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United Methodists marked historic firsts, anniversaries in '06

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf takes the oath of office as Liberia's 23rd president during inauguration ceremonies in Monrovia Jan. 16.
Dec. 4, 2005

By Kathy Gilbert*

2006 started with a United Methodist becoming the first woman elected head of state in Africa and ended with the denomination's Council of Bishops making a historic visit to that continent for its first meeting ever held outside the United States.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the 23rd president of Liberia, and her Jan. 16 inauguration was attended by church leaders from around the world. An active member of First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Sirleaf spoke of her faith several times during her speech.

Nearly 70 United Methodist bishops traveled to Mozambique in November to "demonstrate to the United Methodist Church and to all the world that we are a global church," said Bishop Janice R. Huie, president of the council. "We embody a global reality by being here."

It was fitting for the council to meet outside the United States, since the church in Africa, Asia and Europe is growing while the U.S. membership has been declining. Membership in the central conferences (regions in Africa, Asia and Europe) increased more than 68 percent from 1995 to 2004, to 1.88 million.

In 2004, the number of U.S. members decreased by 0.81 percent, to about 8.07 million, and worship attendance was down by 0.96 percent from 2003, according to The State of Our Connection, a report by the church's General Council on Finance and Administration. Membership has declined annually since the formation of the denomination in 1968. During the last 10 years, overall membership decreased by 5.48 percent.

Golden anniversaries

More than 1,500 United Methodist clergywomen went "marching in the light of God" as they gathered to celebrate advancements made in the 50 years since women received the same clergy rights as men in the denomination. Participants at the 2006 International Clergywomen's Consultation, held Aug. 13-17 in Chicago, marked the half-century anniversary of that decision by the denomination's top legislative body.

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Three pioneers - (from left) the Revs. Marion Kline, Grace Huck and Jane Ann Stoneburner Moore - are honored at a banquet celebrating the 50th anniversary of full clergy rights for women.
In 1956, after the General Conference action, 27 women were accepted on trial for full clergy rights in their annual (regional) conferences. Today, the denomination's 44,091 clergy members include 9,749 United Methodist clergywomen -- about one in five, or 22.1 percent.

Before the clergywomen's consultation, 22 graduates of the Women of Color Scholars program met to celebrate a program that is "is unparalleled to any Protestant denomination" today, according to the Rev. Jerome King del Pino, top executive at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The board sponsors the program that mentors women of color pursuing advanced degrees in religious studies.

This year also marked the 50th anniversary of the United Methodist Church's call to end executions and the 30th anniversary of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty.

At its 1956 General Conference, the Methodist Church declared: "We stand for the application of the redemptive principle to the treatment of offenders against the law, the reform of penal and correctional methods, and to criminal court procedures. We deplore the use of capital punishment." (Social Principles, 164G) The United Methodist Church has passed resolutions opposed to the death penalty since 1976.

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A cross made of steel beams from the wreckage of the World Trade Center Towers sits at Ground Zero in New York City.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society resurrected the United Methodists Against the Death Penalty network.

United Methodists also remembered the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The church was involved in recovery efforts from Ground Zero to the five boroughs of New York City to New Jersey and Virginia, and beyond.

A total of 87 grants were given by the New York Annual (regional) Conference to local church projects ranging from after-school programs to interfaith dialogues to pastoral support. "We tried to add a religious dimension and a charity dimension (to recovery)," said the Rev. Charles "Chick" Straut, program administrator for the conference response.

On a national level, United Methodists funded trauma-response training through Church World Service; sponsored training for child-care workers; supported local Muslim-Christian dialogues through "Honoring Our Differences" grants; and gave additional money to the United Methodist Committee on Relief's "Justice for Our Neighbors" immigrant assistance network.

Katrina remembered

For many along the U.S. Gulf Coast, the countdown to the new year started Aug. 29. Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi and Louisiana Aug. 29, 2005, after striking Alabama, and it was followed Sept. 24 by Hurricane Rita, which struck Texas and Louisiana.

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Volunteers from Christ Church United Methodist in New York repair a roof damaged by winds from Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Miss.
In New Orleans, Katrina damaged 90 churches and displaced 80 pastors. In Mississippi, the entire coastline was flattened and more than 300 churches suffered damage -- seven of them destroyed. In neighboring Alabama, one church was destroyed and another dozen damaged. Hurricane Rita damaged church property in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange and Bridge City in Texas and in Lake Charles and Cameron Parish in Louisiana.

Signs of progress a year later included student registration Sept. 16 at United Methodist-related Dillard University in New Orleans. The opening marked the return of the 136-year-old historically black college, which flooded after Hurricane Katrina.

