagans.’ Likewise, I treasure the day that we are seen as part of the United Methodist body by all.”

Pender said Native Americans are not some separate outside agency or association, and there is little recognition that they are one of the six special Sundays in the Book of Discipline. There are still barriers to getting access to churches, including Native American Ministries Sunday, he said.

"We are all brothers and sisters created by God and united by the blood of Christ," Pender said.

The Rev. Cheryl Toothe, executive director of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Association on Native American Ministries, said she, too, thinks a comprehensive plan sounds great.

“My concern is whether or not it will be followed. Perhaps at first, before the newness wears off, we will see positive changes. How long will that last?” Toothe said.

With SEJANAM, she has been working with several annual conferences, including South Carolina, on their follow-up to the 2012 Act of Repentance enacted at General Conference.

“The lack of interest in these conferences from the non-Native higher-ups is disheartening. My fear is this lack of interest will carry over to the comprehensive plan,” Toothe said. “My prayer is it will not.”

The Rev. Elizabeth Murray, director of Hispanic ministries at Mount Hebron UMC, West Columbia, hopes the conference will reach out and be welcoming to the Hispanic/Latino population and put time and money into Hispanic/Latino ministry opportunities.

“The members of the Hispanic/Latino have many gifts and skills they offer to our churches,” Murray said. “I pray that the South Carolina Conference will invest in our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters, so that we might be graced by their presence, spirits, and talents. Let us continue to pray and discern where God is leading our conference and be open to the ways in which we can be in relationships with our Hispanic/Latino neighbors.”

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