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Weekly Digest - January 23, 2015

NOTE: This is a digest of news features provided by United Methodist Communications for Jan. 19-23. 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 umc.org/news.

Top Stories

Changes ahead for pension board investments
GLENVIEW, Ill. (UMNS) – The United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits plans to exclude certain investments in thermal coal and companies that operate in countries with a pattern of human rights abuses. The key element the board is looking at: Are these investments sustainable? Heather Hahn has the story.

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Judicial Council sets docket for April meeting
COLUMBUS, Ohio (UMNS) – The United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, has posted a seven-item docket for its April 15-18 spring meeting at the Hyatt Regency Columbus. The council’s meetings are closed except for oral hearings. No decisions have been announced yet regarding possible hearings in April.

See docket


Human dignity sets tone for church's international work
NEW YORK (UMNS) – Discussions about human dignity were part of a daylong symposium Jan. 21 at the Church Center for the United Nations exploring the role of religion and faith-based organizations in international affairs. Linda Bloom has the story.

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Closed for Ebola, Liberian schools to reopen in February
MONROVIA, Liberia (UMNS) – Students will return to their classrooms in February, a positive sign that the Ebola outbreak is coming under control in this West African country that at one point was reporting 300 new cases each week. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United Methodist, ordered all schools closed on July 30 in an attempt to contain the deadly epidemic. Julu Swen reports.

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2015 ushers in renewed hope with dip in Ebola cases
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (UMNS) – The new year comes with fresh hope of ending the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, as the daily report of new cases now is sometimes in the single digits instead of hundreds. Phileas Jusu reports.

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Shining a light on rural church buildings
ATLANTA (UMNS) – The online project Historic Rural Churches of Georgia celebrates and promotes preservation of the lovely but vulnerable old church buildings found off the state’s back roads. Traffic to the website has been brisk, and now a book is in the works. Fields Chapel United Methodist Church is among those featured through text and photos. “It’s been good for us,” said the Rev. April Ellis, pastor. Sam Hodges has the story.

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View photos of churches


Third human sexuality panel set in Mozambique
MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS) – The Connectional Table’s third and final panel on human sexuality and the life of the church will be Feb. 10. It will feature United Methodist leaders from Africa, Europe and the Philippines. The discussion will be available online Feb. 15. United Methodists can still contribute questions ahead of time via Twitter.

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UMTV: Taking church to a tattoo parlor
WILDWOOD, Fla. (UMNS) – The Rev. Michael Beck is an unconventional pastor committed to reaching new people for Christ in unconventional places, including holding Bible study in a tattoo parlor. “God took a mess and makes a message,” he says of his own life.

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Church and Society agency realigns staff
WASHINGTON (UMNS) – Three top staff at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, charged with advocating for the church’s social teachings, will be taking on new titles and assuming more responsibilities. They are John Hill, who will oversee advocacy and grassroots organizing, and the Rev. Cynthia Abrams and Mark Harrison, who will both become special assistants to the agency’s top executive.

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At 109, bishop’s widow has lived life of adventure
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) – Louise Baird Short, widow of Bishop Roy Short, loves The United Methodist Church and she loves travel. Short, who has attended every General Conference since 1959, celebrates her 109th birthday on Saturday, Jan. 17. In a profile for the Tennessean, the oldest living bishop’s spouse – also older than any bishop – reflects on a life of travel and ministry.

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United Methodist church was haven for demonstrators
FERGUSON, Mo. (UMNS) – During the unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer, Wellspring Church, a United Methodist congregation, became a haven for demonstrators. A New York Times story by Eli Yokley compares the current push for criminal justice reform to the 1960s fight for civil rights.

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Puno praises pope’s grasp of global problems
MANILA, Philippines (UMNS) – Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno, a United Methodist layman, said Pope Francis has a good understanding of the causes of worldwide problems such as poverty and human rights violations. Puno and nine other religious leaders and peace advocates from various denominations met with the Catholic pontiff on Jan. 18. Correspondent Gladys P. Mangiduyos has the story.

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Real happiness is more than putting on a face
DOVER, Del. (UMNS) – Tony Armstrong, a professor at United Methodist-related Wesley College, teaches a happiness class. “It’s a myth that life circumstances control your happiness,” he says.

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History of Hymns: ‘Soon and Very Soon’
DALLAS (UMNS) – Andraé Crouch, a giant of gospel music, died Jan. 8. C. Michael Hawn of Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology says it is difficult to overestimate Crouch’s importance for gospel music and beyond. For example, he was the choral conductor for the film “The Lion King.” The United Methodist Hymnal contains three of his songs, including “Soon and Very Soon.”

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Looking ahead

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

Monday, Jan. 26 
Deadline to register for online course "Maximizing Your Leadership EQ: An Online Leader Development Course" – The Discipleship Ministries course is 2-4 p.m. CST Feb. 2-23. The course is for leaders and planners in Christian education/faith formation, children’s ministry, youth ministry and adult ministry. $94. Details

Monday-Thursday, Jan. 26-29
Wild with Words Retreat The Rev. Martha Brunell, a United Church of Christ pastor, leads this Scarritt Bennett Center retreat that explores words as a common creative medium. The center is in Nashville, Tennessee. Details 

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