Another United Methodist historic site is still waiting to be restored. The sea and wind swept away the 64 acres and 14 buildings that once were Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss. A team of African-American denominational staff members journeyed to Gulfside and other sites on the Gulf Coast July 23-25 to do recovery work.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief ranked sixth for the amount raised for hurricane relief in a survey by Newsweek of the "Big Names in Katrina Relief." UMCOR raised some $64.5 million for hurricane relief and rehabilitation that will fund long-term recovery for the next three years. This is in addition to the thousands of hours United Methodist volunteers have put into the recovery effort and the $7.6 million United Methodists and others donated in relief supplies.

A first-anniversary fundraising appeal to help rebuild churches and congregations affected by Hurricane Katrina netted more than $2 million, with additional donations expected. But that is just a beginning for the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, sponsored by the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

Bishop William Oden of Dallas, who leads the council's task force on the appeal, noted that while Katrina was "the worst natural and man-made tragedy in the history of the United States," the hurricane also had the most disastrous impact ever on church property, facilities and programs.

"Because there are over 40 churches totally destroyed or severely damaged, it's going to take up to a decade and maybe as much as $10 million to have mission and ministry along the Gulf Coast," Oden said.

Methodists gather

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A procession of banners carried by United Methodist Women opens the 2006 Assembly in Anaheim, Calif.
They came in the name of Christian unity. From Feb. 14-23, the campus of Catholic Pontifical University in Porto Alegre, Brazil, was transformed into a global village for the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly.

The vitality of the ecumenical movement was evident as some 4,000 people prayed and sang together, engaged in dialogue and debate, and learned more about one another's cultures and religions -- in five official languages.

In a "scary time" when war, terrorism, environmental calamity and unchecked poverty and disease are looming fears, United Methodist Women can still make practical expressions of their faith. That was the closing message from Jan Love to participants at the 2006 United Methodist Women's Assembly, which drew 7,000 members to Anaheim, Calif., May 4-7. Love is chief executive of the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Concerns about tensions on the Korean Peninsula and bombings in the Middle East were acknowledged as more than 2,500 Methodists gathered in Seoul for the World Methodist Conference July 20-24. "God in Christ Reconciling" (II Corinthians 5:18) was the theme for the 19th conference.

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The Rev. Constance Smith (right) lights a candle with Lonny LeFever during the "Lighten the Burden" conference in Washington.
United Methodists from around the world gathered Sept. 8-9 in Washington to hear that the church must respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"We need you, and more people like you, to become ambassadors for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund," said the Rev. Don Messer, a member of the fund's board of directors. "We need United Methodists to pray, speak out in their local churches and wherever their ministries take them, and do something in support of HIV/AIDS ministries."

"Lighten the Burden," was the first conference of its kind in more than 20 years. The event was sponsored by the Global AIDS Fund, created by the 2004 United Methodist General Conference, Board of Global Ministries and the Board of Church and Society.

Safe sanctuary

United Methodist church leaders stood with clergy from other denominations in numerous marches held across the United States to protest the strict immigration bill passed by the House of Representatives. A Senate immigration bill approved May 24 gave legalization for about half of the 12 million undocumented workers in the country.

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Bishops Minerva Carca˝o and Hee-Soo Jung pray with Elvira Arellano (right) and her son, Saul, 7.
In mid-August, Elvira Arellano and her 7-year-old son, Saul, found sanctuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago. Arellano, lay leader of the church, asked for sanctuary against the threat of being deported from the United States. Members of the small Hispanic congregation rallied around Arellano, granting her sanctuary while she attempts to stay in the country with her son, who is a U.S. citizen.

The administrative council of First United Methodist Church in Tacoma, Wash., voted unanimously June 11 to declare the church a sanctuary for members of the armed forces with moral qualms about participating in military activities that may violate their conscience.

United Methodists rallied in support of Army Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, who has refused deployment to Iraq because he feels the war is "morally wrong" and "a breach of American law." He faces charges of missing troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt towards officials. United Methodists joined a vigil and rally at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, where Watada is being held.

Malaria initiative

In the fall, United Methodists participated in the official kickoff of a malaria-prevention campaign that encourages donations for malaria nets for African families. Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the denomination's Pittsburgh Area said one of the campaign's most appealing aspects is that "anyone, anywhere" can forge this lifesaving link with children in Africa.

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Feliciana Domingos and her 1-year-old daughter, Sarafine Lorenšo, take shelter beneath a mosquito net at their home near Malanje, Angola.
"It all fits in to the whole issue of eradicating poverty," added Bickerton, who also serves as president of United Methodist Communications. "A million people are dying of malaria every year, 75 percent of them children."

The campaign asks for a $10 contribution. The first $7 purchases and distributes the nets, which can cover up to four family members as they sleep. The last $3 pays for community workers to educate families on how to use the insecticide-treated bed nets.

