National & World News

Irish Methodist president welcomes IRA apology

NBC to air United Methodist spot on Sept. 11 anniversary

Agency prepares to canvass church on health care issues

Mission agency reduces staff in budget-cutting move

New Jersey United Methodists to help uninsured children

Mideast peace depends on end of occupation, delegation told

Leaders "race" toward single adult ministry ideas

More UMNS News...

July 23, 2002
Irish Methodist president welcomes IRA apology
By Kathleen LaCamera*

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (UMNS) – The president of the Irish Methodist Church welcomed news of an apology from Irish Republican Army paramilitaries for the suffering caused to civilians and their families in 30 years of violence in the region.

"While it was not our intention to injure or kill non-combatants, the reality is … that was the consequence of our actions," the IRA statement said. "We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families. There have been fatalities amongst combatants on all sides. We also acknowledge the grief and pain of their relatives."

In the July 16 statement, the IRA made no apologies for actions against police or other security forces but did acknowledge the suffering of their relatives. Critics of the statement point out that the apology prioritizes civilian lives over those of the police and military.

In an article for the Irish Times, Irish Methodist president, the Rev. Winston Graham, joined with leaders of the two other main Protestant churches in Ireland in welcoming the statement.

"As others in the past have already shown, it is only when we acknowledge pain and hurt caused to each other that we are enabled to find the freedom needed to move forward," Graham said. In addition, he said that the taking of any life by violent means was totally wrong at all times, and that every person was of value and worth and had a right to live in peace and safety.

The statement was issued before the 30th anniversary of an IRA bombing campaign on July 21, 1972, when 21 IRA bombs exploded across Belfast. Dubbed "Bloody Friday," nine people died and hundreds were injured. The apology also stated that the IRA remains "totally committed to the peace process and to dealing with the challenges and difficulties which this presents."

Graham said he was encouraged to hear of the IRA’s commitment to the peace process. He said that the Methodist Church continues its own commitment to that process and to the way of conflict resolution.

*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.


July 17, 2002
NBC to air United Methodist spot on Sept. 11 anniversary
By Nancye Willis*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)—NBC-TV will air a special United Methodist Church commercial twice on Sept. 11, during "Today" show coverage of the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America.

The "Amen" spot was produced by United Methodist Communications’ Igniting Ministry office as a pastoral response to the events of Sept. 11. Its message that "the people of the United Methodist Church are praying with you" aired on the CNN network for three weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, executive director of Igniting Ministry and a staff executive at UMCom, said the "Today" time slot and additional placements on cable networks "continue our goal of raising awareness of the United Methodist Church and inviting persons to attend a local congregation."

"The opportunity to impact viewers widens with the anniversary of Sept. 11, when all people will be considering emotional and spiritual healing," he added.

In addition to the NBC time purchased, Igniting Ministry’s "Diversity," "Daughter Sleeping," "Rain" and "Love Letters" commercials will air Wednesday-Saturday, Sept. 4-30, on 18 cable networks. They include the ABC Family, A&E, BET, CNBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Discovery, Fox News, Fox Sports, HGTV, History, Lifetime, MSNBC, TBS, TNT, Univision, USA and Weather Channel networks.

The ads are designed to reach people who are seeking answers to real-life questions and to invite them to United Methodist churches to continue their search. The airings coincide with "United Methodist Open House Month," established in 2001 with the debut of the denomination’s TV advertising effort

During annual conferences this summer, many United Methodist bishops encouraged congregations to set aside Sept. 8 for "Remembering 9/11" services, in conjunction with proclaiming September Open House Month. The request for the bishops’ actions came from Igniting Ministry staff at UMCom, which is providing worship resources including a sermon outline for "Remembering 9/11" services.

"Open House Month, and especially ‘Remembering 9/11,’ allows United Methodist churches to live out the promise of ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors’ made by the television messages," Horswill-Johnston said. "‘Remembering 9/11’ services provide their communities a place to gather to remember the events and those affected by them, and to pray for wisdom, comfort, healing, peace and recovery."

