By Linda Bloom
United Methodist News Service
United Methodists called for justice, advocated for peace and assisted victims of both natural and economic disasters during 2007.
At the same time, the denomination looked inward, setting a focus for its mission and ministry and developing strategies to increase and strengthen its membership.
A crucial concern for justice has arisen in the
One of the most powerful United Methodist voices in 2007 was that of Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who held a summit in
On Sept. 25, the Supreme Court in
In November, the bishops of The United Methodist Church declared war “incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ” and called on leaders of all nations to begin an immediate withdrawal of troops from
In addition to calling for the immediate safe and full withdrawal of troops, the bishops called on the
The resolution is the council’s latest action questioning the
Among the United Methodists joining an Oct. 8 interfaith fast for peace and an end to the war in Iraq was Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, who noted earlier that his agency “has been the most resolute and consistent voice of opposition to the war” within the denomination.
The Wesley Foundation of
In response to the shooting, the Board of Church and Society also renewed the denomination’s call for governments around the world to ban ownership by the general public of handguns, assault weapons, automatic weapon conversion kits and weapons that cannot be detected by traditional metal-detection devices.
Both Church and Society and the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries called for justice in the case of the “Jena Six,” a group of six black students facing criminal prosecution in the beating of a white student in
When tens of thousands of protesters showed up in
In a June 19 letter to the U.S. Senate, seven United Methodist agencies and organizations opposed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 and called for “genuine reform” that would allow immigrant families to “achieve their American dreams.”
The groups said Senate Bill 1348 “fails to achieve” any of the goals advocated by the church and other proponents of genuine comprehensive immigration reform. These goals include reunification of families, a fair earned pathway to citizenship and humanitarian border policies that maintain the civil liberties of all people. The bill failed to pass.
Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant and member of
Arellano announced during an Aug. 15 news conference and immigration rally at Adalberto that, after several weeks of fasting and praying, she had decided to leave the church and speak out for immigration reform. Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, episcopal leader of the United Methodist Northern Illinois Annual Conference, said the conference has supported Arellano and the church for the past year.
Providing disaster relief
Throughout 2007, the United Methodist Committee on Relief continued to fund long-term recovery projects related to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunami which occurred at the end of 2004.
At a special Katrina summit in September, United Methodist volunteers from across the
An additional $4.7 million in aid to economically vulnerable Sri Lankans still finding their footing after the tsunami was approved in April by UMCOR directors. Major tsunami recovery work also continued in
The agency was called to assist in new, smaller emergencies throughout the year, working in tandem with annual conferences.
They responded to tornados that struck central
Another church near the high school offered hot meals to storm victims, relief workers and school employees.
Churches also responded to flooding that plagued parts of the
United Methodist response to the October wildfires in southern
International relief efforts extended beyond the tsunami-related programs. As part of a continuing collaboration, UMCOR and
UMCOR’s partnership agreement with Muslim Aid, the London-based global relief and development agency, allows the two agencies to work together on peace building and poverty reducing programs around the world. The partnership was signed June 26 at the House of Commons.
In an attempt to focus the mission and ministry of the church at the dawn of the 21st century, the denomination has selected four areas of focus – leadership development, congregational growth, global health and ministry with the poor. The areas of focus have been affirmed by church leadership at all levels, including the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, agency boards and many annual conferences.
“This is Our Story,” a 2007 report from the denomination’s Council on Finance and Administration, showed the church’s membership is growing throughout the world but shrinking in the
Statistics for 2005, the latest available, show worldwide professing and baptized membership at 13.75 million in more than 50 countries, compared with 11.35 million in 1995.
Despite the decrease, giving is up. The church gave almost $5.9 billion during 2005 – representing an increase in giving for the 15th straight year when adjusted for inflation – and data indicates the average income of a United Methodist is growing faster than in the general population.
To stimulate membership growth, the United Methodist Board of Discipleship has organized a strategy team on new congregational development. The goal of “Path One” is to start 650 new congregations by 2012. Other goals include doubling the number of young people serving as pastors and church leaders, and expanding ministries with the poor, according to denominational leaders during an April 17 “town hall” teleconference.
Reflecting church’s diversity
Three March gatherings reflected on the diversity found within The United Methodist Church. In the first meeting of its kind, leaders of the Korean-American United Methodist community gathered in
A conference on women in Methodism, “Struggle, Faith and Vision: Celebrating Women in the United Methodist Tradition,” was held at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tenn., where a new research library was dedicated to the study of organized lay women in mission in the Methodist tradition.
United Methodism’s African-American caucus, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, celebrated four decades of advocacy for racial justice and inclusion by challenging itself to develop ministries that make a difference in people’s lives. More than 500 people attending the event heard speakers recount the genesis and growth of the nearly 5,000-member caucus and list its challenges and possibilities for the future.
Issues of sexuality
A gay man who had been denied membership in 2005 at South Hill (
The denial of membership by the previous pastor prompted controversy across the denomination on the issues of homosexuality and pastoral authority and led to a series of rulings on the case by the denomination’s highest court.
The United Methodist Church, while affirming that both homosexuals and heterosexuals are people of “sacred worth,” does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers the practice “incompatible with Christian teaching,” according to the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of law. Church law specifically prohibits the appointment of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” as clergy.
In October, the United Methodist Judicial Council upheld a bishop’s decision that a pastor who changed gender from female to male remains eligible to serve the church.
The council stated that it was not ruling on whether changing gender is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards set by the church’s legislative body, the General Conference. Rather, the court said “a clergyperson’s standing cannot be terminated without administrative or juridical action having occurred and all fair process being accorded.”
Because the Rev. Drew Phoenix, pastor of
In September, a three-day African Bishops Roundtable brought together 12 active and retired United Methodist bishops to the campus of
A new 300-watt community radio station, located at the denomination’s Liberia Annual Conference headquarters, was dedicated during a March 3 service attended by United Methodist bishops of the
The Rev. Kefas Kane Mavula was elected and appointed bishop of The United Methodist Church in
The Nothing But Nets campaign started the year with a $3 million challenge grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, announced Jan. 4, for the purchase and distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria in
The grant will match contributions raised by the campaign’s partners: The people of The United Methodist Church, the United Nations Foundation, NBA Cares, Sports Illustrated and others.
The United Nations Foundation also has said it wants to work with United Methodists on an initiative focusing on the diseases of poverty: malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
At least 200,000 families in
Other significant events in 2007:
• United Methodists in
• Some 6,200 youth and youth leaders from four continents attended the July 11-15 Youth 2007 event in
• Directors of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, through action of the personnel committee, abruptly dismissed the Rev. R. Randy Day, the mission agency’s chief executive, Oct. 9. Retired Bishop Felton May became the interim chief executive.