Nine denominations move forward to combat racism
Appeal to the churches To Seek God's Beloved Community
Church sees giving increase
Church ad campaign, Sept. 11 cause jump in new attendance

Expanded News Briefs
Nominations sought for new mission leader
Study committee embraces idea of weekly Holy Communion
Black church committee adds five resource centers
United Methodists to dispatch missionary to Mongolia
Church agency supports raising tobacco taxes nationwide
Estonian Methodists raise funds to build church in Tartu

UMNS National News Briefs

Jan. 22, 2002
Nine denominations move forward to combat racism
By M. Garlinda Burton

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS) - After 40 years of conversation, leaders of United Methodist Church and eight other Christian groups - representing some 22 million believers worldwide - joined hands Jan. 20, vowing to worship, witness and work together from this day forward as Churches Uniting in Christ.

The nine member denominations of Churches Uniting in Christ also marked the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration with a public march and by signing a pledge on behalf of their churches to take the lead in fighting racism and white privilege in their communities, the nation and around the world.

After 40 years of dialogue about how to unify across denominational lines (and after failed attempts in the 1970s to create one "superstructure" church), the member churches of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) agreed to maintain their denominational identities and structure for now.

However, at their 19th Plenary in Memphis they declared their intent to move from just consultation to tangible acts of cooperation, and so disbanded as COCU and reconvened under the new name "Churches Uniting in Christ." Member churches include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; International Council of Community Churches; Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); United Church of Christ; and United Methodist Church.

For local churches, this means that they will be encouraged to do joint mission, cooperate in new church development, and recognize and observe common baptism and other worship celebrations. And local congregations of the participating groups - including Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Disciples - may amend their church signs to reflect their affiliation with the organization, such as "First United Methodist Church: member, Church Uniting in Christ."

Most importantly, say leaders of the nine member churches, local Christians will be challenged and encouraged to work together on what the uniting churches have called their No. 1 moral agenda item: wiping racism off the face of the earth.

"While each communion is retaining its own identity and decision-making structures, we are pledging before God to draw closer in sacred things, regular sharing of the Lord's Supper and mission work, especially a mission to combat racism together," explained the Rev. Bruce Robbins, top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns in New York.

"Let it be recorded that, in a nation still deeply distorted by the sin of racism, Christians gathered in Memphis to say, "In the name of Christ, this must stop!" said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, a professor at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis and top executive of the Consultation on Church Union.

The Consultation on Church Union began in 1962, with four denominations discussing possible union. Its original goal was to make unity tangible by bringing participating churches together as one body. The effort at a superstructure stalled, but nine denominations, including the United Methodist Church, stayed the course and moved the talks in a new direction. Unity of purpose replaced "organic" union as the goal.

With the involvement of three historically black Methodist denominations, the consultation was further challenged to expand its notion of Christian unity. How could churches unite across denominational lines, when their ranks were torn by racism? As a result, the nine churches declared that the first call to action as Churches Uniting in Christ would be aimed at battling racism. At their 18th Plenary in 1999, the members adopted an "Appeal to the Churches: To Seek God's Beloved Community." The letter was signed during the 19th Plenary in Memphis.

For United Methodists, the call is particularly significant because the three historically black Methodist churches in COCU-Churches United in Christ began after racial segregation in the "mother" Methodist church led some blacks to create their own denominations.

"Racism is one of the 'pinch points' for our church and for Churches Uniting in Christ," said Bishop Fritz Mutti, head of the United Methodist Church's Kansas Area, addressing United Methodist delegates and observers at the Memphis gathering.

"If our church is unwilling to confront racism and white privilege, then we will have failed at our primary reason for coming together (with other denominations)," added Bishop Melvin Talbert of Nashville, Tenn., ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

In his address, Kinnamon said that, in fact, how the denominations deal with racism in the future will be the "real test of how we live together."

However, when it comes to church polity and tradition, the symbolic and tangible moves toward unity are not without their sticking points for some participating communions. Two such sticking points are the role of bishops and the order of ordained ministry. On one end of the spectrum, Presbyterians do not have or recognize the office of bishop; on the other end, Episcopalians count bishops as essential to their definition of a threefold order of ordained ministry.

