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For United Methodists and others, disasters dominated ’05
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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Foundation pilings and a plastic sign are all that remain of a building at the historic Gulfside Assembly grounds in Waveland, Miss.

Dec. 7, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

It was only one of 26 named storms in a record-breaking hurricane season, but for United Methodists, Hurricane Katrina packed the biggest wallop.

When Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast at the end of August, it swept away homes, churches, parsonages, and social service centers in its path. In Louisiana, much of the southeastern part of the state was flooded, including New Orleans. In Mississippi, the towns of Waveland and Pass Christian were wiped out. Hurricane Rita followed a few weeks later, compounding the damage and distress. The death toll from the storms exceeded 1,000, though a final figure is not known.

Natural disasters were a major focus for the church during 2005, but the year also was a tumultuous one for other reasons: the war in Iraq, church court rulings on cases related to homosexuality and clergy authority, relief initiatives in Africa and other parts of the world, and progress in ecumenical relationships, to name a few.

The most destructive U.S. hurricane came some eight months after a tsunami swamped countries rimming the Indian Ocean, stunning the world. It followed Hurricane Dennis and preceded Rita and Wilma and, perhaps, contributed to compassion fatigue as relief agencies sought donations to assist victims of a major earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir and hurricane-related floods in Central America in October.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The Rev. Darryl Tate views the ruined sanctuary of St. Luke's United Methodist Church.

Throughout the Gulf Coast region, United Methodist churches and institutions opened as shelters to provide temporary housing to evacuees. Working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, annual conferences in the region set up storm recovery centers, coordinating volunteer work teams from across the country, collecting and distributing supplies and assisting affected individuals through case management.

As of Nov. 10, UMCOR had received more than $22.5 million for Katrina/Rita hurricane relief.

One of the landmarks washed away by Katrina was the historic Gulfside Assembly retreat center in Waveland, which has special significance to the denomination’s African-American members. But the assembly’s board of directors voted to rebuild, establishing a Gulfside Recovery Fund.

A new landmark — a towering mountain of trash, part of an estimated 7 million cubic feet of trash accumulated in New Orleans from the cleanup — was left near St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. Bits and pieces of many of the 79 churches in the district were part of the heap.

At St. Luke’s, only 15 of the 126 families in the congregation had returned by late October. The number of returning families is a factor in the rebuilding process. Currently, the evacuees — 1.5 million from Louisiana and several hundred thousand from Mississippi and Alabama — are spread across the United States. Those evacuees include entire congregations and clergy.

UMCOR funds do not cover such expenses as church construction or clergy salaries. That is a problem for the Louisiana Conference, which has projected it will spend $1.3 million through May on salary and benefits alone, and for the Mississippi Conference, where six churches were destroyed and at least 20 suffered major damage.

To assist the Gulf Coast conferences, the denomination’s Council of Bishops approved the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal in early November. The special fund will focus on building new ministries, rebuilding facilities and addressing other local church and conference needs, such as paying clergy salaries and covering uninsured losses.

UMCOR also has taken on its biggest relief project to date. Through a $66 million agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, UMCOR is heading Katrina AID Today: A National Case Management Consortium, which will help some 100,000 qualifying families achieve long-term recovery from the hurricane’s devastation.

As the lead agency, UMCOR will manage the grant, of which $60 million will be passed through to six to12 other organizations also equipped to organize case management.  Consortium members will employ case mangers who will work directly with families.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Members of a United Methodist delegation pray during a visit to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, three weeks after the tsunami.

Another disaster commanded United Methodist attention throughout 2005, even though it occurred at the end of the previous year. In fact, church members responded so compassionately to the Dec. 26 tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people in 11 Indian Ocean countries that they raised $42 million for relief efforts through UMCOR.

The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency, believes television coverage of the unusual but deadly catastrophe touched many people in a personal way. “I think it had a major emotional and spiritual impact on people, and they responded through giving,” he said in a November interview.


The relief agency is conducting long-term rehabilitation in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Somalia, working with various partners in each country. The three major components of most of the work are housing, education and employment.

Judicial Council rulings

Two October rulings relating to homosexuality attracted both denomination-wide and national attention.

On Oct. 31, the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, reversed an appeals court ruling in the case of a lesbian pastor, restoring the original trial court ruling and verdict that had resulted in the minister losing her clergy credentials.

