Kansas-Oklahoma Conference and the Madhya Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India

August 7, 2007


Theological Statement and Introduction of Partnership - 1994

"The World Ministries in the US Program of the United Church of Christ seeks to engage the whole church in world ministries ... so that they experience the global church in their worship, faith, witness and service."

At the Annual Meeting last year, the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference voted to participate in the Global Partnership program. Each Conference wishing to participate in the program is asked to write a simple document to clarify their own reasons for participating, and helping their partner become acquainted with them. The following is the document that the Ecumenical Committee has submitted.

We Begin with our theological thoughts...

Alfred North Whitehead observed that "the death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure." The adventure of a faith-filled life is lived out exploring the mystery of God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.

God is a mystery because no single human being, nor any single denomination or nation of people, can totally comprehend or express who God is or what God's will is for creation. We are like Moses, who upon asking to see God face to face, was told "You shall see my back, but not my face." (Genesis 33:23b, RSV)

This does not mean that we are to sit about awaiting further insight into the nature and will of God before acting. Like Abraham, we must follow the call of God "to a land that I (God) shall show you." (Genesis 12:1 RSV)

God tells Abraham that a blessing will be given "so that you be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2) Furthermore, he is told that the families of the earth "shall bless themselves." (Genesis 12:4) Notice the progression here: first God blesses Abraham, then Abraham will be a blessing for others, and finally others shall discover blessing themselves. The end result is a total community that is both blessed and a blessing: God, ourselves, and others.

It is of course quite obvious that the rule of God has not been fully manifested in this world. Our world is filled with war, poverty, avarice, hostility, racism, abuse, hopelessness, and oppression of all kinds. Humanity continues to be better at creating walls and divisions between various sectors of the human community than in building bridges between them. In the face of this reality, Jesus Christ came to begin a new community that would seek to reach out to others, to explore the mystery of God and God's will, that would see as its chief purpose "loving God and neighbor as oneself." This community lives in the Church of Jesus Christ. As Christ came to bring shalom to those who needed it, the estranged, the sick, the oppressed, the excluded, the marginalized, the sinners, so too the Church is called to reach out not only to those we "like" or who are "like us," but to all, even those we may not understand or "like." This, too, is part of the adventure of faith.

Unfortunately, even the Church is rent asunder by schisms, doctrinal differences, and human barriers of all kinds. In the face of doctrinal differences, disputes of all kinds, economic need, sin, etc., the Apostle Paul insisted that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ; that we are all one in Christ, "neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, slave nor free." (Galatians 3:28) Several times he said the Christian community was like a body, the Body of Christ, a body made up of many different parts, each with its own purpose and gifts for the journey. (I Corinthians 12) We can learn much from each other, be a blessing to each other, and strengthen one another for our common mission of nurturing blessing in the world.

Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian Bishop, writes in The Desert is Fertile: "Setting out is not covering miles of land or sea, or traveling faster than the speed of sound. It is first and foremost opening ourselves to other people, trying to get to know them, going out to meet them."

Through this Global Partnership we in Kansas-Oklahoma hope to discover traveling companions in exploring the mystery of God and God's purposes for our planet. We hope to open ourselves to what other sisters and brothers have to share with us, and likewise to share what we have learned, so that together we might grow in faith and knowledge of God. We pray that through this partnership our common mission to be a blessing will be strengthened.

We tell about our needs, weaknesses, vulnerabilities...

Webster's dictionary characterizes a partnership as "close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities." That is, the old style of world ministry in which "we" help "them" is not what is meant in the current formulation of global partnerships. Instead, we are seeking to join with another community of faith in another country so that both partners may bless and be blessed by the other. Receiving and giving are ministries of both members of the partnership, so that the whole body of Christ may grow "to maturity, to the full stature of Christ." (Ephesians 4)

A particularly important "gift" that a North American community of Christians brings to such a partnership, then, is an honest acknowledgement of our needs and our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities, with an attitude of readiness to receive "gifts" from our overseas partners that may fill our needs, strengthen our weaknesses, and heal our vulnerabilities.

Voids which are waiting to be filled include the following:

1. From our earliest memories in the United States, we Christians have lived as the majority. Now, when we look around, we discover that church-going-Christians are often in the minority-and we don't know how to function in this minority status.

2. Biblical illiteracy and immature faith development seem prevalent in many of our congregations. We are thus often ill-equipped to learn our faith story and nurture one another toward spiritual maturity.

