|Storms, nets, worldwide assembly dominate 2008 for United Methodists|
The Hope for Africa Children's Choir performs
at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. A
UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Dec. 11, 2008
Despite devastating storms, a disappointing economy and declining
membership, United Methodists found many reasons for joy and celebration
Marie Akissi Arriko and her daughter receive an
insecticide-treated mosquito net from the Rev. Pam Jackson. A UMNS photo
by Mike DuBose.
Insecticide-treated bed nets will keep millions of children in Africa
safe from malaria due to generous donations from United Methodist
congregations, organizations and individuals around the world.
The United Methodist Church joined with other partners in the
anti-malaria campaign Nothing But Nets in 2006. Since that time, the
campaign has raised more than $23 million and distributed more than 2
million nets across Africa.
The church's Texas Annual (regional) Conference alone raised more
than $1 million for Nothing But Nets and helped distribute some 855,000
nets free of charge during a health campaign in 18 health districts in
Côte d’Ivoire. The Nov. 11-15 campaign included nationwide free
vaccinations against measles, de-worming tablets and doses of vitamin A
to strengthen immune systems.
2008 General Conference
During the denomination’s top legislative gathering last spring,
United Methodists vowed the church and its congregations would nurture
the poor, sick and lost across the globe.
The 2008 General Conference met for 10 days in Fort Worth, Texas, and
delegates voted to focus on engaging in ministry with the poor; creating
new places for new people and renewing existing congregations; stamping
out diseases of poverty by improving health globally; and developing
principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.
Young United Methodists complete the first-ever Young People's Address before General Conference.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
In a conference more focused on the world outside the U.S. than in
previous years, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United
Methodist and the first female president of an African nation, delivered
the keynote address. The Hope for Africa Children’s Choir of Uganda,
made up mostly of children from displaced persons’ camps, brought
delegates to their feet with energetic singing and dancing.
The United Methodist Church in Côte d’Ivoire, the largest regional
conference of the worldwide denomination with almost 700,000 members,
received its full rights and responsibilities.
African delegates also were at the center of a controversy when
members of the Renewal and Reform Coalition provided 150 free cell
phones to delegates from the church's central conferences, which lie
outside the U.S. Some charged the coalition with using the phones to
sway votes, while members of the group said the phones were provided to
give the central conference delegates the same access to communications
and material as U.S. delegates.
The worldwide assembly also approved a $642 million budget for the
next four years, created a hymnal revision committee and generally
retained the church’s stances on homosexuality.
Prayers for the world
United Methodists hailed the election of the first U.S.
African-American president as a "gift" to the world and a bridge-builder
among cultures, social orders and national ideologies.
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries was able, for the
first time in many years, to reach out to the people of Cuba when the
U.S. granted the agency two licenses for relief work. The licenses will
allow the United Methodist Committee on Relief to provide short- and
long-term assistance to Cubans affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in
In Mozambique, a newly launched distance-learning center will help train
future United Methodist leaders in Africa. After three years of
planning, the Africa Training and Learning Center was dedicated in March
as a satellite campus of Africa University, a United Methodist-related
school in Zimbabwe.
More than 300 tents fill the National Mall in
November to bring attention to the genocide in Darfur. A UMNS photo by
Kathy L. Gilbert.
United Methodists from five annual (regional) conferences attended a
summit to discuss sending urgent help to the suffering people of Sudan.
Days after the church's Holston Conference raised $185,934 for southern
Sudan, a gathering was held to connect other United Methodists who want
to serve in the same region. In November, a United Methodist youth group
from Houston participated in "Tents for Hope," an international
campaign calling for peace in Darfur.
United Methodists and other Christians participated in a worldwide
day of prayer for Zimbabwe on June 22. UMCOR worked with Bishop Ivan
Abraham and the Methodist Church in Southern Africa to help provide
shelter and food in the Johannesburg area for refugees there, many from
UMCOR coordinated medicines and medical supplies through U.S.
government-sponsored emergency airlifts to the conflict zone in the
former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Rising water, swirling wind
Torrential rains, tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes and hurricanes
left many dead and homeless in 2008, while the church's disaster relief
agency stretched its resources to respond.
In February, a rare midwinter storm spawned tornadoes in the southern
U.S. that killed dozens of people in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and
Tennessee. Families affected by the Feb. 5 tornadoes suffered an ice
storm two weeks later and devastating floods in March.
In May and June, storms and subsequent flooding plagued Midwest
states including Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Two major hurricanes—Gustav and Ike—roared through Haiti and Cuba and
flattened parts of Louisiana and Mississippi already devastated from
Katrina and Rita three years ago.
The Rev. Marty Boddie salvages family china at a church parsonage in Crystal Beach, Texas, following Hurricane Ike.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Louisiana residents spent Labor Day nervously watching trees and
power lines fall as Gustav lashed the state with high winds and rain.
Soon after, Ike damaged more than 100 United Methodist churches and
parsonages in the denomination's Texas Conference.