Still, while the battle over bishops was once feared as a threat to unity among the nine groups, they all agreed to move forward with reconciliation plans and have even added others to the dialogue. Joining the nine in Memphis as "recognized observers" or "partners in dialogue" were representatives from the Moravian Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Church USA and the Roman Catholic Church.
# # #
Burton of Nashville, Tenn., is editor of Interpreter magazine, a publication for leaders in United Methodist congregations.

APPEAL TO THE CHURCHES To Seek God's Beloved Community

This letter was signed at the inaugural ceremonies in Memphis, Tenn., on January 21, 2002. Pastors and other church leaders are encouraged to share it with their congregations.

Call to Christian Commitment and Action to Combat Racism

The following is a call to action from delegates to the Eighteenth Plenary of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) to the nine member-churches. Common witness and service are two marks of an ecumenical body. The COCU member-churches have chosen to live this commitment especially by focusing attention on the need to combat racism within and among the member-churches, in all churches and in society.

The experience of the Consultation on Church Union makes clear that the unity of the Church is God's gift expressed in creation and redemption. This unity is given not only for the church but also for the whole human community and all creation. It is the gift of God's own life offered to all humanity. For this reason the church is called to be a sign and instrument of the communion and justice God intends for all people.

This truth informs COCU's search for visible church unity in particular ways.

1. It implies that there is an irrefutable link between the churches' search for unity in faith, sacraments, and ministry and the struggle to overcome racism in the churches and the human community.

2. It implies that authentic unity is inclusive and requires racial justice within the life of the churches and of society.

3. It implies that our prophetic witness against racism and all the powers of oppression is a primary test of the faithfulness of these churches.

In combating racism, the Eighteenth Plenary Session of the Consultation on Church Union calls upon the nine member-churches to commit themselves to a unity that is liberating and reconciling, a unity offered in the Gospels, yet not fully expressed in the life and structures of these churches. It is in this context that the COCU churches, seeking to become Churches Uniting in Christ, are making commitments to change ourselves and our society.

Something is seriously wrong with race relations in the United States. One of the most prominent and pervasive evils in our national heritage and cultural routines is racism--that is, biased assumption about the genetic or cultural inferiority of certain racial-ethnic groups, and/or subordinating practices that exclude persons or deprive them of their humanity because of their racial-ethnic identity.

Racism so permeates our customs and institutions that none can escape participation in it. Indeed, no member of a dominant group can fully avoid benefiting from it, and no member of a subordinate group can avoid the intention of oppression. Racism is finally about power -- abuses of power by a dominant group intent upon preserving its economic social, political, or ecclesiastical privileges and the resulting deprivations of opportunity imposed on a subordinate group.

Unless significant initiatives are taken to counter current conditions trends, racism -- especially white racism -- will continue to corrupt our national and ecclesiastical aspirations for a society that incarnates "liberty and justice for all." We, therefore, appeal to the peoples of our nation and our churches for a renewed commitment to the sin of racism and white privilege. The moral integrity and credibility of both our nation and our churches are at stake in this struggle. For the churches in COCU particularly, our quest for visible unity is irrelevant -- in fact, fraudulent -- unless that unity embodies racial solidarity and produces a vital public witness for racial equality and fairness. The churches seek to embody this commitment together, through the Church of Christ Uniting envisioned by the COCU member churches.

From the perspective of the Christian gospel whose mandate is reconciliation of all God's children, racism is demonic and sinful. It denies the image of God given each person in creation, and in the creation each person enters by baptism.

How then shall the member-churches of the Consultation on Church Union, yearning to become Churches Uniting In Christ, combat racism? How shall we make our vision of church truly catholic, truly evangelical, and truly reformed, visible through our struggle against racism?

In view of what we discern that God is calling all the churches to be to do, and in view of the present impediments to effective responses to that call, this Eighteenth Plenary appeals to our member-churches to the following nine strategic commitments, and to implement these commitments together:

1. Continue to make a compelling theological case against racism. Racism must find no refuge in and no solace from the church. It is a denial of the truth known in Christ, who breaks down the humanly constructed walls that partition us into alienated communities of faith (Eph. 2:13-14). The church cannot be "truly catholic" unless it is fully open to all people on an equal basis. The church we seek to become, therefore, must be a model, a prophetic sign of the unity in diversity of God's creation. Christians must hear this affirmation regularly and convincingly.

2. Identify, name and share information with each other regarding those concrete programs and initiatives in combating racism that already taking place within our member churches. A consultative conference should be explored to bring together this information and to take further action in light of these learnings as a good faith first step anticipating the inaugural liturgical celebration of Churches Uniting in Christ in 2002.

3. Claim Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances and similar appropriate occasions for dialogue leading to systemic change. Encourage and enable interracial dialogue within and among churches, as well as among members of the whole community. When properly designed, such dialogue can be an indispensable instrument of justice and reconciliation-- reducing fears, suspicions and resentments, and enhancing mutual respect and understanding. The connection between the date of Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has important potential in forging the concerns of addressing racism and pursuing our unity in Christ.

4. Take the discipline of social ethics seriously, because the careful arguments and nuanced distinctions demanded by that discipline can save us from the simplistic exhortations that hinder effective advocacy. An adequate defense of some preferential forms of affirmative action, for example, depends in part on sound and subtle interpretations of distributive and compensatory justice. Social ethics can bring a necessary depth to a strategy against racism.

5. Insure that worship is an intentional witness against racism, and therefore reflects the fullness of the Gospel. Worship is sometimes an instrument of racial separation and oppression. Not only is the eucharistic table divided by theological barriers, but also by the racial separation within and among the churches. As the member-churches of COCU seek a common table, they must evaluate all liturgical resources and practices and insure their racial sensitivity and inclusiveness.

6. Maintain a strong program of Christian education on the dynamics of racism and the demands of racial justice. Educational resources, like liturgical ones, need to be evaluated to insure that they are consistent witnesses against racism and for racial equality, especially in relation to family education.

7. Engage in rigorous institutional self-examinations, searching for racism embedded in the structures, politics and programs of churches, and set goals for measuring our progress. This self-auditing is imperative to overcome racial offenses and advance racial reconciliation, while providing targets for change. It is most effectively accomplished in a context of mutual accountability, admonition, and affirmation among the churches.

8. Renew the churches' commitment to the struggle for equal human rights through advocacy. In continuing the civil rights agenda, four instruments of justice seem especially relevant for our time: 1) the preservation and enhancement of federal civil rights laws, 2) the continuation of key affirmative action initiatives to address imbalances and deprivations caused by racism, 3) the defense of economic rights, such as adequate housing, health care, nutrition, employment, and other essential material conditions, and 4) reform of the criminal justice system.

9. Develop resources to address the issues related to racism in the member churches' capacity and responsiveness to new immigrant and cultural groups.

As a first step in this "Call to Commitment and Action To Combat Racism," the delegates to the Eighteenth Plenary Session have covenanted racism in our churches and in our nation as an essential component in our pursuit to become Churches Uniting In Christ.

Combating racism is a formidable task - and eradicating it will appear to many as beyond realistic possibilities. It demands both the conversion of individuals and the transformation of churches. Yet, we have good reasons for hope and persistence in struggle - primarily because God is ever creating new possibilities for racial solidarity.

The commitment by the COCU churches to overcome racism and live more intentionally the unity and catholicity of Christ's Church is a promise and a prayer. It will lead us into deeper understandings of the triune God, the redemption offered in Jesus Christ, the nature of the Church and the world as created by God. In this commitment these nine churches, seeking to become the Church of Christ Uniting, will be a sign and foretaste of the unity of the whole people of God.

Adopted by unanimous vote of the delegates of the nine member communions to the Eighteenth Plenary of the Consultation on Church Union, January 24, 1999, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Feb. 4, 2002
Church sees giving increase during difficult year

In the face of a recession and events related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, United Methodists increased their giving to the denomination's general funds by more than $2.4 million, or 2.1 percent, in 2001, according to the church's finance agency.