3. Daily our fears grow-fears of crime, poverty, violence, "strange" people all around us, diseases that have no cure. Sometimes we shut out these cultural realities, hoping they will just disappear, preoccupying ourselves instead with our own survival. The all too common effect on our faith communities is that the mission of the church (even local mission) has become minimal.

4. While we perceive ourselves as a "friendly" church, often our friendliness extends only to our own members. Our sense of hospitality to the stranger, and the joy that accompanies that hospitality, are missing in many of our congregational settings. And whenever another person (especially the "stranger") falls short of our predetermined expectations, we seem more inclined to exclude than to reach out in love.

5. The current climate of individualism in our culture has strongly influenced the church, leading us to privatize a faith that is communal by nature.

6. Most people in our culture speak only English, thus depriving ourselves of exposure to much of the richness of other cultures.

7. With each decade, the proportion of women in our congregations increases, and men's presence is declining. Increasingly, the church is experiencing a feminization, which further decreases the likelihood that men will feel welcome and affirmed in the church.

8. We live in the richest nation in the world, and while there is ample documentation that even those of us who live modestly are rich in relation to most of the world's people, we still continue to think of ourselves as poor. Thinking thus, we become selfish and reluctant to share of our resources.

9. Racism is still very much a reality in our country, our local communities, our churches, and deep within ourselves.

10. Our call as Christians to be in the world, and to respond to the problems of the world as Jesus did, seems so overwhelming that we often feel paralyzed.

And we have much to offer...

The writer of Deuteronomy says, "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord Your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name." (Deut. 26:1-2) Offerings, from the beginning of our faith, have been an expression of who we are. It is by the grace of God that we, rural agricultural people, understand ourselves to be partners with God in creation. We too, like the early Hebrews, have our own understandings of the faith, which we can share in stories of how God has brought us to this land called Kansas and Oklahoma. Wrapped in those stories you may discover our struggle to relate as equal partners with both the indigenous people of the land as well as the people we brought here as our slaves.

We would want you to know that for many of us, when we place money in the offering plates of our churches, we see it as an extension of our selves (our hands and feet) until we can be with our neighbor face to face. Our desire is that we might have exchange visits between our people. We are a Conference that encourages our pastors to take sabbaticals, and our laity to visit places where they may experience the global church in its own setting. We look forward, too, to sharing our hospitality with you when you visit us.

We have people who specialize in teaching, medicine, agriculture and other fields who could be utilized in mutual mission endeavors. We share the vision that "we may all be one;" so as we are in this life together, we find hope that our struggle with moral and social issues is shared with our global partners. Our church has put our beliefs into action as stockholders of multinatioinal corporations in order to effect policy globally-such as participating in the Nestle boycott for proper use of infant formula, and our stand against apartheid by avoiding doing business with companies in South Africa.

We pledge our prayers as a source of encouragement and support, along with our desire to listen and learn. We affirm that God's revelation in the world is still a mystery for us that only is comprehended when we share each other's worship, work, and life.

A picture of who we are...

The Kansas-Oklahoma Conference is made up of 15,314 members and 100 clergy, and is located in the geographic center of the country in two of the fifty states of the USA. It is one of the smallest of the denominations in this part of the country, and acknowledges as its sole head Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior, and acknowledges as kindred in Christ all who share in this confession. Its congregations look to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to bless its redemptive work in the world.

The land area of Kansas is 81,783 square miles (211,818 sq KM), and Oklahoma 68,656 square miles (177,819 sq KM). Both states are rich in land and are the largest wheat producing states in the country; agriculture is one of the principal industries of both states.

Each of the 98 congregations in the Conference follows the Congregational polity, acting in accord with the collective decisions of its own members. But they are also called to live in a covenantal relationship with the other congregations for the sharing of insights and cooperative action. The congregations are grouped in five regional Associations-Oklahoma, Eastern Kansas, North Central Kansas, Western Kansas and Central Kansas-which work with the Conference and the General Synod, the national "big umbrella" of the United Church of Christ.

