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News In Brief - February 24, 2012

News in Brief February 24, 2012
Brief items for use in local church newsletters
Prepared by United Methodist News Service

As Lent began this week with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22, United Methodists around the world focused on Lenten observations and devotions. Young adult clergy in the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference have written weekly Lenten studies that address some of the basic questions and needs of young adults such as time, fasting and money management. The Ecumenical Water Network emphasized its theme "economy of water" in its Seven Weeks for Water campaign, inspiring churches to pray, reflect and act together for local and global water justice. The United Methodist Board of Church and Society asked all United Methodists to give up alcohol, donate the funds they would have used to buy alcohol and start an international conversation about the harm done by this common vice. For a complete list of Lent and Easter resources, go to http://umc.org/lent/.

Bishop Linda Lee sets aside one day a week as Sabbath, devoting that time to prayer, reading, writing and reflection. She does the same each morning, cherishing silence and solitude with God. "I believe the Sabbath is so important because of the depth of relationship," says Lee, who leads the Wisconsin Area. "I believe it (the Sabbath) allows anyone who practices on a regular basis a way of having an ongoing and ever deepening and widening and magnificent relationship with God." Setting aside Sabbath time, she tells Interpreter magazine, empowers the practitioner to be in the world for God with disenfranchised people who need to know God is with them.

United Methodist churches in the United States are weathering a declining membership trend and a difficult economy, which have combined to cause local church spending to decline. But recently released statistics for 2010 and 2011 also show:

  • Giving in 2010 to the Advance, which includes contributions to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, increased a whopping 146 percent from 2009 to more than $44.9 million, in large part because of contributions for Haiti earthquake relief and rebuilding.
  • Direct giving to United Methodist-related causes increased by more than 29 percent.
  • Seventeen annual (regional) conferences paid 100 percent of their general apportioned funds for 2011, up from 15 conferences in 2010.
  • The United Methodist Church remains the third-largest religious group in the United States, and its membership trends - decreases in the United States and increases in other countries - mirror those of other mainline denominations.

The Rev. Michael McQueen, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., was among those seated in the pulpit for the Feb. 18 memorial service for singer Whitney Houston. St. James was the last place where Houston, who lived in the Atlanta area during the mid-2000s, attended a worship service before her death Feb. 11. "The amazing thing about yesterday was the whole world came to church," McQueen told his congregation the day after Houston's service. The pastor said he told the Houston family that St. James would nurture them through the process of grieving and asked his church members "to keep them lifted up in prayer."

The Rev. George E. "Tink" Tinker, renowned indigenous advocate and theologian, will be the keynote speaker for The United Methodist Church's "Act of Repentance to Indigenous Peoples," April 27 in Tampa, Fla. The service will take place during the denomination's 2012 General Conference. Tinker, a citizen of the Osage Nation, serves as the Clifford Baldridge Professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions at United Methodist-related Iliff School of Theology in Denver and is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Lonnie Bingmon, a man who has been in youth detention centers nine times and in jails or a prison six times, received The President's Volunteer Service Award for his ministry in prisons. Bingmon moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he found his way to Alliance United Methodist Church. It was there that he engaged in a life-changing Walk to Emmaus in 2003 and became involved in Kairos Prison Ministry.

The United Methodist Church will continue to have a presence on the campus of the former Lambuth University, thanks to a new campus ministry with an appointed minister from the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference. The University of Memphis-Lambuth campus ministry in Jackson, Tenn., has joined four other Memphis Conference Wesley Foundation campus ministries.

The Texas Methodist Foundation, the largest United Methodist foundation in the United States, has acquired the majority of assets and liabilities of the Central Texas Methodist Foundation, headquartered in Fort Worth. Assets for the Texas Methodist Foundation, following the acquisition, now exceed $400 million. The Texas Methodist Foundation assists United Methodist churches, institutions and individuals with a variety of financial and leadership resources within the five geographic conferences of Texas, in addition to the Rio Grande Annual (regional) Conference of Texas and New Mexico.

The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has honored retired United Methodist Bishop Joe Wilson with its Founder's Award. The organization called Wilson a persistent voice for justice on multiple issues who works to raise awareness and advocate for change. The Methodist Church officially called for the abolition of the death penalty in 1956, and The United Methodist Church has maintained the position of its predecessor body. The South Central Jurisdictional Conference elected Wilson bishop in 1992. He served for eight years before retiring in 2000. He now serves as bishop-in-residence at United Methodist-related Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

United Methodist Communications plans to offer four online courses Feb. 29-April 11 to help churches integrate web ministry into the broader picture of a church's outreach. A syllabus for each course, cost and registration information are available online. For more information, go to http://umcom.org/training-web-ministry/.

The Africa United Methodist Student Movement, which represents about 150 members from 10 African countries, has issued a response to the proposed consolidation of nine general agencies under a 15-member board. Nine members recently attended the Pre-General Conference briefing for African General Conference delegates in Harare, Zimbabwe. After prayer and study, the group announced its response "in rejection of the proposal as it fails to be considerate of the needs and circumstances of the African church." The United Methodist News Service Daily Digest will publish statements from General Conference delegations and other groups as they are received and space is available. The full statement is at http://goo.gl/NB90H.

Bread for the World has formed a partnership with United Methodist-approved Asbury Theological Seminary of Wilmore, Ky., and Eastern University of St. David's, Pa., to produce an online curriculum on global poverty and foreign assistance for evangelical Christian seminaries and colleges. "As Asbury Theological Seminary becomes more deeply engaged with our Christian partners around the globe, we want to follow in the rich Wesleyan tradition of advocating for the poor and marginalized," said Terry Muck, dean of the seminary's E. Stanley Jones School for World Mission and Evangelism.

Funds from the $2 million Africa Theological Education Initiative are being used for scholarships, training programs and development of training materials for pastors in the Central Conferences. About $1.1 million has been distributed to date. Bishop John Innis, episcopal leader of the Liberia Annual Conference, said the funding came "at a time when the church is growing, and we need to be developing pastors." The United Methodist Church is growing faster in Africa than in any other part of the globe. Today, United Methodist membership in Africa is nearly 4.2 million, compared to 7.7 million in the United States. While church membership in Africa represents more than 30 percent of United Methodists worldwide, Africa has a critical shortage of trained clergy. With the tremendous need for theological education throughout Africa, the 2008 General Conference approved a petition tasking three general church agencies - the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the Board of Global Ministries, and United Methodist Communications - with funding a $2 million initiative to improve theological education in Africa and with overseeing its implementation.

The top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries called for prayer and for peace after violent outbreaks in Senegal preceding the Feb. 26 elections. In a statement, Thomas Kemper said the agency's national person in mission there, Aly Bashir, has reported deaths, injuries and arrests related to pre-election violence. The United Methodist Church in Senegal currently has 19 worshipping fellowships.

Camp Latgawa, a United Methodist camp in southern Oregon, plans to have a Shakespeare Camp on June 20-25. Each day a Shakespearean scholar will lead discussions to help campers better understand how Shakespeare's writings can enrich their spiritual lives. The camp will include trips to productions of "The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa," "As You Like It" and "Romeo and Juliet" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in nearby Ashland. Fees range from $149 for children to $299 for adults, plus $65 for play tickets and $20 for a raft trip on the Rogue River. If you have questions, contact latgawa@gocamping.orgor call 541-826-9699.

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