The U.S. was not alone in cleaning up after disasters. Rain that
began Christmas Day in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe forced
thousands from their homes in southern Africa.
The United Nations estimated that 2.4 million people were impacted by
the May 3 cyclone in Myanmar, which left 134,000 people dead or
missing. Following the cyclone, the government of Myanmar (Burma)
blocked most foreign aid workers from assisting the survivors. A
prolonged lack of access to relief supplies created a "second wave of
disaster," according to Church World Service.
Ten days after a massive earthquake struck China’s Sichuan Province
on May 12, the death toll stood at 51,151, according to the Chinese
government, with 288,431 injured and another 29,328 missing. The
estimate of those left homeless by the quake is a staggering 5 million.
Guns and war
As the Iraq war entered its sixth year, the costs extend far beyond
the more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers and 600,000 Iraqis who have died in
the violence. Thousands have been left wounded in their bodies, minds
and souls––and face a lifetime of struggles related to the experience.
"I am deeply concerned about the returning troops and the mental and
physical wounds they have sustained," said the Rev. Laura Bender, a
United Methodist Navy chaplain who served in a field hospital in Iraq.
"This all-volunteer force has borne the full weight of this war through
multiple, back-to-back deployments and has done so at great cost."
Laurie Hays Coffman examines boots and shoes at an anti-war exhibit.
A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.
General Conference approved a petition calling for an immediate end to the war.
The church also continued to help society grapple with the impact of
violence, particularly a disturbing increase in shootings in schools and
on college campuses in the U.S.
On Feb. 14, a 27-year-old graduate student at Northern Illinois
University opened fire in a lecture hall on campus, killing five people
and injuring 17 others before killing himself. One of those killed was
Ryanne Mace, 19, granddaughter of two retired United Methodist pastors.
Two United Methodist agencies, disappointed with a U.S. Supreme Court
decision on handgun ownership, urged church members to advocate for
legislation that would tighten federal laws on gun control.
In a joint statement July 1, the United Methodist Board of Church and
Society and the Commission on Religion and Race said they were "deeply
disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strip local
municipalities of the right to enact sensible and necessary gun
restriction laws." A week earlier, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 that a
Washington, D.C. ban on handgun ownership was unconstitutional.
Immigration raids separated families and crippled the economy in several U.S. states during 2008.
Iowa's United Methodist episcopal leader, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer,
responded to a May 12 raid that resulted in the arrests of nearly 400.
He called for an end to raids and urged U.S. government leaders to pass a
comprehensive immigration policy that recognizes the contributions of
migrants to the U.S. economy and culture.
In Nashville, Tenn., Juana Villegas’ trip to the doctor for a
prenatal visit became a nightmare when, at nine months pregnant, she was
stopped for a minor traffic violation, jailed and ended up giving birth
to her son with two sheriff’s deputies standing guard. Villegas' story
gained national attention after advocates for immigrants, including many
United Methodists, began circulating e-mails about her arrest.
Issues of sexuality
While General Conference voted to retain its stance that
homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, numerous
individuals, churches, conferences and jurisdictions took gay-friendly
Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., changed its policy
to recognize same-sex unions in special ceremonies that fall just short
of an official wedding. In a pastoral letter to the congregation, the
Rev. Dean Snyder announced his plan to begin leading services that
"recognize and honor lesbian and gay committed relationships."
Annie Britton (left) and Jenna Zirbel bless Holy
Communion as part of their "extraordinary ordination" service. A UMNS
photos courtesy of the Church Within a Church Movement.
In an ecumenical service at a United Methodist church in Baltimore,
Annie Britton and Jenna Zirbel received "extraordinary ordination" after
being blocked from ordination as United Methodist ministers because one
is a legally married lesbian and the other disagrees with church rules
The Oct. 19 "ordinations" were called extraordinary because "they
went against 'ordinary' policies in the United Methodist Church that
deny ordination to otherwise qualified candidates because of sexual
orientation or inclusive beliefs," according to the Church Within a
Church Movement, sponsors of the service. The United Methodist Council
of Bishops later said the "extraordinary ordinations has no official
On the other U.S. coast, the church’s California-Nevada legislative
assembly approved a resolution in June commending retired clergy who
offered to perform same-sex weddings. A month later, Bishop Beverly J.
Shamana later issued a ruling declaring the statement "void and of no
effect." Meanwhile, an organizer of the retired clergy said the bishop’s
ruling would not deter the pastors from performing the ceremonies.
In July, the church's Western Jurisdictional Conference approved four
statements challenging the United Methodist stance on homosexuality.
The statements were aimed at changing denominational policies and
beliefs on human sexuality.
Economic woes, membership trends
While praying for the best, United Methodist finance leaders braced
for the possibility of less as they awaited giving results for the final
two months of 2008 during one of the worst economic downturns in U.S.
