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Weekly Digest - January 15, 2016

NOTE: This is a digest of news features provided by United Methodist Communications for Jan. 11-15. It includes summaries of United Methodist News Service stories and additional briefs from around the United Methodist connection. Full versions of the stories with photographs and related features can be found at

Top Stories

Bishop Morris, strong leader and preacher, dead at 78

GALLATIN, Tenn. (UMNS) — Bishop William Wesley Morris, who served as bishop of the Alabama-West Florida and the Nashville (Tennessee) episcopal areas, died Jan. 14 of a heart attack. He was 78. Sam Hodges reports.
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Israeli banks on ineligible list for pension agency

EVANSTON, Ill. (UMNS) — A recent decision by The United Methodist Church’s pension board regarding investments in five Israeli banks is in keeping with its plan to use a human rights guideline for investments, but advocates would like to see broader action on the Israel-Palestine issue. Linda Bloom has the story.
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Church court convicts pastor of sexual misconduct

LAKELAND, Fla. (UMNS) — A church court removed a pastor’s credentials in The United Methodist Church after he was found guilty of sexual misconduct with a laywoman. Heather Hahn reports.
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Annual letter to Martin Luther King Jr.

ATLANTA (UMNS) — Retired United Methodist Bishop Woodie W. White reflects on the worsening racial climate in the U.S. in his annual “birthday letter” to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. White writes about how xenophobia, nativism and even religious intolerance have been added to the struggle against racism. Interpreter magazine published the letter.
Read full letter

Orphanage shelters children in war-torn East Congo

GOMA, Congo (UMNS) — A United Methodist orphanage provides homes for 11 girls and boys ranging in age from 7 to 18. The shelter also feeds up to 30 children a day. Decades-long wars have left many widows and orphans in this gritty region of the United Methodist Kivu Conference. Kathy L. Gilbert and Mike DuBose visited the church and orphanage in a tour of the East Congo episcopal area last October.
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Grants boost central conference theological education

HARARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS) — The Commission on Central Conference Theological Education has awarded another $1 million in grants to fund theological education and pastoral training in Africa, the Philippines and Europe. Priscilla Muzerengwa has the story.
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Old Mutare Hospital combats maternal mortality

OLD MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS) — In Zimbabwe, being pregnant and giving birth can be life threatening. That is why the United Methodist Old Mutare Mission Hospital is taking steps to make pregnancies safer. Priscilla Muzerengwa reports.
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Team of bishops to serve Rio Texas

SAN ANTONIO (UMNS) — A team of bishops will provide episcopal leadership and supervision for the Rio Texas Conference until a new bishop is assigned, Bishop Michael McKee announced. “Bishop Janice Huie of the Texas Conference, Bishop Michael Lowry of the Central Texas Conference, Bishop Joel Martinez, who is retired, and Bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Conference have agreed to come home to serve in the conference and area they love,” McKee, president of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, wrote in an email to the conference. Bishops Huie, Lowry and Schnase will continue to serve in their respective conferences. The team replaces Bishop James Dorff, who resigned.
Read press release
Read UMNS coverage of Dorff’s resignation

Church provides clean water in Flint

FLINT, Mich. (UMNS) — After the water supply here was found to have poisonous levels of lead, United Methodists in the Detroit Conference set up neighborhood water crisis resource centers to provide clean water. Kay DeMoss of the Michigan Area writes about the church at work.
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Agency launches blog series ‘All My Relations’

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — The United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race this week has launched a blog series, “All My Relations.” The series, featuring a blog a day by United Methodists from around the globe, aims at cultivating unity in the midst of diversity. It honors Human Relations Day on Jan. 17 and the U.S. observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s Jr.'s birthday on Jan. 18.
Read blog posts

Discipleship Ministries seeks new top executive

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — The search to fill the position of chief executive of Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church is under way. “The ideal candidate will be a true disciple and committed Christian, either lay or clergy, with experience with the local and general church and working knowledge of the Book of Discipline, as well as understanding the needs of local churches throughout the connection,” said Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky, the agency board’s president.
Read press release
Read about former executive’s departure

Staff change at Church and Society

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Bill Mefford is leaving the United Methodist Board of Church and Society after nine years with the agency. He was serving as the agency’s director of human and civil rights. John Hill will serve as acting director until the position is filled.
Read press release

Commentary: Bridging divisions regarding homosexuality

DENTON, Texas (UMNS) — The Rev. Christy Thomas, a retired United Methodist pastor, writes that there are fine people on both sides of any question and especially this one currently dividing United Methodists. In a commentary for United Methodist Ministry Matters, she says bridging the divide requires assuming “truth in the other as the starting point, no matter how much it troubles you.”
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Use app to mark Christian Unity week