The Rev. Irene Elizabeth “Beth” Stroud, an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Germantown, Pa., was convicted by a clergy trial court last December after stating that she was a practicing lesbian — a violation of church law, which forbids the ordination and appointment of “self-avowed practicing” homosexuals. The court revoked Stroud’s credentials, but a jurisdictional court of appeals set aside that ruling in April.

The Judicial Council, which heard oral arguments in the case Oct. 27 in Houston, found “the Northeast Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals erred in reversing and setting aside the verdict and penalty from Rev. Stroud’s trial.

“Stroud was accorded fair and due process rights enumerated in the (Book of) Discipline and Judicial Council decisions,” the court said. “Regulation of the practice of homosexuality does not violate the ‘status’ provisions of the Constitution. The Northeast Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals was without jurisdiction to declare that Paragraph 304.3 established a new standard of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards…”

Stroud continues to work as a lay pastor for the Germantown church.

In another decision during its October meeting, the Judicial Council ruled that United Methodist ministers do have the power to decide who becomes a member of the local church, supporting a pastor who blocked an openly gay man from joining his congregation.

The council issued two decisions related to the case of Rev. Ed Johnson, who was serving as senior pastor at South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church until he was placed on involuntary leave of absence in June. In Decision 1031, the council dealt with the due process problems in how Johnson was disciplined. Decision 1032 was the more sweeping ruling, saying that the church’s Book of Discipline “invests discretion in the pastor-in-charge to make determination of a person’s readiness to affirm the vows of membership.”

The result of both decisions was that Johnson was immediately reinstated to active status.

In a Nov. 2 statement responding to the court’s decision, the denomination’s Council of Bishops declared that homosexuality is not a barrier to membership in the United Methodist Church.

“While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier,” the bishops said in their pastoral letter to the people of the United Methodist Church. The letter was unanimously adopted in a closed session during their October meeting.

“With the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, we affirm ‘that God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community,’” the bishops said, quoting from the Social Principles in the Book of Discipline. “‘We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.’ 

“We also affirm our Wesleyan practice that pastors are accountable to the bishop, superintendent and the clergy on matters of ministry and membership,” the bishops said.

Debate over Iraq war

The war in Iraq continued to preoccupy United Methodists, just as it did the rest of the United States.

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Sue Niederer, whose son was killed in Iraq, is comforted by the Rev. Bob Edgar (left) and retired Bishop Joe Wilson.

On Nov. 4, the Council of Bishops adopted a resolution calling on President George Bush to draw up a plan and timeline for withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq. The resolution stated that “the continuing loss of Iraqi civilian lives, especially children, and the increasing death toll among United States and coalition military, grieves the heart of God.”

The bishops said the U.S. government’s reasons for war — “the presumption of weapons of mass destruction and alleged connection between al-Qaida and Iraq” — have not been verified, and that the violence in Iraq has created a context for “gross violations of human rights of prisoners of war.”

The following week, 96 individual bishops issued a separate statement repenting “of our complicity in what we believe to be the unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq.” The statement confessed “our preoccupation with institutional enhancement and limited agendas while American men and women are sent to Iraq to kill and be killed, while thousands of Iraqi people needlessly suffer and die, while poverty increases and preventable diseases go untreated.”

In October, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society also passed a resolution calling on the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

But the denomination continues to minister to military personnel stationed in Iraq and elsewhere. Since 2003, for example, military men and women have had more than 6 million minutes to speak to someone they love — free of charge — because thousands of United Methodists have donated to a phone card campaign.

“Chaplains have felt supported, and service members, many who have no church affiliation, know that the United Methodist Church cares about them,” said the Rev. Greg Hill, director for the United Methodist Endorsing Agency of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, sponsor of the campaign. The phone cards, which cost $4.95 for 120 minutes, feature the United Methodist cross and flame and include a recorded prayer.

Five bishops — Peter Weaver, Ernest Lyght, Janice Huie, John Schol and Charlene Kammerer — paid a May 3 pastoral visit to President George W. Bush in a meeting that they said opened the door for future conversations and work with the White House. During the private 10-minute session, the bishops presented Bush, a fellow United Methodist, with a Bible signed by the Council of Bishops, and they shared a moment of prayer with him. 

Global concerns

Elsewhere in the world, the situation in Sudan remained a concern for the denomination. In early February, UMCOR opened a mission in South Darfur, on the western side of Sudan, with a start-up budget around $1 million. The mission’s priorities include providing emergency aid and development services in water, sanitation, and agriculture. The agency is helping manage the El Ferdous IDP (internally displaced persons) camp.

