Roundtables Make Mission Partnerships Real
By Sandra Brands
February 19, 2013—In early November, mission partnerships became real when Patti Bacher of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church in Florida, and Camilla Pruitt of Trinity United Methodist Church, Huntsville, Ala., participated in the Lithuanian Roundtable and met mission partners half a world away.
“How can you not be moved when you’re sharing Communion with your partner and they are definitely with you?” asked Bacher, the In Mission Together coordinator for Guinea. “We’re sharing Communion, praying together, singing together. It can’t help but be inspirational, and that surprises the most skeptical person.”
The participants gathered at Kaunas United Methodist Church in Lithuania and Trinity United Methodist Church, Huntsville, Ala. Unlike a mission consultation, which brings participants together at a church in the United States with a couple of guests from a mission country, a roundtable uses video conferencing technology to connect participants in the United States and the mission country.
The Lithuanian Roundtable brought together 80 people, with half meeting in Lithuania and half in the United States. That’s nearly double the usual attendance at a consultation, said the Rev. Patrick L. Friday, director of In Mission Together Partnerships. “Consultations were almost always a show-and-tell about what different groups are doing.
“Now,” he continued, “we want to focus on what it means to be a partner. Usually, when we meet over a weekend, Friday is a partnership day; Saturday is a collaborative training and sharing. The 50/50 In Mission Together Partnership Roundtables enable people to participate who haven’t done so in the past. You might have a handful who could come from overseas, and they needed to be English-speaking, which excluded many from a partner country.
“These individuals might not be able to ravel here, but through technology, now they can be part of the roundtable,” he said.
Bacher said seeing so many people from so many churches meeting together on both sides of the ocean was exciting. It was particularly meaningful because the connection happened in real time, she said. “The roundtable takes mission consultations to a whole new level, one that’s not just about sharing ideas among partners, but (also) in learning, growing, discovery, teaching and training.
“There was a level of connectedness that had never been at the events before,” she said.
That connection was definitely evident when the musician scheduled to be on hand for the roundtable in Lithuania could not attend. Camilla Pruitt, director of fine arts and worship at Trinity United Methodist Church, and her assistant, Shane Kennedy, filled the gap.
“It was a fascinating experience,” Pruitt said. “I was really curious how it would work for me to play the keyboard and sing, and they’re across the world, and they’re singing. It was fascinating. I would do an introduction and start playing, and they’d sing with me. It was like looking through a big window into the next room when you saw them on the screen.
“It was an amazing moment to know they were across the world, but we were singing together and we’d all be in time,” she said.
Pruitt said she and Kennedy discussed music selections with both ministers prior to the roundtable. The selections for the planned two worship services included “Amazing Grace,” “Here I Am Lord,” “Breathe on Me Breath of God,” “Sanctuary,” “Guide My Feet,” “We are One in the Spirit,” “The Spirit Song” and “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”
“What it made it so personal,” Pruitt explained, “is we sang in English, and they sang in Lithuanian, and yet we sang songs we both knew.” Although participants sang in different languages, she said, because of both groups’ familiarity with the music, they understood what each group was saying.
“It was really a connection,” she said. “We’d sing a verse together, and we didn’t sound the same; yet, we knew we had the same message; were singing the same words.”
Building personal relationships
For Pruitt, the mission relationship was personal. “It’s one thing to hear about a sister church or about some of the challenges they have in their culture. It’s another when you looked at a screen and knew even though they were across the world, we were singing together, and we’d all be in time.”
“It was very cool to share something (as) universal as music,” Bacher added.
Bacher said she also appreciated the shift in the concept of mission from short-term projects to long-term relationship. “One of the things they said … that sticks with me is that it’s not about an experience; it’s about a relationship. As God’s people, we are called to be in relationship with each other,” she said.
Those relationships have helped her “be connected in knowing that life, God, the world is so much bigger then you think. If you’re only involved in the local church, that can be good, but it may be inward thinking, not outward thinking. Having these relationships with people around the world and sharing the same faith with them … opens up endless possibilities.”
The connection made through Skype at the Roundtable, Pruitt noted, put “faces to the mission work our church does. It’s not just a place far away.”
During shared testimony, a Lithuanian woman talked about her experience working with children and the fine arts. “I understood what she was doing,” Pruitt said. “I am doing the same thing here. It was important to her and important to me, and now you had a connection to a person because you have a common interest.”
This spring, the General Board of Global Ministries will host 50/50 In Mission Together Eurasian and Central Asian partnership roundtables. Learn about the roundtables or register here.
Learn about 50/50 In Mission Together Partnerships and about Global Ministries work in Lithuania and Eastern Europe.