2000
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May 10, 2000 GC-053

Ethnic participation increases at 2000 General Conference

CLEVELAND (UMNS) —The recruitment of younger delegates has led to an increase in ethnic participation at the 2000 General Conference, observers say.

This General Conference has seen greater involvement of ethnic minorities, both clergy and lay members, than any previous meeting of the legislative assembly, according to the Interethnic Strategy Development Group, which comprises five ethnic caucuses in the United Methodist Church.

The five groups are Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR), Methodist Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans (MARCHA), National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM), Native American International Caucus and the Pacific Islander National Caucus of the Methodist Church.

In addition to the overall increase of ethnic minority participants, a larger number of young people and baby boomers are participating, said Mark Nakagawa, director of NFAAUM.

"This is a tribute to the work of the five leaders of our ethnic minority caucuses who have worked with their respective constituencies to encourage and develop leadership for this General Conference," he said.

In all areas of the conference, especially in the legislative committee meetings, people from racial and ethnic minorities are serving in leadership roles. At least 15 percent are subcommittee chair people, and 18 are leading legislative and General Conference committees.

"Ethnic participation at this General Conference has increased, and I am heartened by what appears to be a younger delegate," said Bishop Felton E. May, one of 10 active African-American bishops in the United Methodist Church.

While overall participation has increased, a Native American woman said her constituency has not been as actively engaged as other ethnic bodies. Anne Marshall, an executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, applauded the fact that a Native American man is the chairman of one of the legislative committees and has presented issues to the entire assembly.

"We've never had visibility up front in a leadership role," Marshall said. "This was a huge step for us in having that type of role, and the fact that there was someone in leadership that was Native American is a step forward. But, since there has been only one, this shows that we really are invisible."

Thirteen Native Americans from across the country are among the 992 delegates of the United Methodist General Conference addressing legislation that affects the Native American community, ministries and programs. An inter-tribal team of observers also is present.

Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil of Manila Area agreed that the ethnic presence at General Conference has increased. While ethnic minority people have not often taken the plenary floor to speak, they have made contributions in legislative committees, he said.

Although many central conference delegates have spoken against changing the denomination's proscriptions against homosexuality, Nacpil noted that they have not participated as much in floor discussion because most of the matters are issues related to the United States. "Most from outside the U.S. will find it intimidating to talk about U.S. matters," he said.

Nacpil played an important role at this gathering. He was the first United Methodist bishop living outside the United States to deliver the traditional Episcopal Address to the assembly.

African Americans are the largest ethnic group to have leadership roles at the conference. Twelve blacks and one African chaired legislative or General Conference committees.

The Rev. Tyrone Gordon, immediate past chairman of BMCR, said more African Americans are in the annual conference delegations this year. He attributed the increase to the conservative movement in some annual conferences. "African Americans tend to be more conservative theologically, and that may be the attraction of the evangelical push in the delegations for African Americans."

Likewise, more Korean-American delegates are attending this General Conference, according to

Se Hee Han of the California-Pacific Annual Conference. This is particularly true of Korean-American women, she said, noting that the 15-person delegation has four clergywomen.

"Our increase is also because we are more visible (at our annual conferences) and contribute gifts and graces as clergy and laity," Han said.

The Hispanic constituency has been active, said Orlando Rivera, president of MARCHA. Two members were elected to general church positions. One was elected to serve on the University Senate, and the other was named to the Judicial Council.

A lack of translators may have hampered the voting and participation of central conference delegations, especially those from some African countries. The General Conference, in a resolution, offered a formal apology to delegates who were denied adequate material and services. The delegates also voted to ensure that 30 days before the 2004 General Conference, the necessary materials to do conference business would be translated into a variety of languages. Those languages include Spanish, German, French, Korean, Portuguese and Swahili.

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--Linda Green

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