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A UMNS photo by John Goodwin

Bishop Joao Somane Machado of Mozambique discusses the church's malaria initiative at the Nov. 1-3 TIME Global Health Summit in New York.

UMCOR also was among the faith-based humanitarian agencies providing basic necessities to hundreds of thousands of people displaced from homes and jobs in Zimbabwe.

At several points during the year, Filipino and foreign Protestant church leaders condemned what they describe as “massive human rights violations” and outright killings of innocent people perceived as “subversives” under the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Philippines.  Church leaders have been alarmed by a “wave of killings” of peace advocates, including church people.

In Liberia, several United Methodists were among the candidates for president of the West African nation, including Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and George Weah, who faced each other in the Nov. 8 run-off election. Johnson-Sirleaf was declared the winner in what the country’s National Committee for Elections Monitoring called a “free and fair” election, despite a protest from Weah supporters. She will be Africa’s first female head of state.

The Board of Global Ministries announced an initiative to combat malaria and Bishop Joao Somane Machado of Mozambique and the Rev. R. Randy Day, the board’s chief executive, spoke about the new initiative to combat malaria during a Nov. 1 press conference at the TIME Global Health Summit in New York.

The United Methodist Community Based Malaria Prevention Program was set for launch in Sierra Leone in early December. Participants from seven countries will be trained at the denomination’s Maternity and Health Center in Kissy.

On the U.S. front, a United Methodist-backed consumer boycott against Taco Bell ended March 8 when the company agreed to work with the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers to address working conditions and the wages of farm workers in the Florida tomato industry. The United Methodist Church officially joined the boycott by a vote from the denomination’s 2004 General Conference, its top legislative body.

Minnesota United Methodists prayed for the Red Lake tribe after a March 21 school shooting at an Indian reservation left 10 people dead. Church members also provided physical assistance through the local Red Cross.

Theological work

The Council of Bishops approved interim agreements in May for sharing the Eucharist with two other mainline denominations — the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The separate agreements would result in those churches and the United Methodist Church sharing worship, particularly communion, studying with one another and being involved in mission together. Lutherans approved the agreement in August.

A new study guide about Holy Communion was released to help local United Methodist churches improve the practice of the sacrament. “This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion,” includes the church’s official statement about Holy Communion as the main text plus commentary and discussion questions.

The United Methodist Publishing House made changes to the “Disciple” Bible study class to increase access to the program, with new eight-week sessions and videos for “Disciple I.” In the past 20 years, more than a million people have graduated from a “Disciple” Bible study class.

Catholic and United Methodist scholars, meeting in Washington April 29-May 1, called for greater sharing and collaboration between their churches as they concluded a dialogue on the church and church structures. The findings of this sixth round of dialogue between the two denominations were published in a joint study titled “Through Divine Love: The Church in Each Place and All Places.”

New bishops

The Rev. Hans Vaxby of Helsinki, Finland, was elected Feb. 11 as bishop of the Eurasia Area of the United Methodist Church, succeeding Bishop Ruediger Minor, who retired after serving the church’s Russia mission since 1992.

The Rev. David Kekumba Yemba, professor and founding dean of the faculty of theology at United Methodist-related Africa University, was elected bishop of the Central Congo Area on Feb. 12, succeeding Bishop Fama Onema, who served the area for more than 30 years.

In Germany, the Rev. Rosemarie Wenner was elected Feb. 16 as the denomination’s first woman bishop in Europe, succeeding Bishop Walter Klaiber.

The Rev. Benjamin Boni was elected March 12 as the first bishop of the newly constituted United Methodist Church of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The West Africa Central Conference delegates also recognized Côte d’Ivoire as an annual conference of the denomination.

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Council Secretary Ernest Lyght (left) and President Peter Weaver (right) congratulate Gregory Palmer and Janice Huie after the election.

The Rev. Patrick Streiff, 49, of Switzerland was consecrated as a new bishop of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe during an April 17 service. He will succeed Bishop Heinrich Bolleter in May 2006.

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Texas was elected president of the Council of Bishops and Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of Iowa as president-designate, effective in May 2006, at the council’s Oct. 30-Nov. 4 meeting. Huie, 58, will succeed Bishop Peter D. Weaver of the Boston Area as president for a two-year term. Palmer, 51, is in line to succeed her. Bishop Ernest Lyght of the West Virginia Area was re-elected secretary.