The TV ads, radio spots and non-broadcast pieces make up one element of a five-part coordinated effort. The four-year media campaign, which also includes matching grants, training, planning kits and a Web presence, is intended to increase awareness and recognition of the denomination’s basic beliefs; to foster a positive feeling and willingness among non-church members to visit a United Methodist church; and to renew a sense of commitment among United Methodists.

More information on Igniting Ministry, the spots schedule and "Remembering 9/11" resources is available at or toll-free from the Igniting Ministry office at (877) 281-6535.

*Willis is a writer and editor in United Methodist Communications’ public information and Igniting Ministry units.


July 23, 2002
Agency prepares to canvass church on health care issues

CHICAGO (UMNS) – If you’re an employee of the United Methodist Church, you might have good health care benefits. Or you might have none at all.

Providing health care coverage for active and retired employees is becoming increasingly difficult for the church’s regional units, or annual conferences. Costs are rising to the point where many conferences are reducing their coverage, passing more costs on to participants or dropping people from their plans altogether. Health care coverage topped the list of concerns at many of the yearly conferences meetings in May and June.

"It is not a secret to anyone that health care costs are out of control, and that isn’t just within a conference or the church, but within the nation," noted Barbara Boigegrain, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits. Fast-rising health care costs are driving down the resources available for mission and ministry, potentially jeopardizing what the church is about, she said.

In response, the board will hold focus groups around the United States this fall to discuss plans for addressing the problem. The agency’s Benefits 2004 Task Force has developed recommendations for providing comprehensive and consistent health care coverage across the church. Those recommendations, still very preliminary, dominated much of the discussion when the board’s directors met July 19-20.

"The Benefits 2004 Task Force recommended that the denomination provide coverage, which includes core pension benefits for all clergy, pension benefits for all full-time lay workers, and health care for both active and retiree clergy," said Gale Whitson-Schmidt, board treasurer.

In 1999, a predecessor task force identified paying for retiree medical benefits as the No. 1 benefits challenge facing the church, and since then the board has broadened its focus to include active employees as well.

Currently, each of the church’s 65 annual conferences is responsible for providing coverage to its own active and retired employees. About 32 conferences, agencies and other church-related employers offer coverage through the board’s HealthFlex program.

At the focus group meetings in September and October, board staff will meet with active and retired clergy and lay people in the conferences, including pastors, benefits officers and treasurers, as well as bishops. "It’s a listening process," said agency spokesman Michael Lee. "It’s not us delivering a plan for them to say yea or nay."

The comments gathered at those meetings will be used as the Benefits 2004 Task Force develops its proposal. In November, the full board will adopt a final proposal that will go to the denomination’s top lawmaking body, the General Conference, in 2004.

Boigegrain said she has detected "real angst" about health care among pastors and others in the conferences. The church can’t keep talking about pension benefits as if they are the only monetary issue that retirees face, she noted. "You really can’t talk about an adequate income at retirement … if you don’t address the cost of health care."

During their meeting, board members and staff described a hodgepodge picture of health care coverage in the church, with eligibility requirements varying widely among the conferences. Clergy members can lose their benefits by transferring from one conference to another, depending on where they move. And lay employees, in some cases, have lost their benefits just by staying where they are.

For example, a woman who had served as a church secretary for 30 years lost her benefits after her conference dropped lay coverage two years before her retirement. She ended up selling her home and moving in with her children because she had no benefits except Social Security, said board member Dan O’Neill of Denver. "We find this is not in keeping with the values we hold as a church."

Staff executive Lisa Schilling noted that conferences are requiring more years of service for full benefits, and they are expecting participants to pay more of the costs. Several conferences have discontinued lay coverage, and one conference is phasing out all benefits, she said.

Using data from 46 conference reports, O’Neill said health care costs around the denomination are rising 15 to 25 percent, while budgets are increasing 3 to 5 percent.

An attempt to start a denominationwide plan called UMCare was terminated in 1992, after the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled that it violated the church’s constitution by taking too much authority from the annual conferences. As the board develops a new plan, Boigegrain said the issues that arose with UMCare will be taken into account. She believes that both the board and the denomination are in a different place today than they were 10 years ago, and the agency does not want to be perceived as trying to take on more authority. "We’re trying to meet a need," she said.

