UMCOR celebrates 75 years of compassionate response
2015 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of what today is the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR's creation was a bold step for a new church striving to forge a Christian identity faithful to the gospel.
The Methodist Church, established in 1939 through the merger of the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Church, South, believed compassion and solidarity were vital to its identity. At its first General Conference in 1940 in Atlantic City, N.J., delegates created a mission movement for relief and development called the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief (MCOR).
In 1968, the name changed to the United Methodist Committee on Overseas Relief (UMCOR) when the union of two denominations created The United Methodist Church. In 1972, the name changed to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. That same year, General Conference delegates made UMCOR an institutional part of the church. It soon integrated fully into the General Board of Global Ministries.
From MCOR to UMCOR to the present, the identity and intention have remained the same: to act "in the relief of human suffering without distinction of race, color or creed." Its mandate to alleviate human suffering has deepened both geographically and along the relief-to-development spectrum.
Today, many United Methodists are hands-on participants in UMCOR's mission. Many have made relief kits in their congregations. Some have taken UMCOR training and rehabilitated or rebuilt neighbors' homes damaged in severe weather or other events. Countless contributors have given what they could to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering as part of their Lenten discipline.
You can be part of the mission movement that is UMCOR from home, from an annual conference or from another country. Take a few minutes and immerse yourself in UMCOR history and increase your appreciation for this mission that has been a Methodist constant for three quarters of a century.
Test your knowledge
Who ignited the spark that became MCOR and, ultimately, UMCOR?
We like to believe it was the Holy Spirit. Of course, God acts in human history through human beings. In this case, it was Bishop Herbert Welch. At 78, Welch came out of retirement to head the church's Committee for China Relief. In that role, he read the signs of the times – deepening war and civilian displacement in China and Europe – and proposed the establishment of MCOR to the 1940 General Conference. He led the new relief agency for another eight years (and lived to be 106).
One Great Hour of Sharing – March 15
This year, United Methodists celebrate One Great Hour of Sharing – the Sunday on which special offerings support the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) – on March 15. Traditionally observed on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, One Great Hour of Sharing is an act of self-giving love that emulates Jesus' gift of love on the cross.
One Great Hour of Sharing allows United Methodists to serve a world in need. Because the annual offering covers UMCOR's costs of doing business, every Advance gift made to a specific UMCOR ministry – clean water, sustainable farming, disaster response and many others – goes entirely to that project or program and not for overhead or promotion.
However, One Great Hour of Sharing does more than keep the lights on and the computers humming. It also creates a pool of undesignated funds that enable UMCOR to respond without hesitation to a disaster, crisis or sudden need.
UMCOR does not benefit from World Service or other apportioned funds but, rather, only from second-mile giving by United Methodists.
In this 75th anniversary year, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, president of the UMCOR board of directors; Bishop John Schol of the New Jersey Area; and the Rev. J. Denise Honeycutt, UMCOR executive, will celebrate One Great Hour of Sharing in Atlantic City, N.J, where the 1940 General Conference birthed what we know today as UMCOR.
Ideas and materials for celebrating the 75th anniversary in local congregations are available at www.umcor.org. Click on 75th anniversary.
Order offering envelopes and other materials to use on One Great Hour of Sharing Sunday at www.umcgiving.org/oghs
Welch proclaimed, "Our motto is ‘Giving by Christians for the needy, without distinction for race, creed or color.' We bear witness to Christ by serving all in the name of Christ."
When did UMCOR's work come to encompass more than relief activities?
Although UMCOR often is synonymous with relief efforts, by 1948, the work had already deepened to include rehabilitation. As World War II continued to take its toll, it became clear that MCOR's mandate to "alleviate human suffering" would require a deeper, longer vision.
In 1942, MCOR already had drafted a wide-ranging proposal for postwar work that included reconstruction, rehabilitation, repatriation of refugees and prisoners of war, restoration of churches and civil operations, and reconciliation.
During the 1950s, MCOR built wells in Pakistan and shelters in Greece and established livelihood programs in Korea. It continued to provide war relief when new tensions erupted into the India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine and Eurasia conflicts of the time.
War relief, disaster response and recovery and development programs continued side by side through the decades. In 1993, UMCOR opened its first field office in Zenica, Bosnia, to respond to needs created by the fracturing of what was until then Yugoslavia. Other field offices would open, close and reopen over the years, always responding to the continual challenges of relieving human suffering in meaningful and lasting ways.
Where did UMCOR first undertake disaster-response work in the United States?
UMCOR's disaster-response work in the United States began in 1972 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., after Hurricane Agnes brought destruction to five states. During the 1970s, UMCOR developed the Disaster Response Network, which included workshops to train volunteers in anticipation of disasters and shaped UMCOR's U.S. disaster-response ministry today.
After Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, UMCOR renovated and opened a depot and warehouse in Baldwin, La., where volunteers could assemble and ship relief-supply kits anywhere in the world. UMCOR Sager Brown opened in 1996 on property owned by the Women's Division of Global Ministries (now United Methodist Women). A second depot, UMCOR West, opened in Salt Lake City in 2009. Today, they are part of a multi-site United Methodist relief-supply network.
What is next for UMCOR?
Over the decades, UMCOR's work has expanded and deepened as the church seeks to be faithful to the gospel call to compassion and solidarity. This mission movement for relief and development did not make headlines at its founding in 1940. Often today, its efforts go unnoticed by the public eye. Yet, United Methodists continue to support and to be a part of UMCOR's work to alleviate human suffering "without distinction of race, color or creed." UMCOR is at work and continuing to forge new partnerships that will allow it to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable people on earth – those trapped by war, catastrophe and climate change.
UMCOR's 75th anniversary comes during another time of transition. In 2016, UMCOR's headquarters – along with the rest of the General Board of Global Ministries – will move from New York City to Atlanta. Although UMCOR will be reshaped in alignment with the mission agency's transition to regional offices, it will continue to embody that same spirit that moved Welch and the 1940 General Conference of the Methodist Church.
Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.