Hae-Jong Kim, who became the denomination’s first Korean-American bishop when he was elected in 1992 and who retired in 2004, resigned from the episcopacy Sept. 1 as part of the resolution of a complaint filed against him. Weaver announced the resignation Aug. 30 in a statement that did not specify details of the complaint against Kim. The former bishop’s clergy membership was returned to the Greater New Jersey Annual (regional) Conference.

Seminary changes

More than 100 pastors, students and visitors attended a daylong Sept. 10 dedication event for the new Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow, organized by seminary President Tobias Dietze. The day also marked the installation of the first Russian professor, the Rev. Sergei Nikolaev, to the Ruediger and Gerlinde Minor Chair. Funded by the Foundation for Evangelism, the chair also honors the tradition of Methodist evangelist E. Stanley Jones.

A settlement was reached in April between United Methodist-related Iliff School of Theology in Denver and the Rev. David Maldonado, its former Latino president, who claimed he was forced to resign last year due to “culturally different” views.

An April 19 joint declaration issued by Maldonado and Iliff names Maldonado as president emeritus and says the school will “honor his legacy” by establishing the David and Charlotte Maldonado Scholarship Fund. He will also serve as special adviser to the president in the year ahead. Iliff regained positive standing from the church’s University Senate in June after being placed on a warning list the previous fall. 

The president of United Methodist-related American University in Washington resigned Oct. 24 following an investigation of his personal and travel expenses. An audit committee found that Benjamin Ladner, 63, president for 11 years, and his wife allegedly spent more than $500,000 inappropriately in the past three years. 

On Sept. 6, a judge reduced a $6 million civil court judgment against the Missouri Annual Conference by half, leaving $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages in place. Teresa and Sid Norris of Springfield, Mo., had sued the conference for intentional failure to supervise and act on complaints against a pastor more than six years ago. The conference is continuing to appeal the judgment. Mrs. Norris was a local church music director.

Fiscal improvement 

United Methodists started the year on an improved fiscal note, having increased their giving by nearly 4 percent to the denomination’s churchwide ministry during 2004, despite a membership loss. The increase of almost $4.4 million to the United Methodist Church’s seven apportioned funds marked a reversal from slight decreases in the two preceding years.

The North Georgia Conference grew by more than 7,000 members during 2004. Across the denomination, average attendance at morning worship grew by a small margin while U.S. membership declined by about 71,000 from the previous year, according to mid-year annual conference reports. Official, audited numbers for the denomination haven’t been released yet.

The Rev. Robert J. Williams, a New Jersey pastor, was elected top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History, succeeding the Rev. Charles Yrigoyen Jr., who will retire on Dec. 31.

The Commission on United Methodist Men organization was expected to move into its first headquarters, the facilities being vacated by the Nashville, Tenn., office of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration, by the end of 2005. The organization had been lodged in a suite of offices at the Board of Discipleship.

GCFA bought a building on Nashville’s Music Row previously occupied by RCA and moved its headquarters there from Evanston, Ill.


Several prominent United Methodists died in 2005.

·        Bishop J. Alfred Ndoricimpa, East Africa Conference, July 29 at a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. The Burundi native had been forced to flee that country in 1994 after the assassination of its first democratically elected president and lived in exile in Kenya for 6 years before returning permanently in 2000.

·        Bishop Paul W. Milhouse, 94, on March 12 in Franklin Ind. He was the last remaining bishop elected by the former Evangelical United Brethren Church.

·        Bishop Earl Gladstone Hunt Jr., 86, on March 26 in Asheville, N.C. He was a leader in the church and in world Methodism.

·        Bishop Edward L. Tullis, 88, on Oct. 6 in Lake Junaluska, N.C. He was known throughout the denomination as a visionary leader.

·        Prominent lay leader J. Wesley Hole, 101, on Feb. 14 in Arcadia, Calif. He served as secretary of the 1939 Methodist uniting conference.

·        The Rev. J. Arthur West, 95, on April 8 in Lebanon, Ohio. West was a pioneer communicator in the United Methodist Church.

·        The Rev. Karuna Bhujel, 48, on April 23 in Kathmandu, Nepal. A United Methodist missionary, Bhujel was killed in a motorbike accident on her way to church.

·        Nellie Moser, 72, on May 3 in Nashville, Tenn. Moser was instrumental in the vision and development of the Disciple Bible Study for the United Methodist Publishing House.

·        The Rev. Kenneth J. Deere, 69, on June 23 in Holdenville, Okla. Deere was a former United Methodist agency staff executive and a leader in addressing Native American concerns.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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