The HealthFlex plan has focused on keeping rates stabilized for its participants, and Boigegrain noted that a number of non-HealthFlex conferences are paying much higher rates.

Feeling the same pressures as the rest of the industry, HealthFlex is expected to incur an $11.2 million loss for 2002, according to a report by board member Joel Huffman of Phoenix. Plan sponsors will be told to expect 2003 rates to be revised upward by 5 percent to 10 percent, he said. The revised rates will result in an average HealthFlex increase of 23 percent to 28 percent, he said.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved creation of a "safe harbor 401(k) plan" that could be offered to for-profit organizations with United Methodist affiliations. Such a plan would enable for-profit subsidiaries of universities, hospitals, nursing homes and so on to participate in a defined contributions plan through the board. "This is important (as part of) a continuing effort to look for opportunities to bring dollars into the general board to offset our payouts to retirees," Lee said.

  • Heard a report from staff that the annual conferences are ahead of schedule in funding their pre-1982 liability for coverage for retiree health care. The denomination’s goal is to have that liability fully funded by Dec. 31, 2021.

  • Heard an update from Boigegrain about the work of the Global Pension Task Force, which is developing a model that conferences outside the United States will be able to use to provide pension benefits to their clergy.


July 12, 2002
Mission agency reduces staff in budget-cutting move

NEW YORK (UMNS) -- Another round of budget-cutting measures, including a reduction of staff, was announced July 12 by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

About 10 people, including both executive and support staff, were affected by the reductions-in-force, the Rev. Randolph Nugent, the board’s chief executive, told United Methodist News Service.

Last October, the mission agency reduced its staff by about 20 percent and also cut spending for office operations, materials and services, program expenses and staff travel in hopes of saving $6 million. At the time, the board had more than 300 employees.

Besides the reductions-in-force, the board is redeploying other staff and changing its approach to programming, as well as continuing to cut management expenses such as supplies and travel, in order to ensure a reduced budget for 2003. That budget requirement was mandated by Board of Global Ministries directors at their April meeting.

Instead of merely making grants for various projects, the mission agency will look to its partners to assist with leadership training and program development. "We’re focusing our work in our already-established institutions and missionary conferences," Nugent said.

A July 12 statement issued by the Board of Global Ministries noted, "While grants will still be available for a specific and limited number of partner relationships where grants are the essential means of expressing the church’s ministry, the board will focus on program development in the future. To this end, staff will work with United Methodist conferences, other Methodist churches, ecumenical partners and community partners to provide expertise, training, connections, technical advice and resource development assistance."

Although church contributions are holding steady, the new budget constraints were necessary because of the decreased return on investments and the reduction in the board’s reserves, according to Stephen Feerrar, treasurer.

Feerrar’s report to directors at the board’s April meeting outlined how the agency’s authorization of $60 million in new mission programs in the late 1990s, financed by unrealized capital gains, would later prove to be a fiscal problem. Factors ranging from a reduced allocation of denominational revenues to the stock market decline to the economic impact of Sept. 11 contributed to the budget shortfall.


July 25, 2002
New Jersey United Methodists to help uninsured children
By Daniel B. Casselberry*

TRENTON, N.J. (UMNS)-- United Methodist Bishop Alfred Johnson of New Jersey and executives from two major health care organizations have formed a partnership to increase the number of insured children throughout the state.

The announcement came during a July 24 press conference at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Trenton. Johnson said the partnership also would provide community education on child health issues and preventive medicine in accord with United Methodist Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty.

The bishop was joined by Heidi Smith, director of NJ Family Care, the state’s plan for providing health coverage for children, and Velvet G. Miller, president and chief executive officer of Horizon/Mercy, New Jersey’s largest managed health care organization serving the publicly insured.

They outlined an ambitious project to dramatically increase the number of children enrolled for health care coverage under the NJ Family Care plan. "Our goal is to see that all eligible children be enrolled to receive the important health benefits provided under NJ Family Care," Johnson said, "and this new partnership will help ensure the realization of that goal."

