The United Methodist Church's agency charged with challenging, leading, and equipping lay members and clergypersons to become more interculturally competent, to ensure institutional equity, and to facilitate vital conversations about religion, race, tribe, and culture has elected Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe as president of its board of directors for the next four years.
Bledsoe, episcopal leader of the Northwest Texas-New Mexico Area of The United Methodist Church, took the helm of the board of the General Commission on Religion and Race on September 29. The agency, one of 13 international churchwide agencies of the 12-million-member United Methodist Church, also elected the Rev. Stephen Handy of Nashville, Tenn., as vice president, and Rosie Rios, a student at the University of California at Los Angeles, as secretary.
Also named to the agency's executive team were: the Rev. Alka Lyall of Chicago, at-large member; Framer Mella, a laywoman from the Mindanao province in the Philippines, as chairperson of the board governance committee; and the Rev. Zach Anderson, pastor of Hanscom Park UMC in Omaha, Nebraska, finance chairperson.
In a separate action, the 22-member board of directors – which includes lay and clergy members from Europe, Africa, the Philippines and the United States – unanimously re-elected Erin M. Hawkins as chief executive officer for another four years. Hawkins had earlier announced plans to leave the post; however, when discerning what God was calling her to do in this time in the life of the church, the board invited her to remain general secretary.
During their organizing meeting for their work for the 2017-2020 quadrennium, commission members visited the new National African American Museum of History and Culture and discussed their experience there. They then spent time discussing the current state of the church and the world, and how the agency might best help United Methodists around the world to develop greater intercultural competency and understand and relate to their ministry context-especially laity and clergy who are in leadership in local churches.
In her opening address, Hawkins asserted that the work of the agency is not just about dismantling racism, but also helping people form right relationships with God and one another.
"When we are in right relationships, then we will work for justice. We will engage in leveling the playing field so that bias against people by race, culture, tribe, and ethnicity is no longer an issue. When we are in right relationships, we will tear down walls of division and be about addressing imbalance of power," she said.
Board members affirmed three priorities for the work of the General Commission on Religion and Race: