The Monthly Update

July 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This Monthly Update contains continuing information on the annual conferences that are being held across our United Methodist connection. In addition there is other information on an important moral issue affecting our church, and a positive action from a young lady that speaks well of the upcoming generation.

One correction needs to be offered from the cover letter to the June Update. It had stated that, "I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a very special lady – Mrs. Martha Gerhard Kubecka. Most, if not all, of you have probably heard of her." It should have read, "Most, if not all, of you have probably never heard of her." I apologize for the error.

She is one of so many "unsung heroes" who give stability to our nation’s families – our country’s mothers. A very special lady. May there be many more like her raised up to nurture families and ensure the future stability of the United States.

While we see some positive trends in the conferences we do continue to see actions that bother us. The Beth Stroud case is one that causes abiding concern; we anxiously await what action the Judicial Council will take in this. We hope and pray that they will send a strong decisive message strengthening our orthodox, Wesleyan faith.

We are experiencing the slowdown as people are on vacation and involved in the other activities associated with the "lazy, hazy days of summer." This is a time when we see a decline in giving that makes these three or four months lean financially.

So we are asking for your support. A gift will help us make it through the summer in sound financial shape so that we may continue our work of reporting to you what is happening in the United Methodist Church and of "contending for the faith" as we believe the Lord has called us to do.

Thank you for standing with us at this time. We ask that you would keep us in your prayers.

In His service,


Allen O. Morris,

Executive Director

July 2005 Update

Bits and Pieces from across the United Methodist Church

Providence has at all times been my only dependence, for all other resources seem to have failed us.

- George Washington

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Of Interest. Connectional Table Seeks to Find Passion to Unify Church

The 60-member Connectional Table, meeting May 17-19 in Chicago, affirmed the collaborative efforts of agencies in programming and ministry in the 2005-08 quadrennium. Two sessions of the table's gathering focused on developing a state of the church report, which the table decided at its January meeting to present to the denomination in 2006. Members discussed the report's purpose, audience and format, and how it would help the worldwide church. The table also heard an update from a bishops' task force on unity, formed in response to talk of schism in the denomination. The task force is seeking to discern "the main thing that we all are so passionate about," believing that "if we can move on the main thing, some unity will occur as we become more intentional in working together," said Bishop John L. Hopkins (Ohio East Area), chair of the table. Historically, the church's unity has been as a Wesleyan group that combines Christian formation with personal and social holiness, he said. Hopkins said people often ask what can be done about disunity in the church instead of trying to find signs of unity among people with differences in opinion. "The Connectional Table is saying rather than us trying to design a way to unify the church, how can we find a way to call forth that kind of passionate exuberance and thanksgiving that comes when one has been in a community of love and acceptance?" Hopkins said.

In other action, the Connectional Table approved the disbursement of World Service dollars for agencies and groups to study ministry and global AIDS, as well as for the survey from the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women to study sexual abuse. The table also decided that its April 2006 meeting will be in Varna, Bulgaria.

[Note: As we so often ask, "Is this a wise use of money?" Also, in answer to the question…", how can we find a way to call forth that kind of passionate exuberance and thanksgiving" might I respond, "Authentic evangelism with the saving message of Jesus Christ." Would this be so difficult to understand?]

- Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (UMNS).



The Good Stuff. United Methodist teen promotes National Military Appreciation month

A 16-year-old United Methodist from California is the national spokesperson for National Military Appreciation Month.

Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month last year and Shauna Fleming want[ed] it to be the "biggest and best" celebration ever. Last year she started a campaign to collect and send a million thank you notes to America's military service men and women. She's been there, done that and has the picture of herself with President George W. Bush to prove it. Fleming is well on her way to her next goal of collecting 1.4 million letters- symbolically one for every person serving in the Armed Forces. She has also written a book about her experience A Million Thanks, published by Doubleday Books.

Academy Award nominated actor Gary Sinise surprised Fleming at a studio in Los Angeles and offered to help her promote National Military Month. Country music star John Michael Montgomery lent her "Letters From Home," to use as her theme song and NASCAR drivers have joined with her to generate more letters for the military.

Later this month, Fleming will be speaking at Light of the Canyon United Methodist Church, Orange, Calif. and telling her church family "any one can make a difference." "My faith is the most important part of my life," she says. "I just remember God has a bigger plan for me and sees the big picture. That just gives me so much strength and so much confidence in who I am."

Confidence seems to be something she has in great supply. Speaking to United Methodist News Service on her lunch break at Lutheran High School in Orange, Calif., seems like just another day in the life for her. "My mom has always told me when I was four I could have run her house if she would have let me," she says, laughing. "I have always been strong willed and very determined, but I never would have thought I would be so comfortable speaking in public." - By Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS; #277; May. 5, 2005.



Homosexuality. Good News Statement on the Beth Stroud case.

[Note: It is important to understand the nuances of the Beth Stroud case since it may set a precedent for future such situations.]

About the Appeal Committee Ruling

First, we are not surprised that Beth Stroud appealed the decision. She had that right to appeal. Her counsel at the trial had issues about our church law that he wanted to present but was not allowed, properly we believe, to do so by the presiding judge. These matters have now been brought as examples of "legal errors" in the trial itself.

The appeal committee did admit that "the evidence in support of the charge [against Stroud] was overwhelming and would be sustained in the absence of legal error." In other words, there was no doubt that Beth was in a same-sex relationship. She publicly admitted it. And that is expressly forbidden by United Methodist church law. Thus, the only hope to overturn the guilty verdict, which had been unpopular among some in the liberal Northeastern Jurisdiction, was to find some "legal error" in the trial.

Second, the two "legal errors" the appeals committee cited were such a stretch as to be almost funny. The first error claimed that "neither the General Conference nor the pertinent annual conference has defined the words, ‘practicing homosexual’ and ‘status.’" That was claimed, notwithstanding the fact that the Discipline has had a definition for "self-avowed practicing homosexual" since 1996. That definition can be found as footnote 1 at the bottom of page 197 of the2004 Discipline. The committee seems to have argued that what is defined is "self-avowed" and not "practicing homosexual." This is utterly non-persuasive.

The second claim of supposed error is an even greater stretch and almost amusing if it were not about such a serious matter. The committee claimed that by trying and convicting Stroud on the basis of Par. 304.3 ( the paragraph in the Discipline that prohibits the ordination and appointment of "self avowed, practicing homosexuals"), the trial court erred because that standard (first passed in 1984) constitutes a "new standard or rule of doctrine" and thus violates the First Restrictive Rule of the Discipline.

The First Restrictive Rule and UM Doctrinal Standards

The First Restrictive Rule is found in Par. 17 of the 2004 Discipline and says, "The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine." Paragraph 102, "Our Doctrinal History," states clearly on page 58 that our doctrinal standards are understood to include the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith (from the EUB tradition), and Wesley’s Sermons and Notes. United Methodism has never understood the many specific requirements for ordained ministry to be a part of our doctrinal standards. Paragraph 304, "Qualifications for Ordination" includes many different requirements for ordained ministry. Again, these have never been, nor should they be, considered part of our "Doctrinal Standards" which are protected by the First Restrictive Rule.

Growing Impatience with Judicial Activism

One thinks of the way we have dealt with issues nationally in the last 30-40 years. Issues that have not been voted on by duly elected legislators, at both the state and national level, have been advocated and passed by judges and courts. The judiciary has been doing legislation. We are seeing a similar pattern in the church, it appears. The United Methodist Church has never been clearer about its standards on issues related to human sexuality. However, those who cannot or will not affirm those standards continue to seek every means to further their agenda and challenge the church’s standards. There is considerable indication that others across the church are losing patience with these attempts to do juridical end runs around church law.

Good News was not surprised with the Appeal Committee ruling. As we looked at the make-up on the committee, we noted that the Rev. William Scott Campbell was serving as its chairman. We felt this committee could well be a body that was not supportive of the church’s standards. Campbell is pastor of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a church which is listed on the Reconciling Ministries Network as a "Reconciling Congregation." Such congregations disagree with the church’s standards on homosexuality and affirm full participation of gays and lesbians at every level of church life. Campbell also has been an outspoken critic of the church’s standards on the sexuality issue. Having Campbell serving as chairman of the appeals committee will not leave United Methodists feeling confident about the ruling the committee made.

Bishops Make Statement

The Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops has issued a statement reminding the church that the reversal of the Stroud trial was based upon "some technicalities." They went on to assure the church that "The decision of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals does not in any way reverse the standards in our Book of Discipline. In fact, the appeal process is an important part of our Book of Discipline." At the same time, I hope the members of the Council realize the kind of collateral damage that’s done each time one of these "public" events happens. It is costing the United Methodist Church in terms of members, money, and morale. The media will always give major play to events such as the Appeals Committee overturning the trial court. But when (as we expect) the Judicial Council overrules that action and sustains the original guilty verdict of the trial court, the media will not give it nearly the same prominence. And, thousands of United Methodists will be left thinking their church cannot enforce its standards on this issue.

Finally, all of this reflects why it has been so strategic to have 1) clear standards on this issue; and 2) a solid Judicial Council in place to deal with these kinds of issues. - James V. Heidinger II, President and Publisher, Good News magazine; May 06, 2005 4:30 PM.

Annual Conference Reports

It should be observed that those conferences that are excessively involved in political advocacy are usually the ones with serious membership decline. One may logically ask, "If the UM leaders are so adept at advising their state legislators on running the state and country, why can’t they successfully lead their own conference into growing its membership?"

Alabama-West Florida was held June 5-8 in Mobile, Ala. at Christ UMC, under the theme "Jubilee! Celebrating God's Abundance." During the second Annual Conference Mission Day on June 7, members reached "Out of the Pew and Into the World," by participating in hands-on mission work. Projects included construction work, distribution of free water, Hurricane Ivan recovery work, reading with children, packaging and shipment of items for UM Committee on Relief health kits, and visitation of local nursing home residents. Members came to the conference bearing thousands of pounds of non-perishable food and health kit items collected by their local churches as part of the day of service. In business matters, the conference voted to relocate and consolidate all existing conference offices (currently in Montgomery and Andalusia, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla.) to Montgomery, Ala. Among other items, the conference:

1) approved changes to the UM constitution; 2) established a $14.9 million budget for mission and ministry for the next year, up 4.36%

from 2005; 3) recognized 19 churches as a "Church for All God's Children"; and 4) voted to send the UM Publishing House contribution of $9,542 to the Central Conference Pension Initiative. Membership is 147,613, up 800. Worship attendance stands at 69,215, up 1,591 from the previous year. - Meredyth Earnest, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

Alaska Missionary Conference held its 34th session in Anchorage, Alaska, at St. John UMC May 27-29. Bishop Edward W. Paup presided. The conference opened with workshops on Volunteers in Mission and stewardship and the role that foundations and planned giving can take in the mission and ministry of the conference. During his episcopal address Bishop Paup challenged the conference to consider itself as being on the Northeast corner of the Pacific Rim, not on the Northwest corner of North America. In keeping with the theme of the conference, "God's Beloved Community," and the bishop's emphasis on the inclusive spirit of the conference, the conference expressed its intent to establish "Missions Within the Mission" cooperatively in order to fund ministry in settings not likely to be self supporting for a long time into the future. Bishop Jack M. Tuell (retired) was the preacher at the first evening's worship service and emphasized in his sermon that the religious right does not have a monopoly on belief and conviction. The conference celebrated receiving more than $13,000 in contributions from local churches to its missional priority of supporting the Spiritual Life Ministry of Alaska Children's Services, a historic UM ministry in Alaska. The body established as its next annual (June 1-May 31) mission priority support of undesignated giving to the UM Committee on Relief. Members of the conference cast ballots on eight UM constitutional amendments forwarded to the conferences by General Conference 2004. Those ballots will be tallied by the Council of Bishops along with the ballots of members of other annual conferences. The Alaska Missionary Conference is made up of approximately 60 clergy and lay members who serve in the 28 churches of the conference. The conference ended 2004 with 4,045 members, up one from 2003. Average attendance during 2004 was 2,609, up 15. - Lonnie Brooks, UMNewscope; June 10, 2005.

Baltimore-Washington met May 26-29 at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore under the theme "Celebrate the Joy!" Conference members unanimously adopted a new structure and strategies with the provision that it be sent to the Judicial Council for approval. The new structure seeks to streamline the organization and free staff members and leaders to work directly with congregations to engage them in what Bishop John R. Schol calls "The Discipleship Adventure." The new structure consists of a connectional table to oversee four councils, each of which will be responsible for providing resources to congregations: stewardship,

discipleship, leadership, and communications. The conference renewed its covenantal relationship with the Zimbabwe Area. Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa (Zimbabwe Area) preached twice during the session. He and Bishop Schol signed the covenant on May 28, which contains ten elements of partnership between the two areas. Conference members: 1) set a new vision, mission, beliefs, and values in order to focus the conference on holistic discipleship; 2) adopted a $17.3 million budget; 3) affirmed a resolution brought by Foundry UMC that follows up on the General Conference invitation for dialogue and calls for a series of district-by-district dialogues on issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people; 4) enjoyed "United Methodist Night at Camden Yards," with more than 2,500 people attending a Baltimore Orioles baseball game May 27; 7) toured several historic Methodist, Evangelical United Brethren, and other mission sites in Baltimore; and 5) spent time in two Bible studies led by Joseph Daniels, pastor of Emory UMC in Washington, D.C., and Mary Krause, pastor of Dumbarton UMC in Washington, D.C. Membership is 198,841, down 5,694. Average worship attendance stands at 76,841, down 3,496, or 4.31%. -Erik Alsgaard, UMNewscope; June 10, 2005.

Central Texas met June 5-8 at the newly expanded Fort Worth Convention Center, host site for the 2008 General Conference, with Bishop Ben R. Chamness presiding. Out of concern for the rise in preventable illnesses in Texas and the increasing cost of healthcare, the conference theme was "Stewards of Body, Mind, and Spirit," asking members to be in covenant to honor God's good gift of life by striving each day to walk 10,000 steps, drink six to eight glasses of water, and spend 20 minutes in spiritual enrichment. Members were also asked to carry this covenant for healthier lifestyles back to their congregations, to appoint a health and welfare chair, and to start a parish nurse program. Professionals in Health Fair booths conducted complimentary screenings for preventable health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, blood pressure, bone density, body mass index, body fat lipid panel, and others. Bishop Woodie White, bishop in residence at Emory University, Candler School of Theology, preached at four services; Jessica Moffatt, senior pastor at First UMC in Bixby, Okla., led Bible study. Conference members voted affirmatively on seven of the eight 2004 General Conference constitutional amendments and voted against Amendment VII by 107 to 480. In other actions, members: 1) approved changes to the conference rules in order to facilitate the new conference structure and adopted new goals that begin with every church becoming a mission station; 2) celebrated 31 consecutive years of membership growth and 32 new church starts since 1980 plus another this year; and 3) adopted an initiative to provide assistance to local churches for mental health education and pro-active programs for laity and clergy. Membership is 158,553, up 1,099 from the previous year. Worship attendance is 47,322, down 188.

- Carolyn E. Stephens, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

Florida met June 2-5 at the Lakeland Center, Lakeland. Members participated in the conference Children's Harvest as part of the Council of Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty. Volunteers filled more than 1,000 backpacks with school supplies to be distributed among the state's at-risk children and youth. The annual gathering also marked a new phase of ministry as members began to connect with each other under a new district structure, effective July 1. The plan reduces the number of districts from 14 to nine, redefines the role of superintendents, and requires all churches to be part of a cluster. This year's "One Body, One Spirit" theme was developed by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker to reflect the series of hurricanes that swept through the state last year and how Florida Conference UMs worked together to help their churches and neighbors recover. Churches were encouraged to bring an offering to the June 3 worship service. A total of $118,778.36 was given. Eighty percent of the offering will be used in East Angola for projects relating to the partnership between the East Angola Conference and the Florida Conference. Members approved the recommended 2006 total conference budget of $19,241,020, an increase of 2.3%. The percentage of apportionments given was 87.6%.. Membership is 325,609, down 3,409. Worship attendance is 161,038, down 337. Over the past 12 years, overall membership has steadily decreased by about 18,000 members. - J. A. Buchholz and Tita Parham, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

