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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."

Those 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.

Besides 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.

On a 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 Times Square.


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."

United 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 camps.

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.

Economic woes

United Methodists in the church pews, pulpits and general agencies were affected by the nation's economic woes in 2003.

Rising health care costs for the church's clergy and lay employees were the most frequently addressed item at most annual conferences last summer.

Economic 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.

Homosexuality issues

In 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.

Dammann 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 marriages.
· 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.

Korean centennial

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.

The sign 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 advertising."


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 Sydney, Australia.
· 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 illness.
· Willa B. Player, 94, the first African-American woman to head a four-year college in the United States, died Aug. 27 in Greensboro, N.C.
· 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.

Also noteworthy

· 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 For an overview of the year's top UMTV reports and news photos, go to

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*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service.

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