Bishops distribute $2 million to Gulf Coast for Katrina assistance


By United Methodist News Service

United Methodist bishops are distributing $2 million in February to assist Gulf Coast churches and pastors affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.


The allocations include $1 million to the denomination’s Louisiana Conference, $900,000 to the Mississippi Conference and $100,000 to the Alabama-West Florida Conference.


Approved by the executive committee of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, the distributions come from the council’s Katrina Church Recovery Appeal.


The executive committee also voted unanimously to ask local churches to continue designating special offerings for the appeal over the next two years, said Bishop William Oden of Dallas, who leads the appeal task force. The offerings occur on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in August.


The specific allocations “were the amounts requested by the distribution committee, which includes the three Gulf Coast bishops,” Oden said. “We are still receiving funds from annual conferences and local churches and there will be another distribution when the funds merit it.”


Established in 2005, the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal will help restore hurricane-damaged United Methodist facilities; pay salaries for clergy while their congregations cannot do so; establish new congregations or consolidate existing ones; renew church-based community ministries such as day-care centers; and provide needy churches with worship necessities such as Bibles and hymnals.

Donations to the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, No. 818-001, can be made online at

churchrecovery or placed in offering plates in local churches.


Soldier’s younger sister turns song into YouTube sensation

CACHE, Okla. – Six-year-old Heather Martin, accompanied only by her mother on piano, has become an overnight Internet sensation for a song performed at their rural Oklahoma church. Written for her brother Shaun serving in Iraq, the song became one of YouTube’s most requested videos of all time in December after a member at Cache First United Methodist Church recorded and posted Heather’s performance on the video-sharing Web site. The video had received 1.7 million hits as of early February.


The song has become a hit among soldiers overseas. Heather’s mother, Cindy Martin, wrote When Are You Coming Home? after learning that 22-year-old Shaun would not be home for Christmas. She and Heather performed the song to give Shaun as a Christmas gift. Spc. Shaun Martin, who was deployed last June with his counter-intelligence unit near Baghdad, is due to return home sometime in 2007. Cindy says he has shared the song with other soldiers, who are able to access YouTube.


Christian Churches Together launches, targets poverty

 PASADENA, Calif. – As Christian Churches Together celebrated its official launch in Pasadena, a United Methodist participant said the new ecumenical body must overcome “suspicion and concern about its mission.” The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, said the launch Feb. 6-9 was only part of the journey for Christian Churches Together, which began as a concept in 2001 to expand beyond traditional ecumenical boundaries. The group now counts 36 churches and organizations as founding members. “We, as United Methodists, still have concern about the role of the historic African- American Methodist churches and the fact that they are not at the table,” Pickens said.


Representatives of historic black Methodist churches have expressed reservations about how some participants in Christian Churches Together handle issues of racism, social justice and the ministry of women. They also have questioned the need for another ecumenical organization.


Because of the lack of participation by fellow member denominations of the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union, The United Methodist Church opted for provisional membership in the new organization rather than full membership.


Pastor offers lessons about life using Super Bowl commercials

 GRAPEVINE, Texas – A Texas pastor gave members of his congregation an unusual assignment: watch the Super Bowl and don’t leave the room during the commercials. “I think the Super Bowl’s a cultural event in our society,” said the Rev.  Ken Diehm, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Grapevine, near Dallas. “And so, I think it provides the church an opportunity to comment on what is going on in that culture.”


Diehm believes there are lessons to be learned in the much-hyped ads. For the past several years, his post-game sermons have focused on the advertising. He believes the Super Bowl assignment scored a touchdown with church members. “As they stopped and watched those commercials, in that moment they were thinking about their faith,” he said.  “And I think that’s a good thing.”


Faith reigns for new Miss America

LAWTON, Okla. – Lauren Nelson is relying on her faith to keep her grounded during the hectic year that lies ahead as the newly crowned Miss America. Nelson, 20, a member of Centenary United Methodist Church in Lawton, Okla., won the coveted title on Jan. 29 in Las Vegas.


“It has been a whirlwind of a first two weeks,” she said in a telephone interview with United Methodist News Service. She took her sophomore year off from studies at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond to compete first in the Oklahoma State pageant, which she won, and then to vie with 51 other contestants for the Miss America crown. Her long-term goal is to earn a master’s degree in musical theater and perform on Broadway.


Nelson said faith “plays a huge role” in her life. “So, especially this year, my faith will keep me grounded and will keep me going. This year is going to be a very hectic schedule, and sometimes I am going to doubt myself, but I have to realize that God would not have put me in this position if he did not know that I could handle it.” During her tenure as Miss America, Nelson wants to promote Internet safety for children.


Men’s commission releases DVD to benefit scouting ministry

NASHVILLE – A free DVD to help churches develop or expand their scouting ministries is available from United Methodist Men or through the Boy Scouts of America. “United Methodist Scouting Ministries: Introductory Training for Church and Scouting Professionals and Volunteers” is a 75-minute video covering topics including how to transform a local church scouting program into a ministry; youth and adult recognition and awards; policies and guidelines for protecting youth; and growing the program through bishop’s dinners.


The DVD is based on the Scouting Ministry Training Manual, published by the National Association of United Methodist Scouters, an affiliate of the Commission on United Methodist Men. The DVD is available from the Nashville office of United Methodist Men or a local BSA council office (BIN number 05-985). To receive a copy by mail, call 866-297-4312. There is a $10 charge for shipping and handling.