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National & World News

Nashvillian receives Racial Ethnic Minority Fellowship

Church finance agency seeks new level of efficiency

Church orphanage offers refuge to Cambodian children

Lack of security threatens citizens, relief groups in Iraq

Agency begins putting 'common table' plan into legislation

More UMNS News...

May 19, 2003
Nashvillian receives Racial Ethnic Minority Fellowship
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) – United Methodist Communications has selected Royya L. James, a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, as the 2003-2004 recipient of the Judith L. Weidman Racial Ethnic Minority Fellowship.

James is the sixth recipient of the fellowship, which provides a year of working with an experienced director of communications in one of the United Methodist Church’s annual (regional) conferences.

She will work in the Wyoming Annual Conference from July 1 through June 30. Don Perry, the director of communications, will be her mentor. The conference, which covers parts of New York and Pennsylvania, has offices in Endicott, N.Y.

UMCom developed the fellowship in 1998 to encourage people of ethnic minority background to consider religion communications as a career. Among the 64 annual conferences in the United States, there are fewer than 10 conference communicators of ethnic minority heritage in leadership positions. The fellowship carries the name of the late Judith L. Weidman, who encouraged its development during her tenure as UMCom’s top staff executive.

"I am very excited about beginning the REM Fellowship and all the new opportunities that will follow," James said.

An Antioch, Tenn., resident and former UMCom summer intern, James graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro in 2002, having earned a bachelor’s degree in communications with a public relations concentration. She is a lifelong member of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church and has served as college representative, usher and member of the youth group and Black Methodists for Church Renewal. She is currently a substitute teacher in the Nashville public school system.

While working as a UMCom intern, James said, she recognized that the REM Fellowship would allow her another opportunity to learn about the roles of conference communications in the mission of the church as well as prepare her to be an effective conference communicator.

She became passionate about religion communications, she said. "Secular reporters work passionately to tell their stories. I feel we need the same type of passion for telling the story of Jesus! It is possible that someone could be saved if the word of God dominated the media for a full week."

An eight-person selection committee chose three finalists, who were interviewed May 6 in Nashville.

David Malloy, the 2002-03 recipient, will complete his fellowship year July 31. Tom Slack, director of communications for the West Ohio Annual Conference, was his primary mentor.

Larry Hygh Jr. was the first recipient and spent a year working in the New England Conference. He is now director of communications in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. Eunice Dharmaratnam, the second recipient, enrolled in graduate school after her fellowship year in the Indiana Area communications office. Nicole Benson, the third recipient, became communications coordinator and editor in the Texas Conference, after spending her fellowship year in the Southwest Texas Conference. Ciona Rouse, the fourth recipient, is communications coordinator for the denomination’s Shared Mission Focus on Young People, and served her fellowship year in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.

Information about the REM Fellowship and other scholarship opportunities is available at or by calling Amelia Tucker-Shaw at (888) 278-4862.


May 23, 2003
Church finance agency seeks new level of efficiency
NORCROSS, Ga. (UMNS) – Efficiency and streamlining have become bywords as the United Methodist Church’s financial agency works on the denomination’s budget proposal for 2005-08.

The weak U.S. economy and decreasing contributions have added to the challenge of that task.

Meeting May 19-22, the General Council on Finance and Administration stressed the importance of finding new ways to help the church fulfill its mission while spending less on administration. Besides working on the budget for the denomination’s next four-year period of work, the GCFA also discussed a step it’s considering to cut costs: consolidating operations to Nashville, Tenn.

The GCFA voting directors held their once-every-four-years spring meeting at Simpsonwood, the North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference retreat center. Their primary goal was to set bottom-line budget figures for the next quadrennium in preparation for their joint meeting this fall with the denomination’s program coordinating agency, the General Council on Ministries.