A typical congregation in our Conference has approximately 150 members, is located in a small town of about 5,000 persons, and was founded 100-125 years ago when the migration of Europeans swept across the two states. The majority of the congregations are found in small towns or in the rural countryside. Most members are older, retired from their lifelong jobs, but still active. The average attendance at Sunday morning worship is 60-65 members. Each congregation has been richly blessed by God, and each has had its share of trials and tribulations. In good times and in bad, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Representatives of the congregations in the five Associations meet each year in early October (after the crops are harvested) to elect officers and Commission Chairpersons and to make program decisions for the coming year. Ongoing ministries of the Conference are handled by five Commissions-Stewardship, Church and Professional Leadership (which includes Task Forces on Lay and Clergy Training and Counseling Services), Outreach (which includes Task Forces on Ecumenism, Evangelism, Hunger, Peace and Justice, and Rural Life Ministries), Educational Ministries, and Outdoor Ministries (with activities located at our retreat and camping facility, Camp White). Other programs include the Women's Fellowship, the Youth-in-Action Program, and the Endowment Foundation.

The United Church of Christ came into being in 1957 with the union of two denominations who were themselves the result of a previous merger: The Evangelical (German Lutheran) and Reformed (Swiss Reformed) Church and the Congregational (British Congregational) Christian (American indigenous) Churches. This "new" denomination thus dates back as far as 1620! The combination of the four Protestant traditions is made even richer by the inclusion of a portion of the Hungarian Reformed community and the active presence and membership of Hispanics, African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.

Now, the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference is eagerly anticipating a Global Partnership with the Church of South India. God is doing a new thing!


Conference resolution on poverty

Resolution voted at the 38th annual meeting of the Kansas-Oklahoma conference BE IT RESOLVED, that the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference and member churches:

1. Join our Global Partner, the Madhya Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, in declaring the first decade of the new century as a "Decade of the Church's Solidarity with the Poor,"

2. Request the CSI Partnership Task Force and the Peace and Justice Task Force to lead our congregations in planning and achieving the ways in which the situations of the poor in both Kansas and Oklahoma will be profited and remedied, with a vision toward the ultimate elimination of hunger and poverty for all residents.

Title: A decade of the church's solidarity with the poor

Presenters: Pansy Beaudoin, Chair of the CSI Partnership Task Force; Rev. Michael Poage, Chair of the Peace and Justice Task Force; Dorothy Berry, Chair of the Outreach Commission, and Rev. Scott Martin, Chair-elect of the Outreach Commission.

Background: At our 1993 Annual Meeting, the congregations of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference voted to embark on their most ambitious mission project since the inception of our Conference in 1963-w voted to journey in faith with the Madyha Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, a faithful body of Christians on the other side of the globe, who live and work in a culture and setting very different from ours.

The Task Force entrusted with giving leadership to the partnership has struggled with the question of how we can move beyond the enjoyable "getting to know you" stage of our relationship to engaging together in mission, especially in light of the glaring differences in the social and economic realities of our very different lives.

Though this Global Partnership is still in its infancy, we have already learned much from this remarkable partner Church about witnessing faithfully to God's vision for all people. They previously set a goal of assisting all citizens of their State, Kerala, to be functionally literate, and have shown us, simply and thankfully, that they have accomplished that goal-in three languages with three different alphabets!

The leaders of the Diocese, and their other Christian partners in South India have now moved to a new stage of bring about God's vision for all; they have declared, despite their minority status in South India, that they will devote their efforts in the first decade of the new century to an eradication of poverty in their midst. They write:

It is a fact that for the past 300 years the church has been a pioneer in its service to the poor and suffering in India. May the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to lead us and guide us as we prepare ourselves to enter into the new millennium. Let us pray that the Spirit gives clear vision to the leaders and people of the church in India so that we may see the reality of the situation of the suffering masses of our land, and give sufficient courage and confidence as we enter into this very big responsibility of our mission in the eradication of poverty from the people of our land.

The members of the Task Force, and the members of the Outreach Commission to which the Task Force is related, realized that this could be the answer to their search-that we, too, could dedicate our mission efforts to eliminating poverty in our own locale, as the Diocese will work in theirs, to call attention to and work to eradicate hunger and poverty in our two States, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Recognizing that such activity also falls within the concern of the Peace and Justice Task Force (which has been united with the Hunger Task Force), it is being proposed that the two Task Forces work together in assisting local congregations to find ways of beginning and/or increasing our efforts on behalf of those caught in poverty and whose voice is seldom heard in power circles.

Recognizing, too, the leadership the Youth in Action Council has given to the whole conference in mission endeavors (their challenge to us to include mission activity in each of our Annual Meetings, the Resolution-regarding speaking out against racist language and humor-they brought to our meeting last year, and their Esperanza experiences), it is being proposed that the YIA Council work in concert with the two Outreach Task Forces in implementing this resolution.

