A $35,500 grant will fund a new effort to increase intercultural knowledge among Oklahoma United Methodists, thanks to the denomination’s General Commission on Religion & Race (GCORR).
Goal for the Oklahoma Intercultural Strategic Plan is "to change the DNA of the Conference," said Carlos Ramirez.
That’s a bold statement. But achieving that objective is crucial to a viable United Methodist witness, he said, amid the state’s increasingly diverse population.
"We need to start to think multi-ethnic, multi-generation," he said. "I refuse to think God is done with us because we cannot relate to the poor and other ethnicities."
He envisions new churches emerging in places of great diversity, as well as leadership operating in a climate more conducive to ethnic minority participation.
"The pastor of the future is not bilingual, but intercultural," Rev. Ramirez said. "He or she can minister to all, whatever ethnicity or culture."
Ramirez is steering this new initiative, birthed from his research on Hispanic/Latino populations. Through the Conference Office of Mission, he coordinates ministries in that area, and he is deployed here as a General Board of Global Ministries missionary.
Describing the initiative, he uses examples from that perspective, but this effort will involve multiple ethnicities and cultures.
"What do you mean when you say Hispanic people?" Ramirez asked.
Studies report 67 percent of state Hispanic residents were born here.
"It’s not only undocumented people."
Are the words Hispanic and Latino interchangeable? Hispanic generally refers to Spanish-speaking people, and Latino to those who speak Portugese, Ramirez said.
"There are nuances" within the ethnic group generally called Hispanic, he noted, as in all groups. (Among Anglos, for instance, cowboy and biker convey different identities.)
The Oklahoma Intercultural Strategic Plan has parallel components and has a partner in Saint Paul School of Theology.
• The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) will measure Oklahoma UM leaders’ knowledge, and cultural walks will help them grow personally. In addition to Ramirez, other trained IDI administrators include Elaine Robinson, Semaj Vanzant, Roger Parker, and Wendi Neal.
The Cabinet has completed the IDI assessment. Major boards will be next.
• Outreach will include DNA testing and settings in which to discuss race and the diversity of The UMC. A website and online class will help people continue to grow their intercultural skills.
The General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) recently awarded almost $1.3 million in grants to fund such initiatives by local churches, annual conferences, jurisdictions, seminaries, and central conferences, to increase intercultural competency or vital conversations about race, cultural diversity, and systemic equity, leading to action.
These awards mark the first time that dedicated GCORR Action Fund grants have gone to central conferences projects (those outside the U.S.). The application packet was developed in French, Spanish, and Korean, in addition to English.
Oklahoma Conference leader Joseph Harris of Oklahoma City, who is vice president of the GCORR Board of Directors and chairperson of the Action Fund committee, said 128 grant applications were received for the 2014-16 funding cycle. For fairness, he recused himself from the group reviewing the Oklahoma request.
"GCORR is proud to fund projects worldwide that will lead to greater intercultural competency throughout our denomination, as well as strengthen and grow relationships between local churches and the communities they are called to serve," Rev. Dr. Harris said.
"We received requests totaling more than $6 million. Can you imagine the impact that these initiatives could have worldwide had we been able to fully fund all the requests?"
The GCORR Action Fund is supported through Apportionment giving to the denomination’s World Service Fund.— Holly McCray
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