At that Sept. 5-8 meeting in Los Angeles, the GCFA and Council on Ministries directors will flesh out the 2005-08 budget proposal. The proposal will go to the denomination’s top legislative assembly, the 2004 General Conference, which meets in Pittsburgh April 27-May 7. General Conference meets every four years.

GCFA approved $222 million for World Service Fund, which supports the church’s program agencies for mission and ministry. This piece of the budget recommendation is contingent on a proposal from the General Council on Ministries and the program agencies, providing details on how the money will be used more efficiently.

Their report, due in July, should retain "all missional objectives as outlined in the Book of Discipline" while streamlining operations and providing a 12-year plan "to address the priorities previously identified by the agencies and GCOM." Those priorities include such items as recruitment and training of new clergy, global mission and spiritual growth of laity, according to GCFA.

If such a report is not provided to the joint meeting, or if it shows a business-as-usual mentality, GCFA directors said the World Service Fund recommendation in the next quadrennium’s preliminary budget will fall to $186 million.

The $222 million figure is included in the $595 million total for all the seven churchwide apportioned funds in the budget proposal that will go to General Conference.

Besides World Service, those churchwide funds include three for designated outreach – Africa University, Black College and Ministerial Education – and three for administration. The administration funds include the Episcopal Fund for the support of the bishops; General Administration Fund for holding General Conference, supporting administrative agencies, such as GCFA, and other churchwide functions, such as communications or archives; and the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund for ecumenical work.

In looking at the efficiency of its own operations, GCFA moved forward with a proposal to consolidate its Evanston, Ill., offices into its Nashville offices by the end of 2005. The directors authorized spending up to $50,000 on the professional services of an architect or other relocation specialists.

The GCFA Location Task Force had calculated expected long-term savings of more than $652,000 annually. GCFA estimated reaching the break-even point in eight to 13 years, depending on the amount realized in the sale of the agency’s interest in the Evanston building, the cost of the combined facility and the rate of financing on the balance needed. The Evanston building is co-owned with the denomination’s Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

In other business, the directors:

  • Heard a presentation from the General Council on Ministries on its "Living into the Future" proposal for the structure of the denomination.
  • Reduced the previously approved salary increase for bishops in the United States from 7.9 percent to 4 percent of current levels.
  • Froze office expenses for the denomination’s bishops at 2003 levels because reserves have been depleted.
  • Agreed to require annual audits of GCFA funds provided to episcopal offices.
  • Authorized funding for its directors to attend the second week of General Conference and authorized its executive committee to act for the whole agency during the first week of that event as needed.
  • Approved mostly editorial legislative changes to be proposed to General Conference.


May 19, 2003
Church orphanage offers refuge to Cambodian children
A UMNS Feature
By Nancye Willis*

Pani has spent half his life in a Cambodian orphanage, waiting for his parents to return. Five years ago, they went to look for work in neighboring Thailand, leaving him behind.

Now 10 years old, Pani still waits in the community of Kbal Spean, Cambodia. He’s being cared for through a program of the United Methodist Church – one that provides both physical and spiritual nourishment to children like him.

Cambodia is one of the poorest nations. The orphan population in the Southeast Asian country has been estimated at more than 200,000. Many of the children were orphaned during the destructive reign of the Khmer Rouge, the name given to native Cambodian communists.

Many children live in crowded government orphanages that are poorly funded, as well as Christian orphanages. Not all the residents of the orphanages are parentless. Often, a child may have one or both parents, but is sent to an orphanage because the parents can’t afford to care for him or her.

The orphanage provides food, love, spiritual guidance and a refuge from despair to children like Pani, who still have hope that they will be reunited with family.

Others, like 12-year-old Ryna, are true orphans. "Her story is very sad," says Chanthy Yi, an interpreter. Ryna’s father died in the war, and her mother was killed by a land mine while she harvested rice.

But, adds Chanthy, Ryna is "very happy to be here. She has a lot of hope to have a long future."