We recognize that many of our congregations are already hard at work in their own communities in these efforts. As we share ideas and support each other (as will the Conference and Diocese also), we will find new ways to respond to the vision of God to be the catalyst to assist our neighbors in dealing with and eradicating both hunger and poverty.

The resolution

WHEREAS, as followers of Jesus, the Christ, our faith calls us to embody and witness to the vision of God to see all as our brothers and sisters, and to labor with God for justice for all; and

WHEREAS, our partner, the Madhya Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, has declared that it will focus its labors in a Decade of the Church's Solidarity with the Poor;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE KANSAS-OKLAHOMA CONFERENCE AND ITS MEMBER CONGREGATIONS

1. Join our Global Partner, the Madhya Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, in declaring the first decade of the new century as a "Decade of the Church's Solidarity with the Poor,"

2. Request the CSI Partnership Task Force, the Peace and Justice Task Force, and the Youth-in-Action Council to assist or congregations in planning and achieving the ways in which the situations of the poor in Kansas and Oklahoma will be profited and remedied, with a vision toward the ultimate elimination of hunger and poverty for all residents.

Action required

1. Member congregations review their efforts on behalf of the poor to assess what more can be done in such areas as health care, literacy, and the root causes of poverty, and how they will be amplified.

2. Two of the Task Forces of the Outreach Commission, CSI Partnership and Peace and Justice, and the Youth in action Council be requested to gather and disseminate current information about the facts and causes of poverty and what can be done in Kansas and Oklahoma, and share ideas about efforts being undertaken by member congregations.

3. Members of our congregations covenant with each other to hold in prayer the poor with whom we will work, and the efforts of each of the K-O congregations.

4. Congregations work in community partnerships with other UCC congregations where appropriate, and with congregations of other denominations who share our concerns.

5. The Kansas-Oklahoma Conference and each of the congregations will hold in prayer the efforts of the congregations of the Madhya Kerala Diocese throughout the decade.

6. At the end of the decade, congregations will be requested to summarize their efforts and what has been accomplished.

Budget implications: Minimal on the Conference level; by the prayerful decision of each of the member congregations.

Time limit: The first decade of the new century, 2000 through 2010.

Contact persons: Pansy Beaudoin, Michael Poage, Scott Martin and/or Dorothy Berry.

Partnership

People to People
Place to Place
Face to Face
Faith to Faith

-Terry Provance


Poverty survey

At the 1999 Annual Meeting of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, it was voted to join our Global Partner, The Madhya Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, in a decade of working, each of us in our own setting, on issues of hunger and poverty in our midst. Our hunch is that most of the K-O congregations are already hard at work in alleviating the suffering of the poor in their community. This questionnaire is designed to help us learn what your congregation is doing. If you would rather simply write us a letter, please feel free! However it is easiest for you-by the pastor, by a committee chair, by a concerned member, however. Our desire simply is TO HEAR FROM EVERY CONGREGATION ! (BY MARCH 3rd PLEASE !)

1. How is your congregation related to efforts to assist the poor?

  • we operate a clothing and household goods operation at our church
  • we cooperate with other congregations in providing clothing
  • we operate a food pantry (can goods, dry products, fruits and vegetables in season,etc.) at our church
  • we cooperate with other congregations in such a pantry
  • we work with other congregations in providing hot meals
  • we work with other congregations in providing shelter for the homeless
  • we work with Habitat for Humanity in building houses in our town
  • other efforts: (please describe briefly)

2. Do you operate / cooperate in operating programs for children and youth of the community (beyond those children and youth in your own congregation): 

  • day care center:
    • this is a program of our congregation
    • we provide the space; program is run by others
    • we cooperate with other congregations in providing day care 
  • after school program for grade school children:
    • this is a program of our congregation
    • we provide the space; program is run by others
    • we cooperate with other congregations in providing this 
  • tutoring assistance for junior/senior high students:
    • this is a program of our congregation
    • we provide the space; program is run by others
    •  we cooperate with other congregations in providing this 
  • other assistance your congregation is providing for children and/or youth of your community:

3. Is your congregation engaged in a Mother-to-Mother program ? ____ yes ____ no

If yes, briefly describe your participation in the program:

4. Is your congregation providing any assistance to community children and/or youth in computer knowledge and/or ownership ? Please briefly describe your program:

5. If your congregation engaged in any advocacy work on behalf of the poor ?

  • CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteers
  • work with PACK (Public Assistance Coalition of Kansas), Interfaith Action or other legislative action coalition to be sure the poor are not victimized
  • Other:

Please identify the person who has responded to this survey so we may make contact if more information is needed. THANKS FOR YOUR HELP !!