Giving to the seven general apportioned funds hit $114.7 million for the year, according to the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) in Evanston, Ill. Local churches support the apportioned funds through payments to the denomination's annual conferences, or regional units.

Beyond that amount, United Methodists gave $17.5 million to the church's ongoing "Love in the Midst of Tragedy" offering, made in response to the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Sandra Kelley Lackore, the denomination's treasurer and top staff executive of GCFA, said she was "overjoyed" at the 2.1 percent increase in general fund income, achieved despite an economic recession and a national tragedy.

"Our annual conferences and local churches have worked diligently," she said on Feb. 1. "This is a remarkable demonstration of the faithfulness of our connection."

The $114.7 million figure represents 90.1 percent of the denomination's goal for the year, according to GCFA. That's down slightly from the 91.1 percent level of support for 2000. However, the 2001 budget represented a 4.4 percent increase to the annual conferences compared with the previous year. General Conference, the church's top lawmaking assembly, sets the budgets and increases when it meets every four years.

The 4.4 percent represents the biggest yearly increase for the 2001-2004 quadrennium. The increase for 2002 will be 0.4 percent, according to Steve Zekoff, communications officer for GCFA.

Three of the general funds received an increase in support. The biggest of the seven funds, World Service, received a 5 percent increase for its work supporting the church's program agencies. The Interdenominational Cooperation Fund had a 28.7 percent increase, and the General Administration Fund saw a 12.9 percent increase.

Receipts for the four other funds decreased slightly. The Africa University Fund, supporting the United Methodist-related school in Zimbabwe, decreased 1.1 percent, and the Black College Fund dropped 1.6 percent. Giving to the Ministerial Education Fund was down 0.8 percent, and support for the Episcopal Fund dropped 1.0 percent.

Total giving for all general funds, including the apportioned ones, reached $171.3 million, up from $153.9 million during 2000.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) received $32 million of the giving beyond the apportioned funds. The $17.5 million for "Love in the Midst of Tragedy" accounted for more than half of the giving to UMCOR, which is administering the money.

Giving to all of the denomination's Advance Specials, which include "Love in the Midst of Tragedy," was $49.2 million. Other denominational outreach funds collected $807,396 in special gifts.

United Methodists also gave more to support the church's six Special Sunday offerings, sending that total figure up 7.5 percent to $6.7 million.

Fourteen annual conferences paid 100 percent of their general fund apportionment: Baltimore-Washington, Central Pennsylvania, Desert Southwest, Detroit, Kansas West, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, North Texas, Oklahoma Indian Missionary, Peninsula-Delaware, Red Bird Missionary, Western Pennsylvania, West Michigan and Wisconsin. That number is a slight decrease from the year before, when 16 conferences paid all of their apportionments.

Another six conferences paid 100 percent of their World Service commitment: Illinois Great Rivers, West Ohio, Troy, Oklahoma, Rio Grande and North Carolina. The autonomous Iglesia Metodista de Puerto Rico also paid 100 percent of its voluntary participation in the United Methodist Church's general funds.

The United Methodist Church has about 8.4 million U.S. members and more than 1 million additional members in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Feb. 5, 2002
Church ad campaign, Sept. 11 cause jump in new attendance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - New attendance at United Methodist churches in five cities increased an average of 108 percent for the first month of the denomination's national television ad campaign, a result not only of the commercials but also of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The number of new attendees at the churches increased 55 percent during the first week of September, when the denomination launched its national television ad campaign, "Igniting Ministry," according to a survey prepared for United Methodist Communications (UMCom). Nashville-based UMCom is managing the campaign, which includes TV, radio and print ads.

During week two, the number of new attendees increased 218 percent, followed by 81 percent and 77 percent in the last two weeks of the month, respectively, according to the study, prepared by Prince Market Research. A new attendee was someone visiting a church for the first time or who hadn't been to the church in at least six months.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks encouraged local churches to work even harder to become welcoming congregations, said the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, executive director of the initiative.

