Year-end wrap-up: Iraq dominated headlines in 2003
12/23/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert ∑ (615) 742-5470 ∑ Nashville, Tenn.
A UMNS Feature
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
"Every day when you wake up, you know at some point during that day your life might be on the line."
words from the Rev. Jay West, a United Methodist Army chaplain serving
in Iraq, seem to sum up the fear and anxiety much of the church faced
and still faces as 2003 draws to a close.
President George Bush
declared war on Iraq March 20. By early May, he proclaimed the war at an
end. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's capture Dec. 13 brought jubilation
from around the world; however, that news has not meant the end to
deaths and struggles for the troops or the people of Iraq.
the war in Iraq, United Methodists were on the front lines in Liberia,
the Middle East and other parts of the world and in the battle to end
the continuing devastation of AIDS/HIV in Africa. Economic problems and
debates over homosexuality also dominated the news in 2003.
lighter note, United Methodists celebrated the 300th birthday of
Methodism's founder, John Wesley; rejoiced in the 100th anniversary of
Korean United Methodists in the United States; and won a religious
freedom of expression victory that culminated with a billboard ad in
Bishop Felton Edwin May reminded
the church that Africa is suffering under the heavy burdens of HIV/AIDS,
poverty and lack of education and urged the Council of Bishops "to
affirm the need to constantly lift up Africa as a missional priority."
Methodist leaders praised Bush and Congress for enacting legislation to
make $15 billion available in the next five years to fight AIDS,
malaria and tuberculosis globally.
"Although this isn't a perfect
bill and the money still needs to be appropriated, it is an important
step for the United States," said Jim Winkler, who heads the United
Methodist Board of Church and Society. "Too many people - 14,000 - are
dying daily (of AIDS), and this pandemic, the worst in modern history,
must be stopped."
Turmoil in Liberia
In the wake of a
devastating civil war, the Liberia Annual (regional) Conference of the
United Methodist Church is helping reconcile former enemies. It also is
refurnishing and reopening schools and clinics, reconstructing Ganta
United Methodist Hospital, and repairing buildings at United Methodist
University in Monrovia.
Liberia's churches are urging U.S.
Christians to provide emergency assistance for the war-torn west African
country, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people are living in
Looking for peace
Action by Churches Together
continued to push the Bush administration's "road map for peace" for
Palestinians. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is an active
member of ACT, an international alliance of churches and church-related
agencies responding to emergencies. Much of ACT's work focuses on
helping people survive during a time of tension and violence between
Israelis and Palestinians.
United Methodists in the church pews, pulpits and general agencies were affected by the nation's economic woes in 2003.
health care costs for the church's clergy and lay employees were the
most frequently addressed item at most annual conferences last summer.
problems also hit most of the general agencies of the churches,
resulting in many staff layoffs. Adding to the blow of the layoffs, many
United Methodist Church lay employees felt compelled to retire earlier
than planned in order to get the best rate for their nest eggs after
changes were made in the denomination's annuity benefits policy.
an Oct. 27 decision, the Judicial Council affirmed the church's Book of
Discipline, which forbids the ordination and appointment of
"self-avowed practicing homosexuals" in its ruling regarding the Rev.
Karen Dammann, a lesbian pastor in Washington state.
informed her bishop in February 2001 that she was living in a
"partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship." In its latest ruling,
the court reversed the decisions of two lower-ranking church bodies, the
Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals and the Pacific Northwest
Conference Committee on Investigation. In split votes, both committees
had supported the dismissal of charges against Dammann. The court sent
the case back to the conference committee on investigation.
Other decisions United Methodists are watching include:
A Massachusetts court ruling that paved the way for same-sex marriages
in November. The decision declared that gay couples have the right to
marry under the state's constitution. The court gave the Massachusetts
legislature 180 days to create the legal structure needed to allow such
¬∑ The Episcopal Church's installation of that denomination's first openly gay bishop.
¬∑ The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that struck down a Texas law banning gay sex.
The United Methodist Church, in its Book of Discipline, holds that
homosexuals are people of sacred worth but that the practice of
homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Wesley's 300th birthday
Many annual conferences held special programs marking the 300th
anniversary of the birth of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
Around the connection, United Methodists celebrated the milestone with
seminars, Wesleyan hymn singing and worship services, and other events.
An international conference on "John Wesley: Life, Legend and Legacy"
was held at the University of Manchester, and a Methodist Festival
attracted hundreds of people from around Europe to Potsdam, Germany,
July 30-Aug. 3.
Members of the
Inchon Nairi Methodist Church in Korea "brought the light" to Hawaii to
celebrate 100 years of mission and ministry started by the first 50
Korean immigrants, April 24-27. During the four-day celebration,
"Remember the Past, Celebrate the Present, Envision the Future,"
speakers highlighted the first Korean immigrants who came to America
seeking a better life. However, once the immigrants arrived in America,
they were introduced to new hardships, laboring in sugar cane
plantations 10 hours a day for the meager wage of 69 cents a day.
Times Square billboard
People moving through New York's Times Square during the Thanksgiving
season were greeted by the United Methodist Church's message of welcome
and reconciliation on Reuters' electronic billboard.
represented a victory for religious advertising after Reuters first
rejected then reconsidered running the ad. The international media giant
will now allow faith-based advertising as long as the commercial
includes a prominently placed disclaimer showing that it is "paid
Several prominent United Methodists died during 2003.
Sir Alan Walker, 91, the first person to hold the position of world
director of evangelism for the World Methodist Council died Jan. 29 in
¬∑ United Methodist Bishop Joel D. McDavid, 86,
who led church regions in Florida and Georgia before retiring in 1984,
died Jan. 8 from a massive stroke.
¬∑ The Rev. Elliot "Jack"
Corbett, 82, co-founder of Pax World Funds and one of the organizers of
the social investing movement, died March 18 after a heart attack.
United Methodist Bishop Almeida Penicela, 74, the second bishop of the
United Methodist Church in Mozambique, died May 11, after a long
¬∑ Willa B. Player, 94, the first African-American woman to
head a four-year college in the United States, died Aug. 27 in
¬∑ Herman Will Jr., 88, who spent 37 years working
for peace and justice and wrote a history of Methodism's peace witness,
died Sept. 27 in Des Moines, Wash.
¬∑ Retired United Methodist
Bishop R. Marvin Stuart, 93, who advocated full clergy rights for women
in the denomination, died Nov. 11 in Palo Alto, Calif.
Seabrook (Texas) United Methodist Church, near Johnson Space Center,
hosted a memorial service in honor of the seven astronauts killed Feb. 1
in the space shuttle Columbia.
¬∑ Kimberly Locke, a member of
Key-Stewart United Methodist Church in Gallatin, Tenn., was one of three
finalists in the "American Idol II" television show.
¬∑ More than
9,000 United Methodist youth from across the globe took over the campus
of the University of Tennessee to participate in Youth '03.
¬∑ Methodist leaders applauded the withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
Seventeen years in the making, The Hmong United Methodist Hymnal,
containing more than 300 hymns, was unveiled at Hmong Christian
Community United Methodist Church in Milwaukee.
¬∑ The United
Methodist Committee on Relief responded to deadly fires in California
and Mexico, Hurricane Isabel on the East Coast of the United States, and
other disasters around the world.
A readers' poll of the top
stories of the year can be found at www.umc.org. For an overview of the
year's top UMTV reports and news photos, go to http://umns.umc.org.
# # #
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service.
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