The orphanage in Kbal Spean operates under the auspices of the Cambodian Christian Methodist Association, a group of 200 churches in connection with the United Methodist Church, the Swiss Mission Board of United Methodists, the Korean Methodist Church, the Malaysian Methodist Church and the Singapore Methodist Church.

The association is registered with the Cambodian government and serves as an umbrella organization for all churches and organizations in the Methodist connection.

Eleven United Methodist missionaries are stationed in Cambodia through the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries, headquartered in New York.

Pani’s story and that of the United Methodist-related orphanage are featured on a UMTV video available online at

*Willis is editor of the Public Information Team at United Methodist Communications. UMTV is a unit of that team.


May 23, 2003
Lack of security threatens citizens, relief groups in Iraq
By Guy Hovey*

BAGHDAD, Iraq (UMNS) – Dr. Abdul Heelo and his staff have no idea why a U.S. Abrams tank crashed through the wall of the Al Rashid psychiatric hospital during the fall of Baghdad.

They are sure, however, of what happened afterward. A large group of looters, taking advantage of opportunities provided by the fighting, poured in through the gap left by the tank. They raped 10 female patients, stole equipment and destroyed much of the building and its records, leaving the hospital incapable of providing care.

The violence at the Al Rashid hospital is just one example of how Iraqi society is breaking down in the post-Saddam power vacuum. In the streets, markets, hospitals and places of worship, everyone asks: When will the Americans bring security?

Many people say security has deteriorated as criminals have become used to coalition forces and have learned work around them in the weeks following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. U.S. troops now guard many public buildings, but many say it’s too late – the looters have already struck. Gunfire usually breaks out at night as gangs of looters fight each other while trying to avoid U.S. Army patrols. The fruits of the looters’ activities can be seen on sale in the markets around Baghdad in the morning.

The destruction of public administration buildings means that civil servants – the people who run the systems – have nowhere to work. Being ex-Baath Party members also means their future is uncertain.

Hospitals and medical centers, such as the Mansur Hospital in Baghdad, have run out of many drugs, although the city does have stocks of medicine. The drugs are in one of the six medical warehouses that have survived the war and looting, but systems no longer exist for requesting them, processing orders and delivery. Doctors try and set up ad hoc arrangements but are fighting a losing battle.

Several members of the Action by Churches Together network as well as partners are helping the institutions, but relief workers say what is needed most is a functioning government. The United Methodist Committee on Relief, a member of ACT, is working in Iraq through its ecumenical partners.

ACT member Diakonie Austria has helped ease the burden with a shipment of medicines, which was brought in by a Middle East Council of Churches convoy and then distributed to hospitals in the Baghdad area. Institutions that benefited included the Al Kinder hospital, which had been attacked by looters several times and is now being protected by armed members of the community. The hospital’s wards are full of people wounded during and after the war. The hospital is typical of many, having lost much of its equipment to looters. Yet the staff continues its work, despite the personal danger.

A health worker who did not want to be named said he was grateful to Diakonie Austria for the medicine. "I don’t know what we would have done (without it)," he said. "We had run out of antibiotics and anesthetics, as well as basic health care items."

This was reinforced by Djeba Hamid Shah, who was shot during the confused fighting in his neighborhood. "When I came to the hospital, I was losing a lot of blood, and the doctors stabilized me," he said. However, the drugs that he needed soon ran out, and he began to weaken as his wounds became infected. "Whoever brought the medicines have saved my life, and I thank them and God," he said.

The news is not all bad. Rehana Kirthisingha of Christian Aid, a member organization of ACT, said that after the collapse of the regime, water ministry workers in Kirkuk returned to their posts and received back at least half of the equipment that had been looted from the water and sewerage plants. Many communities in Baghdad have organized themselves into self-help groups, and a feeling of community solidarity is evident. Religious divides in some areas have been crossed for the common good.