February 15, 2000

To: Kansas-Oklahoma Pastors

Dear Friends:

As those of you who were present at the 1999 Annual Meeting of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference know, the members voted to participate with our Global Partner, the Madhya Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, in a decade of effort to alleviate poverty, each of us working in our own setting. In K-O, we propose to assist congregations, who know their own community best, in thinking through how this can best be accomplished.

We believe that most, if not all, of our congregations are already hard at work in doing this in their own community. We hope you will identify someone in your congregation who will complete the enclosed survey to help us understand in depth the myriad ways the UCC in Kansas and Oklahoma are already at work on this.

We know questionnaires are not your favorite mail! If it would be easier, please feel free simply to write us a letter describing your congregation's efforts.

We genuinely want to hear from ALL of our congregations, and hope that your congregation will help us. Please return this questionnaire or your letter to the Conference office by March 3rd; the Task Forces will be meeting the following week. Please don't add it to the "to do" pile-do it now !!

Thank you for helping us launch this important decade-long program in our Conference.

Sincerely,

Dorothy G. Berry
CSI Partnership Task Force

Rev. Michael Poage
Peace with Justice Task Force


Poverty survey results

Half of the congregations in the Conference responded to the questionnaire circulated by the Church of South India Partnership Task Force-a response that would turn a professional pollster green with envy. Thank you to everyone who took the time to share with us!

And what a story those responses told! Nearly every congregation is involved in some way in assisting the poor in their community, working with food pantries, clothing banks, utility payments, and child care and/or after school programs. What really impressed us, however, is the variety of creative responses that our congregations are making, revealing that they already have been asking the questions we have been posing-why are they poor? what in our community prevents them from being self-sufficient?

In addition to their individual initiatives, our congregations reported working with other congregations in their community on such things as supporting a homeless shelter, helping to fund a community emergency fund, supporting a domestic violence center, sponsoring Second Helping (a Sunday evening meal), helping with Meals on Wheels, participating in Heartland Share, participating in CROP Walks, Coats for Warmth, and Christmas food and gift programs.

In addition to all that, here are some of the creative initiatives our congregations reported: 

  • providing camp scholarships for community children and youth;
  • sponsoring junior and senior high tutoring programs
  • running a Mother's Day Out program at the church
  • providing counselling services for community parents
  • sponsoring drug prevention programs and Ala-Teen meetings
  • providing a safe Hallowe'en program for children of the community
  • sponsoring a Head Start program for community children
  • providing visitors to the local prison to assist with family problems
  • providing funeral services and costs for families of indigents and prison inmates
  • providing volunteers for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program
  • providing computers for community children to practice what they are learning at school
  • working with a community college to provide computer technology for children and adults who would otherwise be shut out of this technology
  • providing a "Character Counts" program for community children and youth
  • offering college scholarships to community young people
  • providing volunteers at the local school to assist children that need help

With a creative list that long, it is a wonder that there is time left over to hold committee meetings at our churches! -Yet, the nagging question remains: why are some of the residents of our communities working two or three jobs and still not able to be self-sufficient? What is there in our communities that stands in their way? And what can we and the other churches do to change that situation? Our work continues...


Tabletalk-articles about partnership

What if each of our Churches, both here and in India, were to identify an area in which it needed assistance and in which it identified in the partner both understanding and expertise, and each Church were able to share persons who could assist the partners in the other Church. For example, some of our delegates have returned home deeply impressed with the role of prayer in the life of the Kerala congregations, and how seriously they take holding the members of their community, their congregation, and the global church in prayer. What effect would such a serious and disciplined prayer life have on our congregations?

What if we were to identify a common piece of work on a global problem (hunger, economic inequality, the environment) that we could work on together, each of us working in our own country, supporting the other with ideas, shared reports on accomplishments and problems, and constant prayer by the members of all of our congregations.

What if ... The possibilities are endless once we begin to join in some serious and creative thinking. -And the Task Force invites you to turn loose God's gift of creativity, and share with us your ideas. Each suggestion, however, goes back to the parallel track of knowing each other's people, churches, leaders, and culture at a deep level so that our suggestions are on target for the partner, and do not create additional problems to be faced.

We, both in Kansas-Oklahoma and in Kerala, have embarked on an adventure that will not be accomplished easily or quickly, but, with the help of God, will make both of our Churches more faithful messengers of God's concerns for the globe and advance our determination to work both with God and our partners to further God's 


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.