Partners in Nothing But Nets include the people of The United Methodist Church, the United Nations Foundation, Sports Illustrated, the National Basketball Association's foundation, NBA Cares, Millennium Promise and the Measles Initiative. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Communications are coordinating participation in the campaign.

Other highlights

Other significant events in 2006:

  • Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was remembered by United Methodists as a strong woman of faith who "answered a hard call at a high price." King, 78, died Jan. 30 at a rehabilitation center in Mexico.
  • United Methodists help defeat Internet gambling, a cause worked on by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society for seven years.
  • A delegation representing the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns received a special license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury Department to visit Cuba Oct. 7-12.
  • After 13 years in Bosnia, UMCOR officially closed its project there. United Methodists will continue to be involved in the region through volunteer teams and financial support for projects, such as youth houses.
  • United Methodist clergy are getting older than the population the denomination is trying to reach, according to a report examining clergy age trends for the past 20 years. In 1985, the average age of ordained elders was 46.8 years, compared to 51.5 years in 2005.
  • A sex scandal involving the Duke University men's lacrosse team brought to the surface multiple issues about privilege and cultural values within higher education, the church and wider society, according to United Methodist Bishop Ken Carder, director of pulpit and pew at the Duke Center for Excellence in Ministry at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C.
  • United Methodists gathering for their top legislative assembly in 2008 will meet, symbolically, under a tall, green tree representing "A Future with Hope." The green tree and theme of hope are the key elements of the new logo for the next General Conference, which will be April 23-May 2, 2008, in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • The United Methodist Church's top court ruled that the 2004 General Conference was within its authority to limit the United Methodist Church of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to two General Conference delegates. The Judicial Council also made it clear that the action by the 2004 General Conference "was not a final act of admission" of the Methodist Church of Cote d'Ivoire into the United Methodist Church.


Several prominent United Methodists died in 2006.

  • Carrie Sahmaunt, who was the oldest living member of the Kiowa Indian Tribe, died Jan. 15 at the age of 101 at her home in Meers, Okla.
  • Dr. Ruth Nichols, a podiatrist who was an active supporter of Africa University and the widow of a United Methodist bishop, died Jan. 22 in her San Jose, Calif., home.
    ? David W. Worley, 72, the first United Methodist scouting executive, died Jan. 1 at his home in Hot Springs, Ark., after a five-and-a-half-year battle with melanoma.
  • Thomas H. Dahl, 66, of Anchorage, Alaska, died March 30 from injuries suffered in a fall from a ladder in Moss Point, Miss., where he was working with a volunteer team on Gulf Coast recovery work. Dahl was a retired clergyman who also served as chief counsel to the Alaska Missionary Conference, and he was a former director of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
  • Mark Allen Masters, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, died May 14 of a heart attack while visiting missionaries in Nepal. Masters, 48, was a regional executive for mission personnel.
  • Bishop Leroy Charles Hodapp, 82, described by his peers as a steady, consistent and faithful leader for the United Methodist Church, died May 26 at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
  • Two members of Tonga's royal family, 56-year-old Prince Tu'ipelehake and his 46-year-old wife, Princess Kaimana, were killed July 5 in a traffic accident in Menlo Park, Calif. Their driver, Vinisia Hefa, 36, a member of San Bruno United Methodist Church, was also killed.
  • A United Methodist in the Philippines who had served as a local pastor was shot dead by gunmen outside his home. According to a story in the Aug. 6 edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Isaias Sta. Rosa was found dead in Malabago, Daraga, Albay, on Aug. 3.
  • Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure Jr., leader of 325 United Methodist congregations in North Texas, died Aug. 19 at Baylor Medical Center as a result of complications from neurosurgery.
  • The first United Methodist bishop of Nigeria, Done Peter Dabale, died Aug. 26 of cancer at the Methodist Hospital in Houston. He was 57.
  • Bishop Thomas S. Bangura, 81, retired leader of the church in Sierra Leone, died Sept. 24. He began his ministry in the Evangelical United Brethren Church and served as bishop from 1979 to 1992.
  • Tonga's King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, a lay preacher in the Free Wesleyan Methodist Church, died Sept. 10 at Mercy Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Robert Lear, 79, a former news director for United Methodist News Service and former Iowa Area communicator, died Oct. 16 in Wernersville, Pa., after a lengthy illness. He chronicled news of Methodism for more than 37 years.
  • Betty Jane Admussen, of Kansas City, Mo., a member of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race and an active part of Native American ministries in the church, died Nov. 22 after a long illness. She was 80.
  • Finees Flores Jr., former editor of el Interprete magazine, died Nov. 18 at his home in San Antonio after a long struggle with cancer. He was active in Hispanic concerns and ministries and also was a former member of the General Council on Finance and Administration.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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