"There's been a synergy between the local church efforts around welcoming, the national advertising and Sept. 11," he said. "Instead of Sept. 11 having the possibility of defeating the campaign, it has encouraged and fed the campaign."

Prince conducted a national telephone survey of 1,256 non-United Methodists in five test markets and also tracked attendance at 100 United Methodist congregations, equally divided among the five areas - Baltimore, Indianapolis, Portland, Ore., San Antonio and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Those surveyed were between the ages of 25 and 54 - a key audience that the church is trying to reach. The calls were made between Sept. 26 and Oct. 10. The survey had a 2.8 percent margin of error.

Igniting Ministry already had purchased the time for its ads on the cable television networks, giving it access to national media that no other denomination had at that time. When the attacks occurred, UMCom pulled its regular ads and instead placed a reworked ad on several of the channels, including CNN, TNT and Lifetime. Its message: "We as a denomination are praying with you."

"We got thousands of e-mails," Horswill-Johnston said. "... People were so impressed that we were able somehow to have access to this media."

People also appreciated the message, which was not the traditional "come in the door and buy our product" type of ad, he noted.

While CBS aired the ads during the opening week of the campaign, NBC and ABC had not accepted any of the spots before Sept. 11. Now, both networks have indicated they will accept the ads, and Horswill-Johnston believes that change was dictated partly by economics but also by the content of the ads themselves.

The study is the first of what will be an annual look at the impact of the ad campaign, Horswill-Johnston said.

Other key findings: More than one-third - 35 percent - of those surveyed reported an overall favorable attitude toward the United Methodist Church. "Given that this number is based on non-UMC members only, many of whom are confirmed Baptists or Catholics, this is somewhat encouraging," the report stated.

Less than 5 percent of the respondents had an unfavorable view of the church, and 60 percent were neutral or had no opinion.

Thirty-five percent expressed willingness to visit a local United Methodist church, compared with 23 percent who were neutral and 39 percent who were unwilling.

In terms of both aided and unaided mentions, 14 percent of the respondents recalled seeing the ads, compared with 18 percent for ads by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 12 percent for those by Baptists, 9 percent for those by the Catholic Church and 6 percent for ads by the Lutherans.

"The overall impression of the church ... is actually pretty encouraging," Horswill-Johnston said.

Improving the impression of the church will take years of commitment not only to advertising but to becoming known for having welcoming congregations, he said. "One year of advertising is not going to change that."

The survey also showed that the local United Methodist congregations support continued funding for the campaign by the denomination. General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, approved about $20 million in funding for the campaign from 2001 to 2004. Other funding is coming from the denomination's annual conferences and local congregations.


Feb. 4, 2002
Nominations sought for new mission leader

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is seeking suggestions from the denomination as a whole in selecting the agency's new staff leader.

Members of the search committee for the board's general secretary position invite any United Methodist to nominate qualified men or women to succeed the Rev. Randolph Nugent, who is expected to leave his post at the end of the year. The application deadline is March 31.

Caucuses and organizations within the church are also encouraged to discuss the future of the church's mission efforts and the leadership qualities that will be required. The results of those discussions should be sent to the Rev. Sally Dyck, 231 N. Buckeye, #C, Wooster, OH 44691.

The search committee plans to interview candidates this summer and to submit a candidate for nomination at the board's annual meeting in October. The new chief executive would begin duties on Jan. 1.

Inquiries and nominations can be sent to Bishop Joel Martinez, search committee chairman, P.O. Box 781688, San Antonio, TX 78278-1688.

Jan. 31, 2002
Study committee embraces idea of weekly Holy Communion

A United Methodist Church committee that is studying issues related to Holy Communion has agreed that one of its aims will be to affirm the value of weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper.

The committee, however, will not seek church legislation mandating weekly celebration of the Eucharist.

