Buenos Aires Selected as Site for Latin American Mission Office
By Elliott Wright*
New York, NY, October 5, 2015—Buenos Aires, Argentina, will be the location of the Latin American regional office of the worldwide mission agency of The United Methodist Church.
The General Board of Global Ministries, which has personnel, projects, and partners in more than 125 countries, is strategically moving from a centralized style of operations to one with closely aligned offices in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In making the decision for Buenos Aires, directors of the agency decided that the office will be set up in partnership with The Upper Room, the daily ecumenical devotional publication with three million readers worldwide, related to the denomination’s board of Discipleship Ministries. The Upper Room has also been looking for an organizational base in Latin America. Global Ministries’ directors decided last year that one of its regional offices would be established in Latin America, potentially in partnership with another denominational agency.
Extensive dialogue and field research took place between Global Ministries and The Upper Room concerning the best place for a shared office.
Factors in the Choice
The Argentine capital was one of several locations considered in the selection process. Buenos Aires was the recommendation of a joint Global Ministries-Upper Room search committee, partly because of the history and stability of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina.
“The reshaping of the global presence of The United Methodist Church continues as we designate Buenos Aires as the location for the Global Ministries office in Latin America,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, president of the mission agency and episcopal leader of the Raleigh, North Carolina, area. Directors made this decision after prayer, careful study, and discernment. With a lean and focused staff, the Latin America office will help The United Methodist Church contextualize mission as we honor regional distinctiveness. It is our prayer, hope, and expectation that a pattern of regional offices will lead us forward in mission as we maximize resources, find even more partners, and stay alert to the moving presence of the Holy Spirit in every place.”
Among the practical reasons for the choice of Buenos Aires were good international connections, an easily accessible airport, a government friendly to religious organizations, and laws that allow international organizations to easily obtain legal and tax exempt status, said Thomas Kemper, chief executive of Global Ministries.
The regional mission offices will represent the full spectrum of Global Ministries’ programs and objectives in Latin America, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), developing relationships, and serving as bridges to mission partners. All of the partners in Latin America are autonomous Methodist churches or ecumenical entities. The Upper Room has a strong presence in Argentina and hopes to build there and across Latin America.
Collaboration in Ministries
“It is incredible to have the opportunity to establish a collaborative presence for Upper Room and Global Ministries in Latin America,” said Sarah Wilke, publisher and world editor of The Upper Room. “While we have decades of a historical relationship, this effort creates a means of shared learning among Methodists in Latin America. We believe that we have much to learn and much to share in Latin America and across the globe.”
A year ago, Global Ministries’ directors approved the regionalization of its operations, with headquarters to be moved in late 2016 from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia. Regional operations will be closely aligned to the overall objectives and policies of its headquarters while being responsive to regional mission opportunities and needs, according to Kemper. There will also be a regional presence in Europe. The Atlanta headquarters will serve the regional mission needs of the United States.
Protestantism is better known in Argentina than in many of the other countries of predominantly Roman Catholic Latin America. Kemper pointed out that the name recognition and history of Methodism in Argentina “provides a supportive environment for the establishment of our regional office in that country.”
The Evangelical Methodist Church in Argentina (EMCA) traces its roots to 1830 through the work of predecessors of today’s General Board of Global Ministries. The EMCA has some 20,000 baptized members in 115 congregations, 89 ordained ministers, 180 lay preachers, 210 Christian education teachers, seven primary schools, five secondary schools, and one university, according to statistics from the World Methodist Council.
Kemper said that Buenos Aires offers an impressive community of both national and regional offices of ecumenical and denominational organizations, including: Church World Service, the relief organization; the World Christian Student Federation; the Latin American Council of Churches; and regional representatives of the Presbyterian Church, USA, and Evangelical Lutheran churches.
Details of staffing and the operational relationships between Global Ministries and The Upper Room are yet to be worked out. Both will initially have small separate staffs and the structures will be revised as the level of collaboration unfolds, according to representatives of both organizations.
*Elliott Wright is an information consultant working with the General Board of Global Ministries.
Read the Spanish Translation
Buenos Aires has a distinctive place in the history of Methodist mission outreach in Latin America. It was the destination of the first missionary sent to Latin America by the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church (ME Church), a predecessor of The United Methodist Church.
In 1834, Thomas Reed, a Methodist layman living in Buenos Aires, asked the Missionary Society of the ME Church to send a missionary to that city. On June 28, 1835, the Rev. Fountain E. Pitts, a pastor in Nashville, Tennessee, set sail for Argentina on behalf of the missionary society to explore the invitation. He stopped along the way in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Montevideo, Uruguay, establishing Methodist churches in both cities. Continuing on to Argentina, he laid the foundations for the Buenos Aires Mission. His work in that city was complemented by the fact that he bore a letter of introduction from the US President, Andrew Jackson.
Rev. Pitts spent only about six months in South America before returning to his pastorate in Tennessee, but his pioneering work led to the appointment of a teacher—John Dempster, a layman of upstate New York—as “missionary for Buenos Aires” in late 1836. Others missionaries would follow.
Historical data from Early American Methodism 1769-1884, Volume One: Missionary Motivation and Expansion by Wade Crawford Barclay, 1949, published by the Board of Missions and Church Extension of The Methodist Church.