Miller echoed the enthusiasm of the bishop: "Persisting with passion and skill, together we can make important things happen for the children of New Jersey."

Of the approximately 164,695 children eligible for insurance through NJ Family Care, only 95,870, or 58.2 percent, are enrolled, leaving 41.8 percent of eligible children uninsured. The statewide partnership is involved in implementing new strategies to enhance participation of children in the NJ Family Care plan through public education initiatives as well as direct enrollment through the church’s Shalom sites and local congregations.

For the first phase of the partnership, five Shalom sites in Willingboro, Jersey City, Newark, Port Morris and Asbury Park have expressed strong interest in participation and have received training in taking applications for new NJ Family Care enrollees.

During the second phase, in late summer and early fall, the number of United Methodist sites for taking applications will be expanded to local churches where persons have been appropriately trained. NJ Family Care also will provide training for any other interested congregations.

*Casselberry is associate editor of the United Methodist Relay, area news publication of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.


July 23, 2002
Mideast peace depends on end of occupation, delegation told
By United Methodist News Service

Ending Israeli occupation is the only path to peace in the Middle East, according to Palestinian and Israeli partners, religious leaders and human rights advocates who are currently meeting with a United Methodist delegation.

The Rev. Janet Horman, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said the group has witnessed both the psychological toll and physical destruction caused by the long-term occupation of the Israeli military in the Palestinian territories.

"The occupation itself is so oppressive that it’s really the root cause right now of Palestinian resistance," she told United Methodist News Service in a July 23 telephone interview.

The 13-member delegation, representing 12 different United Methodist annual (regional) conferences, arrived July 19 in the Middle East as part of a continuing effort to broaden the denomination’s advocacy for a just and lasting peace in Israel and the Palestinian lands. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is co-sponsor of the trip.

Like other Palestinian towns, Bethlehem has been surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints, which restrict entry and exit, for almost two years. Delegation members learned that barbed-wire fences, trenches and earth mounds created to block Palestinian vehicles have heightened the state of siege there during the past two months. Daily curfews keep residents imprisoned in their homes, except for a few hours every few days when the curfew is lifted.

On July 20, the curfew was lifted for the first time in four days, so the United Methodist delegation adjusted its schedule to visit mission partners. One church conducted three graduations, two engagements, two baptisms and a wedding during the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. break in curfew.

U.S. delegation members found it hard to imagine being under "house arrest" day in and day out, according to Horman. "On Sundays, people aren’t even allowed to go to worship when a curfew is in place," she added.

Zoughbi Zoughbi, director of the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, a United Methodist mission partner, told the group that the combination of prolonged curfew and closure has had devastating effects on the population. "It’s a kind of psychological warfare on our sanity," he said.

When the delegation visited Bethlehem on July 23 during another break in curfew, the Rev. Mitri Reheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church, told the United Methodists that Palestinian children "were robbed of their spring" because they were not allowed to go to school or play outside.

During lifts in curfew, movement is still restricted by the closures. "Even when they’re not imprisoned in their homes, they’re imprisoned in their cities," Horman noted.

Besides meeting with United Methodist missionaries in the area, the delegation has spoken with His Beatitude Michel Sabbeah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem; Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal, the Episcopal bishop of Jerusalem; and Ghassen Andoni, a physics professor and director of the Rapprochement Center in Bethlehem.

Israeli contacts have included Terry Greenblat of Bat Shalom, an Israeli women’s peace group; Rabbi Arik Asherman, director of Rabbis for Human Rights; Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition; and a staff member of B’tselem, an Israeli human rights watch group for the occupied territories.

On July 22, the delegation toured the outskirts of Jerusalem "to look at the continuous growth of illegal settlements," Horman reported. Before returning to the United States on July 30, the group also planned to spend the night in a West Bank village and help rebuild a Palestinian home that had been bulldozed.


July 24, 2002
Leaders "race" toward single adult ministry ideas
By Linda Green*

INDIANAPOLIS (UMNS)--When leaders of United Methodist single adult ministries started their engines and saw the checkered flag come down, they were off and running on a four-day "track" to discover new ideas in singles ministries.