Preliminary data shows that giving through local United Methodist
churches stayed generally on target for the first 10 months of
2008—before the world's stock markets began a downward spiral. However,
the full financial picture won’t become clear until late December and
early January. Local churches, regional conferences and the general
denomination typically receive 40 percent of their annual income in
November and December.
The United Methodist Church, with almost 8 million U.S. members and
11.5 million members worldwide, continued to lose more members than it
gained, with its parishioners increasingly moving to evangelical
Protestant churches or choosing not to affiliate with another religious
group at all. That portrait of United Methodism was presented in a
landmark study of religion in America released in February by the Pew
Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Mirroring most other mainline U.S. denominations, United Methodists
are generally older, whiter and wealthier in a nation that is
increasingly populated with young adults, people of color and families
with modest incomes, according to studies.
Bush Foundation, Indiana Conference, temperance dispute
Following almost two years of debate, the George W. Bush Presidential
Center appears poised to be built on the campus of Southern Methodist
University in Dallas.
The church's South Central Jurisdictional Conference, which owns the
campus, voted 158-118 in July to affirm the private school's lease for
the Bush library, museum and policy institute. The jurisdiction's
executive committee, called the mission council, initially gave the
green light in 2007 to lease the land to the Bush Foundation.
Critics had questioned whether protocol was followed, as well as the
appropriateness of the center's placement on the campus of SMU. But in
August, Oklahoma Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. ruled that a request for a
decision of law about SMU's right to lease the property is "improper,
moot and hypothetical."
In Indiana, clusters and cooperation were the touchstones for a new
streamlined Indiana Conference approved by more than 2,000 United
Methodist Hoosiers in a special session in October. The uniting of the
South and North Indiana conferences comes at the conclusion of more than
two years of work by task forces and a team made of clergy and lay
members from both conferences to streamline the administrative structure
and place resources closer to local churches.
Meanwhile, a decades-old story of money, temperance and power is winding
its way through a District of Columbia court, and the ending may affect
the future work of The United Methodist Church’s Board of Church and
Society, the church's social advocacy agency. A superior court judge is
weighing testimony and reading reams of historic documents to determine
if donations given for the construction of The Methodist Building on
Capitol Hill in the early 1900s were intended for work in temperance and
alcohol only. A decision is not expected until early 2009.
The year also was highlighted by election of United Methodist bishops, which are the denomination's top clergy leaders.
In the United States, delegates elected and assigned eight new bishops
and re-assigned the rest during jurisdictional meetings held in five
regions in July. It was an often-intense week as delegates worked to
fill leadership vacancies created by seven retirements, one resignation
and a death.
Retired Bishop Marion Edwards kisses newly elected
Bishop Paul Leeland during his consecration service in July in North
Carolina. A UMNS photo by Bill Norton.
Elsewhere in the world, the Rev. Joaquina Filipe Nhanala was elected
in July as the first female United Methodist bishop in Africa. Nhanala,
51, was the pastor of Matola United Methodist Church in Mozambique and
succeeded Bishop João Somane Machado, who retired as the leader of the
Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa was re-elected to lead the denomination’s
Zimbabwe area in a nation challenged by political and economic upheaval.
United Methodist Bishop David Kekumba Yemba was re-elected to oversee
the church's Central Congo Area after four years of service. With his
re-election, he is now a bishop for life.
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, 53, was re-elected to lead the church's 65,000 German United Methodists in 500 congregations.
United Methodists in the Philippines elected two new bishops and
re-elected a third while celebrating their 100th anniversary as an
annual conference. Elected were the Rev. Rodolfo Alfonso Juan and the
Rev. Lito Cabacungan Tangonan, while Bishop Leo Soriano was re-elected.
United Methodist Bishop Kefas K. Mavula of Nigeria died in January of
an undetermined illness, less than a year after his election as bishop.
He was 40.
Martha Cooper "Twick" Morrison, 76, a champion of racial justice and
reconciliation in Mississippi and across The United Methodist Church,
died in February at home in Vicksburg with her family, following a
20-month battle with lung cancer.
Bishop Homer Ellis Finger Jr., a former president of the United
Methodist Council of Bishops, died in May from heart failure. Finger,
91, of Givens Estates in Asheville, N.C., was elected to the episcopacy
in 1964 and served in the denomination’s Nashville (Tenn.) Area for 12
years and the Holston Area, based in Knoxville, Tenn., for eight years.
United Methodist Bishop Ernest W. Newman, the church's first
African-American elected bishop in the southeastern United States, died
in August in Atlanta at age 80. He served as bishop over the
church's Nashville Area from 1984 until his retirement in 1992.
The Rev. Harry Long, a Muscogee Creek Indian, retired pastor and
respected United Methodist leader on issues related to Native Americans,
died in early December at age 87 in Muskogee, Okla.
Bishop Ralph Edward Dodge died in August at age 101. He was the
church's last white bishop in Zimbabwe and an outspoken advocate for
justice during that country’s colonial era.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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