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Global Ministries launches effort to start 400 churches

The Rev. Edward Paup thanks Mary Watson for her $400,000 pledge to the 400 Fund to help start United Methodist congregations outside of the United States.
A UMNS photo by Cassandra Heller.

By Elliott Wright*
Oct. 20, 2008 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)

United Methodists can become evangelists and church planters around the world through a fund launched with an initial gift from an Atlanta businesswoman.

Mary Watson pledged $400,000 to the 400 Fund—$1,000 per new congregation outside the United States—in a church development effort by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

She received a standing ovation from the board's directors during their Oct. 13-17 meeting in Stamford.

"I am excited by the thought of 400 new churches and what God can do with 400 new churches," she said when introduced by the Rev. Edward Paup, the mission agency’s top executive.

Watson and her husband, the Rev. Ralph Watson, a retired United Methodist pastor, are engaged in mission around the world and have notable involvements in Russia, Estonia and Brazil.

A mission board goal of 400 new congregations outside of the United States during the next four years is part of the denomination's commitment to create "new places for new people by starting new congregations and renewing existing ones." Another initiative aims at starting 650 new congregations in the United States.

Paup described Watson as a Christian with a joy and a passion to make disciples for Jesus Christ and to start new churches. He said she achieved the financial means to support such work through her successful career in the nursing home industry. Her husband works for the World Evangelism Institute.

Starting new churches, she told the Global Ministries' directors, "is part of what God wants us to do in the world. … We are to be God's hands."

Challenging others

A member of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Watson challenged other United Methodists to contribute to the new 400 Fund. "If we all do our parts, there will be no parts left," she said. "Children can take part, even by giving a penny per new church. The young will catch the vision if we give the vision to them."

In an earlier interview, Watson said that since becoming a Christian she had come "to realize that everything we have is God's, everything—our money, our talents—everything is entrusted to us for the sake of doing things for God."

Speaking about new church starts, she said United Methodists need to go arm in arm together. "It is not about who gets the attention but about the kingdom of God. Four hundred times any amount provides the money we need, and money follows vision. … I am a small part of it, but thanks be to God," she said.

The 400 Fund will be used to support clergy training, develop Christian education resources and provide worship facilities appropriate to the locations. The emphasis will be on new church starts in 20 countries—in Asia, West Africa, Eastern Europe and Central America—designed as Global Ministries' "mission initiatives."

In discussing the importance of the 400 Fund, the Rev. Patrick Friday, a Global staff member who works with mission initiatives, noted that The United Methodist Church is growing very fast in several parts of the world, including Southeast Asia.

"It is often difficult to keep up with the need for new pastors and for even temporary worship facilities," he said, citing as an example the country of Laos, where 10 congregations four years ago have increased to 77 today. "The 400 Fund gives every United Methodist the opportunity to become a new church planter."

The fund is being handled through The Advance, the United Methodist designated mission-giving channel. The Advance number is 400400, and 100 percent of every gift will go to start new churches.

Paup introduced Watson as a mother and grandmother whose earliest memory of Methodist worship was under a brush arbor where her grandmother was raising money to build a church in Hannatown, a community in Decatur County, Ga., named for her paternal family.

"The women of the Hanna and Watson family are still developing churches," he said, pointing to Watson as an example of a church member who displays "radical gratitude for what God has already done for us and the world in Jesus Christ."

*Wright is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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