"Race to Indy," was a July 18-21 national conference for leaders of single adult ministries to learn about new ideas and resources and meet colleagues in ministry. The biennial event is related to the churchwide Board of Discipleship and United Methodist Single Adult Leaders. Single adult ministries serve people who have never married or are divorced or widowed.

The "Race to Indy" event was the first single adult conference sponsored by the United Methodist Single Adult Leaders’ (UMSAL) organization. The singles ministries of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Indianapolis hosted the four-day single adult networking, training and celebration experience.

Since they were meeting in the home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- the 2.5-mile track that is home to the Indianapolis 500 race -- conference participants seized upon the racing theme during their work together.

One of the pacesetters for the conference was Harold Ivan Smith, who presented information related to the future of singles ministry.

One great frustration in single adult ministry, he said, is seeing the potential for leadership in a person who moves to another place, adding that single adults move from place to place to get their needs met. "One of the great difficulties is how do you meet all the needs," he said.

Within the next 12 months, 17 percent or one in five Americans will move to new locations, said Smith, who is based in Kansas City, Mo. and is one of the founding members of the Network of Single Adult Leaders and a renowned speaker on grief and single issues.

In the church, a person may be in the congregation one Sunday, "but will you have them the next Sunday, especially those single adults without children? They may be down the street [at] ‘What’s Happening Central’ next week," he said.

Smith highlighted several issues affecting churches’ ministries with single adults today. The first is the "doughnuting" of cities. The center of the doughnut used to be the core of the city—the heart and workplace of society. Today, the core is the place where people come downtown to work and then return home to suburbs. In this instance, the potential for single adult ministry for a downtown church is different that that of a suburban church.

Urban sprawl and congestion are symptomatic of the second trend impacting single adult ministry. Programming in many areas must be scheduled to accommodate commuting time, he said, adding that some churches schedule evening singles events as late as 8 p.m. to allow participants time to get home from work and then to church.

Finding ways to reach people beyond their physical and emotional "gates" is another challenge for singles ministries, Smith contended. He used the image of people living in gated communities as an example. People leave their homes to go out and complete a task, return and "draw the bridge up. I pull into my world," he said. The people inside must decide for themselves "when they will lower the bridge so that you can cross into their lives," Smith said.

The fourth issue affecting ministry to single adults is the stressed pace in which people live their lives. People live with a level of stress that is so ungodly and so unhealthy that they will not be able to keep up, he said. Ministry today is to highly stressed people where temper flair-ups or emotional outbursts become part of a group’s dynamic. Smith said the outbursts have nothing to do with a group issue but "are merely the last straw in a long day."

A fifth challenge facing single adult ministry is helping people overcome the fear they have of others. Smith contended that since Sept. 11 that fear has been enhanced and will become more intense. As he talked of diversity, he pointed to the United Methodist Church’s commitment to others and said the denomination’s greatest power in these times is dissembling fear.

Lyn St. James, one of the first women to win national recognition as a race car driver, used the speedway theme in her address to participants titled, "The Ride of Your Life." She stressed the need for determination and persistence, both in offering ministries with singles adults and in living as a single person.

Terry Hershey of Vashon, Wash., the founder of Christian Focus, an organization that offers seminars on building healthy relationships, stressed the seven habits of people who love life. Such people, he said:

  • Know that life is sacred and are intoxicated and astonished with the world;
  • Know that life/growth is a journey and success does not require arrival;
  • Want what they already have;
  • Give no heed to public opinion;
  • Practice the art of doing nothing;
  • Delight in their friends; and
  • Give the children in themselves "the wide sky" and "understand that laughter is a type of prayer.

UMSAL, established in 1994, is an association created to network, facilitate and advocate for single adult ministries at all levels of the United Methodist Church. The denomination’s Social Principles affirm the integrity of single people and call on the church to "reject all social practices that discriminate or social attitudes that are prejudicial against persons because they are single."

*Green is news director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based office of United Methodist News Service.

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