Great Plains pastor among leadership of Commission on Religion and Race


Erin Hawkins, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race speaks May 10 to the United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Photo by Mike DuBose / UMNS

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:
  1. To focus on supporting local congregations by creating training, worship, Biblically based study, and other resources "to impact the ministry of people in the pews."
  2. To expand relationships with and ministries with United Methodists beyond the United States, learning about and engaging to counter tribal strife, xenophobia, and "fear of the other."
  3. To be proactive and creative in envisioning and proposing ideas about how the work of GCORR should be positioned in a new global church structure.
In addition to training and educational resources, the Commission also oversees the CORR Action Fund of nearly $600,000 for grants to support local-church-based ministries of racial justice, intercultural understanding, and witness.
Board member Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda affirmed the dire need for the church to intervene and help build understanding and paths of reconciliation for people divided around the world. Episcopal leader of the Eastern Congo in Africa, Unda described his own ministry among people divided by tribal strife.
"I come from a context where people are killing one another because we come from different places, not realizing that we share a common humanity and right to exist," said Unda, who has been a member of the Commission since 2013.
"Our congregations everywhere need resources that reflect the reality in a constant changing world and help us remember the promises we made to God with our baptism. We have a lot of homework to do and an obligation to approach this work," he added.

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