Written by Kelly Marciales, in dialogue with Steve Maga (Anchorage First UMC, Anchorage), Monalisa Siofele-Lolohea, (Trinity UMC, Pomona), and Ainise Isama’u, (United with Hope UMC, Long Beach)
With so many voices weighing in on this contentious General Conference, I wanted to lift up the UMC Pacific Islander Community’s perspective and learn from how they are showing up to St. Louis and what GC19 means for their local context. Steve Maga, executive director of the Pacific Islander Ministry Plan, says he was disappointed by the prioritization of the petitions on this first day of GC19 but he is still feeling hopeful for the future of his congregation within the connection. Regardless of which of the four plans comes out of GC19, there is a sense that Alaska and the Pacific Islander community will remain intact. Maga has lived in Alaska for 23 years and comes to this specially-called General Conference praying for the unity of the United Methodist Church. He says, “We are committed to staying one body and continuing to be in mission and ministry together.”
Maga and other Pacific Islander leaders attended a gathering at Claremont School of Theology this past December to discuss the human sexuality issue that threatens the future of the UMC. While the 100 Pacific Islander leaders who attended December’s meeting were not of one mind on the topic, it is clear there is more that binds the Pacific Islander community together than simply a shared theology. Claremont student, Ainisi Isama’u, describes the the theological differences between generations as being generationally divided, with elder generations typically having more conservative views than the youth. However, she was surprised by her own mother’s inclusive attitude toward the LGBTQAI+ community which was surfaced at the Claremont meeting. Isama’u also shared words of hopefulness coming out of GC19 for her community but also herself as a seminarian. She shared that she is “optimistic about what is going to come, which ever way it goes. What is important for me in seminary is to continuously learn. When we are in that mindset of continuously learning…understanding that the world we knew growing up has changed tremendously.”
Pastor Monalisa Siofele-Lolohea of Pomona’s Trinity UMC spoke with me about pastoring a church in her local context after GC19 adjourns. She says, “I believe they will continue doing the work of God as best we can as one body… We still have a lot of work to do in the greater community we serve. [Pomona] has changed a lot with homelessness and other major issues that we are dealing with already. But we don’t foresee the issue of LGBTQ as an issue. It’s not an issue, because we believe that all of God’s people are ALL God’s people. No matter race, color, creed, sexuality, we all work together to strive for the betterment of humanity.”
In Jeremiah 29:11, God speaks to Israel saying, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. On this day where many are feeling both lost and uncertain about the future of the UMC, perhaps some of us can learn from our Pacific Island Siblings in Christ: have hope for the future and continue the work of mission and ministry, for God desires good for us all.