A Catholic Chaldean priest in New Baghdad sheltered 300 families -- both Muslim and Christian -- in his church the night the U.S. Army entered Baghdad. Families still come to the church compound to collect clean water from the church well while supplies to their own homes continue to be disrupted. The good interfaith relations have been strengthened by the common hardship the communities are experiencing.

United Methodists can help through donations to UMCOR, earmarked for the Iraq Emergency Advance No. 623225-4. Checks may be dropped in local church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

*Hovey works for the United Methodist Committee on Relief and is a credentialed correspondent for United Methodist News Service in the Middle East. He also is a field communicator for Action by Churches Together.


May 29, 2003
Agency begins putting 'common table' plan into legislation
By United Methodist News Service

A United Methodist agency is beginning work on legislation for creating a single "Connectional Table" of church leaders who would coordinate the denomination's work worldwide.

During three conference calls in May, members of the denomination's General Council on Ministries worked on details of their "Living Into the Future" proposal, outlining a vision for a global common table, where annual conferences, agencies and other entities would meet to guide the church's programs. A committee of the council is preparing legislation for the full group to consider in September. The proposal then would go to General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, next spring in Pittsburgh.

The document is still subject to revision, with the council's executive committee meeting July 9-10 in Detroit, "and final action on whatever legislation describes this proposal will not be taken until September," said Daniel K. Church, top staff executive of the Council on Ministries in Dayton, Ohio. The council coordinates the work of most of the denomination's agencies.

During a May 8 conference call, the council voted 24-6 to affirm the concept of the Connectional Table. The document itself was approved in parts during the three calls.

Members of the council spent considerable time discussing the composition of the common table, which would comprise about 100 people from a cross section of church roles and geographic areas. Concern about where the members would come from has spurred the development of an alternative proposal by church members in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, which has more United Methodists than any other U.S. area.

After the last conference call, Church said the number of people sitting at the table is a secondary issue. Most important, he said, is having "a conciliar setting where the ministries of the church and the resources of the church are brought together for discussion and decision-making by a group of faithful stewards who have a comprehensive, holistic view" of the general church. Such a table would bring the traditional functions of the Council on Ministries and the church's General Council on Finance and Administration to a common place, he said.

Under the proposal, the governing boards of both councils would be dissolved and their functions moved to the Connectional Table - an idea that was opposed by some Council on Ministries members. The remaining agencies would keep their boards, and 10 of them would have voice and vote at the table.

"It's a significant step in developing a holistic view, even though the governing boards are still expected to exist," Church said.

Ongoing work on the churchwide budget for 2005-08 could affect the ultimate proposal. At a May 19-22 meeting, the Council on Finance and Administration emphasized the importance of spending less on administering the denomination's programs. (See UMNS story #295, "Church finance agency seeks new level of efficiency," May 23.) The church is in a budget squeeze, and individual finance council members hinted at the possibility of realigning some of the general agencies - a move that would have a bearing on the "Living Into the Future" proposal.

The Council on Ministries' meeting in September will include joint sessions with the Council on Finance and Administration.

An updated draft of the proposal will be posted online soon at "We will welcome comment and hope that people will be in dialogue with us," Church said.
Council representatives also will meet with General Conference delegations this summer to share the proposal and receive comments and questions.

During May, the council also approved by written ballot three initiatives for recommendation to General Conference as "special programs" for the church's 2005-08 period of work, subject to consultation with the Council of Bishops. Those programs are the Holistic Strategy for Africa, the Holistic Strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean and an initiative on Children, Poverty and Violence.

A special program, described in the church's Book of Discipline, is a four-year emphasis approved by General Conference and assigned to one of the denomination's agencies.

The council also approved a $230 million minimum for the World Service Fund to support the work of the denomination's program agencies in the next four-year period. That figure, along with the GCOM's operating budget, was presented to the church's Council on Finance and Administration during its May meeting.

Budget constraints have led to the Council on Ministries to cut its own staff this year. It laid off three of its 17 employees in May, though the laid-off workers agreed to continue at the agency until no later than Aug. 15.

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