Members of the Holy Communion Study Committee supported the idea of a weekly Eucharist during their Jan. 26-28 meeting in Seattle. The committee is developing a comprehensive paper on the theology and practice of Holy Communion under a mandate by the General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body. Delegates to the 2000 General Conference identified "an absence of any meaningful understanding" of those aspects of communion in the church. The committee will present its paper to the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh.

During its Seattle meeting, the group worked from a draft outline of the questions and issues it needs to address. Though still in the early stages of their work, committee members voiced support for the church embracing weekly Eucharist.

"I think if the committee is supportive and committed to such an affirmation, it needs to say so early in the process, so people have time to have their first reactions and live with it for a while," said the Rev. Bruce Robbins, top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, based in New York.

Past research and information from "listening posts" showed that many United Methodists would like more frequent communion, according to the committee.

The committee affirmed that idea in a working statement that it adopted: "Out of faithfulness to the Sunday worship encouraged by John Wesley and the wider tradition of the Church, and believing that our United Methodist worship life and fellowship will be enriched as we live into weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper on the Lord's Day, the Holy Communion Study Committee affirms the value of the United Methodist Church moving towards a richer sacramental life, including weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper as advocated by the general orders of Sunday worship in our United Methodist hymnals and book of worship, while recognizing that not every service will include Holy Communion."

The committee traveled to the Western Jurisdiction to listen to lay people and clergy from the Seattle area and to hear responses to its initial draft outline. Participants expressed appreciation for being included in the process and emphasized that the committee's paper should reach the "highest levels" of the church - the people in the pews. Bishop Susan Hassinger, who leads the church's New England Annual (regional) Conference, guided the listening session.

In addition to holding the listening post, the committee focused on five issues: who is authorized to preside over communion; what are the appropriate elements; the presence of Christ in the Eucharist; who receives Communion; and what should be done with remaining elements after the meal. The members divided into five groups to work with position papers on the topics, then returned to the full committee with statements related to the issues. Rather than voting on whether to adopt the statements, the committee expressed levels of support for them.

The group's 20 members include five lay people, two leaders from central conferences, two bishops, three top staff executives of general church agencies - the Board of Discipleship, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and Robbins' commission - ordained elders, a deacon, a young adult and several seminary professors. The Rev. L. Edward Phillips of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., is the chairman.

The committee plans to meet once in each of the church's five U.S. jurisdictions to hold listening posts and to test responses to the paper as the draft takes shape. The group also plans to engage the Council of Bishops with an early and final draft.

The draft outline was written after the committee's first meeting last September in Nashville. Its purpose was to summarize and organize points raised in that meeting, said the Rev. Gayle Felton, principal writer for the committee.

Through the Internet, the committee has received feedback on the draft outline from the wider church, including local church leaders, annual conference staff and bishops. Committee members have conducted listening posts in seminaries and churches to learn about questions and concerns that are most vital to youth, adult lay members and those preparing for ordained ministry.

The group will also go outside the United States by holding listening posts in Africa, the Philippines and Europe. "It is essential that this committee listen to the voices of United Methodists across the world," said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top staff executive of the Board of Discipleship, based in Nashville, Tenn.

When it is ready, the first draft of the paper will be posted on the Board of Discipleship's Web site, at In the meantime, people can read the draft outline at the site.

Information for this report was provided by the Rev. Daniel Benedict with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn. Benedict is a member of the study committee.

Jan. 30, 2002
Black church committee adds five resource centers

Five African-American congregations have been added to the 15-member roster of churches that serve as Congregation Resource Centers for the United Methodist effort known as "Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century."

The centers will serve as places where black congregational leaders and members go for help in providing more effective Christian ministry to their communities.

The 15 Congregation Resource Centers are located around the United States in urban, suburban and rural communities, with memberships ranging from 150 to 9,000.

Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century is an initiative approved by the 1996 General Conference and continued in 2000 for four more years. It seeks to strengthen black churches in the United States by linking growing congregations with partner congregations, and to revitalize the more than 2,500 African-American congregations within the denomination. Its governing committee develops programs and strategies to help predominantly black United Methodist congregations become more effective in ministry.

