Nation and World

United Methodists offer encouragement on New York billboard

During the next three months, more than 600,000 people a day are expected to see the billboard, according to outdoor advertising officials.

The billboard’s simple but direct message is intended to tell New Yorkers that followers of Jesus Christ are praying with them, said the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, Igniting Ministry director.

The $20 million Igniting Ministry campaign was launched shortly before the Sept. 11 tragedy, using TV spots, print ads and billboards. Its purpose is to reach people seeking answers to real-life questions and to invite them to United Methodist churches to continue that search. The billboard in Manhattan was produced especially for use in the city as a message of hope and reassurance.

Horswill-Johnston said that since Sept. 11 church leaders of diverse traditions have observed that people are searching to fill a “hole in the soul.” That hole is widening and deepening worldwide, but is most evident in the lives of the New York citizens, he said.

UMCom has used a variety of communications channels, including the Internet, television and radio, to help Americans deal with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and to share the church’s concern for victims, family members and loved ones. A television spot broadcast on CNN in late October and early November urged people to pray for safety, justice and a “change in angry hearts.”

The basic purpose of the overall Igniting Ministry campaign is to invite people, particularly those between 25 and 54 years old, to enter into connection with the Christian community as they seek meaning and purpose in their lives.

Initial reports from a media-tracking firm indicate the effort is working. More people between the ages of 25 and 54 are reporting a favorable opinion of the church and have expressed a willingness to attend one of the 36,000 United Methodist churches across the country.

A random telephone survey of 1,250 people was conducted in 100 churches in each of the denomination’s five jurisdictions.

First-time attendance figures were gathered for churches in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., San Antonio, Portland, Ore., Baltimore and Indianapolis.

According to the results, 14 percent people of those surveyed remembered the United Methodist Church’s television spots, compared to 18 percent who remembered ads placed by the Mormons, who have a 22-year history with television advertising.

The survey shows an 8 percent increase in awareness of the United Methodist Church over 2000, Igniting Ministry officials said. Seventy-five percent of those sampled indicate a belief in what the television spots say. More than 35 percent report a favorable attitude toward the United Methodist Church.

Most religious groups reported an increase in attendance immediately after Sept 11. Horswill-Johnston said that the 100 Igniting Ministry test churches in September had a 108 percent increase of first-time attendance over the previous year.

The full report from the media-tracking firm will be available on the Igniting Ministry Web site at by mid-December.

Worship attendance returns to normal two months after Sept. 11

(RNS) Attendance at houses of worship appears to have returned to normal levels after a short surge related to the events of Sept. 11, pollsters have found.

The Gallup Poll reported that 47 percent of adults surveyed Sept. 21-22 said they had attended church or synagogue in the previous week. That number was the highest percentage since the 1950s. But by Nov. 8-11, 42 percent said they had attended worship in the previous week, comparable to the 41 percent who said they had done so when surveyed May 10-14.

The Barna Research Group reported that 48 percent of adults surveyed in late October and early November said they had attended a church service in the past week compared to 42 percent polled between late July and mid-August.

“While current levels of adult attendance are higher than before the attack, they are not statistically different than the numbers recorded last November, thus reflecting the usual seasonal increase,” the Ventura, Calif.-based research group reported.

Although church attendance increased after the Sept. 11 attacks, researchers found that six other measures of religious behavior, such as Bible reading, were identical in the summer and fall.

The survey also found that statistics before and after the attacks concerning those who have made a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today” were identical, at 68 percent.

George Barna, president of Barna Research Group, said in a statement that he believes churches failed to help post-attack newcomers deepen their faith. “Our assessment is that churches succeeded at putting on a friendly face but failed at motivating the vast majority of spiritual explorers to connect with Christ in a more intimate or intense manner,” he said.

Group wants ‘reform’ for Women’s Division

(UMNS) A group of evangelical United Methodist women is calling for a “process of Reform” for the Women’s Division of the churchwide Board of Global Ministries, after the unit’s directors passed a resolution in October against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.

The call by the 5,000-member RENEW Network (a Resourcing, Enabling Network for Evangelical Women) was backed by the executive committee of Good News, an unofficial evangelical caucus within the denomination, at its Nov. 1-2 meeting. The Rev. James Heidinger, Good News president, said that while the mission work by local units of United Methodist Women was appreciated by most pastors, concern continues over the “radical feminist, pro-abortion, virulently anti-American, anti-evangelical, pro-homosexual attitude exhibited by the Women’s Division and its leadership in New York.”

As reported by United Methodist News Service on Oct. 23, directors of the Women’s Division, the UMW’s administrative body, voted to urge President Bush to use diplomatic means, rather than the bombing of Afghanistan, to bring to justice those responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to choose life over death (Deut. 30:19). We are also called to love our enemies and those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44),” the resolution said. “As United Methodist Women, we are challenged to commit ourselves through prayer, study and action to continue the search for peace with justice.”

Native Americans want ‘act of repentance’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (UMNS) – The United Methodist Church’s international Indian caucus is encouraging the denomination to perform an act of repentance for atrocities committed against Native Americans.

The Native American International Caucus (NAIC) wants the 2004 General Conference to hold a repentance and reconciliation service for the Sand Creek Massacre and other acts of violence against American Indians.

In 2000, United Methodists confessed to the sin of racism within the denomination and held an act of repentance ceremony, together with a call for reconciliation. Racism in the church’s predecessor bodies drove some African Americans to leave in the 18th and 19th centuries and form their own denominations. The NAIC wants a similar act of repentance at the 2004 legislative meeting in Pittsburgh.

During its Nov. 29-30 meeting, the NAIC also called for a national day of prayer on Dec. 16 against the use of Native American names for mascots of athletic teams.

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