GENEVA (WCC) — Material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed Jan. 18-25, is available for the first time on smartphones, computers and tablets. The World Council of Churches is collaborating with YouVersion, developer of the “Bible App,” on the free, digital format available in English, French, Spanish, German and Portuguese.
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More on Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Worship band member heads to ‘American Idol’

BUTLER, Pa. (UMNS) — Most Saturday evenings, 15-year-old Isaac Cole McNany can be found playing and singing in the band at the God’s Country service at First United Methodist Church in Butler, Pennsylvania. He is hoping to perform before a much larger audience this season on “American Idol.” Leslie Uriss Spehar of the Western Pennsylvania Conference has the story.
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Video: Small church’s soup kitchen

MARTINDALE, Texas (UMNS) — Martindale United Methodist Church, “The Little Green Church,” hosts a time of food and fellowship each Wednesday. The Rev. Don Duvall, the church’s pastor, says the conversation is as important as a hot meal. Austin W. Newton of the Rio Texas Conference has a video on this ministry.
Watch video

To reach the ‘Nones’ and ‘Dones,’ focus on the ‘Ones’

PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS) — Many church leaders fret about the “Nones,” people who identify their religious affiliation as “none,” and the “Dones,” people who say they are done with church. The Rev. Jeremy Smith suggests churches can transform lives by focusing on the “Ones,” people engaged in only one activity in a faith community.
Read blog post

Mobile food pantry serves college students

HARRISBURG, Ark. (UMNS) — What college student hasn’t eaten her or his weight in ramen noodles while waiting on a paycheck or financial aid to arrive? Arkansas United Methodists have started a mobile food pantry, which gets nutritious meals to students at two-year colleges and their families. Martha Taylor of the Arkansas Conference reports.
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Setting up shop in a church basement

DALLAS — White Rock United Methodist Church here has opened its unused, 14,000-square-foot basement to small businesses, nonprofits and professionals in need of low-cost space. A sewing collective of African refugees is among those taking advantage. Heather Noel reports for the Dallas Morning News.
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Former NFL player trains for other side of Sundays

LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. (UMNS) — Colin Brown first felt called to ministry around age 12. But like many 12-year-old boys, he also had the dream of being a professional athlete. With one of those goals firmly checked off the list, the former NFL linebacker is now an intern with Woods Chapel United Methodist Church in Missouri. Fred Koenig reports for the Missouri Conference.
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Because life gets messy, church does, too

EUGENE, Ore. (UMNS) — Trinity United Methodist Church has found that incorporating the Messy Church program into their ministry and outreach is providing a new way for people, especially families, to connect to the church and build a spiritual relationship.
Watch video

Strengthening ministry with Hispanics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — Manuel Padilla is working with United Methodist conferences to strengthen ministry in the Hispanic/Latino community. He talked to the Rev. Gustavo Vasquez of United Methodist Communications about his work.
Read interview and post a comment

Praise for steps against gun violence

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, commends the steps laid out by President Barack Obama to reduce gun violence. “United Methodists have long held that mass shootings and routine gun violence is tragic yet preventable,” she writes.
Read statement

Vital conversation on U.S. race relations

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Philip Klinkner, a political scientist and author, will lead the next “vital conversation,” part of a series of online interactive videos offered by the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. He will explore the United States’ continuing struggles with race relations at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday, Jan. 13.
To register

Commentary: Looking at the local pastor trend

PULASKI, Tenn. (UMNS) — The Rev. Ed Trimmer of Martin Methodist College reflects on the growing number of licensed local pastors in The United Methodist Church and takes a close look at the trend within the Memphis and Tennessee conferences.
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Saint Paul responds to coming clergy retirements

LEAWOOD, Kan. (UMNS) — Saint Paul School of Theology is responding to an expected wave of clergy retirements by offering full-ride scholarships, a fast-tracked master’s program and a new hands-on, collaborative curriculum.
Read press release

Looking ahead

Here are some of the activities ahead for United Methodists across the connection. If you have an item to share, email and put Digest in the subject line.

Monday, Jan. 18
MLK Memorial Vigil — 5 to 6 p.m. CST. Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee, invites participants to join in prayer, meditation and spoken word at Wightman Chapel to commemorate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. There will be readings from civil rights literature and time for silent reflection. Details.

Wednesday-Friday, Jan. 20-22
Pre-General Conference Briefing in Portland, Oregon — At the briefing at the Oregon Convention Center, delegates and conference communicators will learn what's new and different at the 2016 General Conference. They can discuss major legislation, Christian conferencing and key activities; and connect with fellow attendees. General Conference is May 10-20, 2016, in Portland. The briefing is designed for up to four members of each annual conference's delegation, including the first-elected lay and clergy delegates. Details.

You can see more educational opportunities and other upcoming events in the life of the church here.