Each of the five churches has ministries, gifts and vitality that will help partner congregations "see the vision of God's potential for their ministries in their communities," said Cheryl Stevenson, initiative director.

The "vital" congregations were selected because they:

  • value clergy and lay leadership;
  • foster partnership between clergy and laity;
  • demonstrate a clear mission;
  • enable and nurture all persons to grow spiritually;
  • provide for education, Bible study and other faith-formation development;
  • engage in vibrant and varied worship;
  • engage in a cycle of planning, doing, evaluating and refocusing their ministry;
  • value Christian hospitality and their Wesleyan and cultural heritages;
  • engage their residential communities creatively and faithfully; and á act on needs, problems and issues arising from social, political, cultural and economic aspects of life.

The five United Methodist congregations were selected from two of the church's five geographic jurisdictions. With the names of their pastors, they are:

Northeast: Eastwick in Philadelphia, the Rev. Helen Stafford Fleming; Emory in Washington, the Rev. Joseph C. Daniels Jr.

Southeast: New Life Community in Jacksonville, Fla., the Rev. Candice Lewis; Ousley in Lithonia, Ga., the Rev. Michael McQueen; St. Thomas Charge in Huger, S.C., the Rev. Michael Taylor.

The churches will attend a March 8-10 congregation resource training event in Atlanta.

Jan. 30, 2002
United Methodists to dispatch missionary to Mongolia

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is dispatching its first missionary to Mongolia.

Helen Shepherd, who has worked as a missionary in Korea since 1992, is scheduled to arrive in the Eastern Asian country, lodged between Russia and China, on Feb. 7.

The Korean Methodist Church, which runs a clinic in Mongolia, had urged United Methodists to join its mission work there, said the Rev. David Wu, a Global Ministries executive. Shepherd, who had served at the College of Nursing, Yonsei University, in Seoul, Korea, is suited for the position because of her connection with the Koreans and her desire to work in Mongolia, he added.

Just what that work will include has yet to be determined. Part of her assignment, according to Wu, will be to identify a centrally located building for use as a mission center in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of about 2.5 million people. A library, reading room and space for youth activities already are planned.

Attention to youth will definitely be a focus. Wu, who accompanied the board's Youth Mission Chorale on its tour last year, said the musical group was well received by youth in Mongolia. He expects to send two youth mission volunteers to Mongolia this summer.

In an interview late last year, while she was on home assignment, Shepherd told United Methodist News Service that she expects to find many challenges in an economically depressed country with limited resources. One concern, she said, was that many children among Mongolia's nomadic population were not receiving an education.

She already has connections with the country. Mongolian doctors have been to Yonsei University, and Shepherd had the opportunity to travel there in 2000 to teach about hospice care. She returned the following year for a week's stay. "There's a lot of Korean connection with Mongolia," she added.

That connection extends to United Methodist Korean-American congregations in the United States that "are deeply interested in the Mongolian mission," Wu said.

Currently a member of the denomination's Missouri West Annual (regional) Conference, Shepherd is a native of Ann Arbor, Mich. She holds a diploma in nursing from Bronson Methodist Hospital School of Nursing in Kalamazoo, Mich., and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Park College in Parkville, Mo. She also has a master's degree in social gerontology from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg.

Before her missionary assignment in Korea, Shepherd was the director of Heartland Home Hospice, Clinicare, in Kansas City, Kan., from 1989 to 1991. She worked as a home health staff nurse with Clinicare from 1980 to 1989 and as a nurse at the Spofford Home for Children in Kansas City, Mo., from 1975 to 1980. She also was head nurse in the psychiatric unit of Bethany Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., from 1973 to 1975.

Jan. 30, 2002
Church agency supports raising tobacco taxes nationwide

The United Methodist Church's social action agency is endorsing a campaign to raise cigarette taxes in every state, as part of an effort to reduce teen smoking.

"In partnership with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, we are already working with United Methodists across the country to promote the measure, which has proven a success in reducing teen smoking in the state of Maryland," said Jim Winkler, top staff executive of the Washington-based Board of Church and Society, in a Jan. 28 statement.

