Fresh winds blow through Connection
In 2012 the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai was elected by the North Central Jurisdiction to sit at the denomination’s Connectional Table, 2013-2016. Kennetha is the pastor of Kalamazoo Milwood United Methodist Church. She recently served as a clergy delegate to the 2012 General Conference, representing the West Michigan Conference, and rose to the mic on a number of occasions.
The 2004 General Conference created the Connectional Table (CT). A successor to the General Council on Ministries, the Connectional Table was formed to serve as both the visioning body of The United Methodist Church and the steward of resources to carry out the vision of the denomination worldwide. The Council of Bishops both leads and collaborates with the Connectional Table. CT chairperson is Bishop Bruce Ough.
Over these first nine years, the Connectional Table has been engaged in three primary tasks. They have identified four areas of focus for church-wide ministry, sponsored research on the state of the Church and laid the groundwork for equitable change as the Church grows world-wide.
Members of the Connectional Table are chosen with the intent that all voices are represented and heard in the conversation about the mission and ministry of the Church. When the Connectional Table held its organizational meeting for the new quadrennium January 15-17 in Nashville, there were fresh faces at the table. Weekly News asked Kennetha for her observations as a newly elected member.
Weekly News: What were some of the highlights of the meeting for you and why?
Kennetha: What I most appreciated about the first meeting of the Connectional Table was the degree to which I sensed that it is a new day. It became clear that we would be dealing with central issues for The United Methodist Church but would strive to approach them in new ways. It feels like a fresh wind of the Spirit is moving through our church. Another highlight was the people. I reconnected with some that I met and got to know at General Conference. I met many new people. I am encouraged by the bonding that took place even at our first gathering.
Weekly News: In your opinion, what aspect of the Connectional Table has the greatest potential for making a difference?
Kennetha: Most of our work at our first meeting involved presentations on Vital Congregations (Gil Rendle), the Worldwide Nature of the Church (Bruce Robbins/Betty Katiyo), and the Four Areas of Focus (Bishop Peter Weaver). These presentations gave us background to begin to focus our discussions and to look for imaginative ways to address challenges facing our church.
Also, our work already is becoming grounded in the ethos of adaptive change. Though this may sound somewhat technical, I think the approach crucial. What an adaptive approach to leadership and change suggests is that the challenges we face are challenges we have not faced before. We are in a new context with problems that do not lend themselves to old solutions. We must adapt in the ways species adapt to a changing environment. To do that we must find ways to open ourselves to a process of imaginative learning that is not just problem solving but instead challenges us to clarify our values and to see places where our values do not match our behaviors. To do that work of values clarification we also need to listen to divergent and even dissident voices--voices from the margins.
What I think will make the most difference will be our engagement with the process of adaptive change--our ability to learn our way into a new future. I was encouraged that there was general consensus about hearing from the margins as a central part of our challenge.
Weekly News: What can you tell us about the value/strengths of a governing body like the Connectional Table?
Kennetha: The value of a body like this is to have so many voices around the table--General Secretaries and Presidents of General Boards and Agencies, Episcopal leaders, representatives from our Central Conferences, Jurisdictional Representatives, representatives from our caucus groups, youth and young adult leaders and others. If we can manage to bring all of these leaders together around a common purpose--the good of The United Methodist Church and the call of Christ on all of our lives and upon our connection-- then that will be valuable indeed.
Weekly News: What excites you about being a member of this body?
Kennetha: I have a passion for the mission of the United Methodist Church--to transform the world through transformed disciples. (O.K. I rewrote it a bit.) But I am passionate about transformation on the individual and societal level. If the CT functions in a way that is spiritually focused, missional in intent, and grounded in a Wesleyan theology, it can help lead the denomination in being authentic in its mission. I am excited to be a part of that.
Weekly News: What do you think are the biggest challenges to the work of the Connectional Table? To The United Methodist Church?
Kennetha: One of the biggest challenges for the CT will be to resist pressure to re-litigate General Conference 2012 (especially the restructuring debate). It will be an important challenge for us to insist upon a fresh start, to focus on the most pressing issues facing our denomination, and to do so in ways that lead us into a process of creative and imaginative learning.
Another major challenge will be to seriously address what it means for The United Methodist Church to be a global denomination. We are a worldwide church, but in our polity and practice, we are still U.S.-centric. This is also an issue in the United States because our country is becoming more globalized. How do we respond to the growing diversity in this country?
And of course, a challenge for the U.S. church is how to increase the vitality of our local churches. This leads to the question of how we support our churches in reclaiming discipleship as a way of life. Also, how might we lead our churches back into the Wesleyan ideals of social and personal holiness?
Weekly News: Why should United Methodists in West Michigan care about what the Connectional Table does?
Kennetha: I am the pastor of a local church--Milwood United Methodist Church in Kalamazoo. I am a member of the Conference Leadership Team. I am a member of the Connectional Table. In all of those areas of ministry, we are talking about the same things and asking the same types of questions. At Milwood we are asking how to make our local church more vital in a changing world. At the Conference Leadership Team, we are looking at the ministries of the annual conference and asking how to make those ministries more vital in the context of a conference that is becoming more diverse. These same questions are being asked by the CT. What comes out of the work of the CT will directly impact local churches and conferences around the questions we are all asking.
Another reason that everyone should care about the work of the CT is because we all have responsibility for that work. The CT needs to hear from people in our connection . It cannot just have a conversation with itself. It needs to listen to voices in our conferences and local churches that will help clarify our values in ways that are necessary if our denomination is to thrive.
Weekly News: Amy Valdez Barker, the new Executive Secretary of the Connectional Table talks about the gift of the Connectional Church in a recent blog. What’s an aspect of the Connectional Church that you consider to be a gift?
Kennetha: The gift of the connectional church is that it brings together many voices. The more voices, the more creativity. The more voices, the more wisdom. In fact, I believe the Holy Spirit acts through communities of voices.
Read more about the recent CT meeting in this press release. The Connectional Table has established a new blog site. Read weekly reflections of CT members. West Michigan is fortunate to have a member of the conference family engaged in this vital work. Watch for more perspectives from Kennetha in a blog post March 8, "Why I choose to be a United Methodist today."
~Reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News Senior Writer; umns photo/Kathleen Barry; information from umc.org contributed to this report.