United Methodists in the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference supported a 30-cent-per-package increase on cigarettes in Maryland in 1999, he noted. A survey released last year by the Maryland Department of Education showed a 30 percent decline in the smoking rate of 10th-graders and a 16 percent decline in adult consumption, he said. Maryland is proposing an additional 70-cent-per-package increase this year.

"If we can prevent just one teen-ager from picking up this life-destroying habit, our efforts will have been worth it," Winkler said. "The potential impact the United Methodist Church can make in mobilizing our grass roots on this issue across the country is enormous given the size and might of our church." Nationwide, the church has 8.4 million members.

The board has partnered with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids on many issues over the years, according to Lois Clinton, the board's director of drug and alcohol concerns.

The board's anti-smoking efforts are grounded in the United Methodist Church's longstanding opposition to the use of tobacco. The denomination's top lawmaking body, the General Conference, has adopted resolutions supporting measures to reduce smoking, especially among youth. The church has called for raising cigarette prices, suspending cigarette advertising on radio and television, and enacting legislation to better regulate the tobacco industry and the use of tobacco, according to the denomination's 2000 Book of Resolutions.

The Board of Church and Society supported national legislation that would have raised federal cigarette taxes in 1998, Clinton said, but that effort didn't pass.

The new campaign is a "very politically viable initiative because of the budget shortfalls that many states are facing," she told United Methodist News Service. Legislators are looking for new sources of revenue, she said.

The new initiative will have an educational aspect, as the board writes articles and meets with annual conference leaders around the country to promote the state tobacco tax, she said. The agency is also reaching out to other denominations and organizations for support, and the initiative has been endorsed by the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees, she said.

Meetings are already being planned for this spring with leaders of the North Central Jurisdiction and the New England Annual Conference to promote the tax initiative in those areas. The board plans to visit all the jurisdictions and U.S. annual conferences, Clinton said. "It's not going to happen in one year. We see this as a continual campaign."

Jan. 28, 2002
Estonian Methodists raise funds to build church in Tartu

By Cathy Farmer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS) - The Methodist Church in Tartu, Estonia, is holding on to a choice piece of land, and the Rev. H. Eddie Fox believes he knows God's will for the property.

God "intends for that land to house the Methodist Church of Tartu," said Fox, director of World Methodist Evangelism. He spoke at the annual meeting of the Friends of Estonia, an unofficial United Methodist group, Jan. 18-19 at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Lakeland, Tenn.

"It's a miracle that the Methodist congregation in Tartu still has the property," he said. During the previous century, the site was coveted by invading Germans and Russians, and then by the municipality of Tartu. After the Soviets left, the city tried to claim the property, but the Methodists went to court and won their case.

The property is across the street from the 375-year-old University of Tartu, where Estonia's future leaders are trained. A church there would fulfill the Methodist strategy of regional ministry while giving the congregation the high visibility it needs.

"The building will cost $400,000 to erect, and half of that has already been promised by laypeople from Georgia," Fox said. "Dunwoody UMC in Georgia pledged another $60,000. With money pledged by the Tartu congregation, we now have $290,000 in hand and need only another $110,000 to make it a reality."

When the land thaws, perhaps as early as March, the Methodist congregation plans to break ground. But in this former Soviet bloc country, no construction occurs on borrowed money.

"We need individuals or congregations to give us $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000," Fox said. "We need commitments so that by Christmas, the building can be dedicated to the glory of God."

Fox isn't the first person to believe God wants a church built on the site. In 1926, Aleksander Kuum, a newly minted Methodist pastor appointed to the area, persuaded his bishop to pray for the money to buy the property for Tartu's fledgling congregation. Moving forward in faith, they signed a note and made a down payment. But the money ran out and they were about to lose everything.

In a journal written in 1931, Kuum described his wonder when desperately needed funds arrived from America after the congregation had fasted and held a weeklong prayer vigil.

"But with God, everything had been arranged," Kuum wrote. "What's meant for the church, the church will surely get."

Farmer is director of communications for the Memphis (Tenn.) Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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