Kansas West met May 25-28 in Salina, Kan., at the Bicentennial Center under the leadership of new bishop Scott J. Jones. The conference theme was "One in Spirit, All in Ministry." The conference adopted changes to its structure designed to strengthen the connection between local churches, districts, and the conference and better equip local churches for disciple making. The new structure creates four ministry teams in connectional ministries to deal with leadership development, discipleship, mission, and advocacy. The conference adopted resolutions that: 1) authorize the cabinet to enter into a partnership with the General Board of Discipleship for a pilot project in local church leadership with the use of equipping elders and lay pastors to serve rural and small membership churches; 2) establish a Rural Life Sunday with offering to be observed the Sunday before Thanksgiving each year; and 3) create a Restorative Justice Sunday observance and encourage local churches to engage in ministries of restorative justice with victims, offenders, and those involved in the legal process. The conference received $9,741.90 from the UM Publishing House and voted unanimously to give the funds to the central conference pension effort. The conference approved all constitutional amendments. Membership is 86,434, down 1,086. Worship attendance stands at 36,772, down 415 (1.1%). - Lisa Elliott Diehl, UMNewscope; June 10, 2005.

Minnesota met May 31-June 3 in St. Cloud, Minn. Bishop Sally Dyck presided for the first time. Though apportionment receipts were slightly lower than projected, the conference met its 2004 budget. Conference members voted to: 1) encourage churches to support UM missionaries; 2) commit its churches to "a ministry of Christ-like hospitality to persons of all sexual orientations"; 3) support a General Conference decision to establish a task force on teen sexuality and suicide; 4) urge the U.S. government to equalize its unbalanced financial aid to Palestine and Israel; and 5) give the $9,684 pension fund donation from the UM Publishing House to central conference clergy pensions. They also passed a 2006 budget of about $6.8 million, falling under the conference-imposed ceiling. Membership is 83,966, down 4,618. Worship attendance is 41,777, down 1,713. - Victoria A. Rebeck, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

Missouri met June 3-6 in Columbia, Mo. Bishop Robert Schnase presided for the first time. The primary issue of the conference was the recent lawsuit in which Teresa Norris sued the conference for intentional failure to supervisor a pastor, claiming David Finestead raped her when he was pastor and she was part-time music director at Campbell UMC, Springfield. After a two-week trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Norris, awarding $2 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages. On the first day of conference, Schnase spoke to the body for more than an hour about the case, providing a detailed account. After sharing, he moved on to three areas of response: 1) What can we learn? 2) What are the legal steps ahead? 3) What are the financial implications? Regarding what can be learned, Amy Gearhart Sage, chair of the board of ordained ministry, announced a Bishop's Task Force on Covenant Accountability to examine current standards of professional behavior and policies and procedures for assessing that behavior. The task force developed a plan of accountability and will make recommendations in 2006. Attorney Larry Tucker explained how the legal team has been expanded and that post-trial motions asking for a judicial ruling in favor of the conference not withstanding the jury's verdict, a reduction in damages, and a new trial have all been filed and are awaiting a ruling. Financially, the

budget for the remainder of 2005 was revised to create a $500,000 legal response fund. Similar changes were made in the 2006 budget, adding another $500,000 to that fund. In addition, the overall budget for 2006 was increased 1%, to put an additional $160,000 in the legal response fund. Cuts came from across the board in an attempt to remain fair to all ministry groups during the coming year, with evaluation for all programs. Membership within the conference is 176,022, down 229. Worship attendance is 84,872, up 478.

- Fred Keonig, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

New Mexico met June 1-4 at St. Paul's UMC in Las Cruces for its 130th session, with Bishop D. Max Whitfield (Northwest Texas/New Mexico Area) officiating. The theme for the conference was "Connected by the Cross. This session completed the realignment of the conference from four to three districts begun in 2004, approving a resolution that the districts be named Albuquerque, Clovis, and El Paso to indicate the cities in which district offices are located. Members: 1) supported a resolution from the Society of St. Andrew encouraging celebration of National Hunger Awareness Day; 2) approved a resolution authorizing creation and promotion of an endowment fund for Hispanic ministries operated by the New Mexico Conference Methodist Foundation and overseen by the conference committee on Hispanic ministries; and 3) commissioned Bishop Whitfield and other participants in a Volunteers in Mission (VIM) trip to South Congo scheduled for August 2005. Membership is 39,865, down 788 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 17,581, down 195. - Julianne McAchran, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

North Alabama met June 5-7 on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College under the theme "If You Hear God's Voice." Bishop William H. Willimon presided and served as the conference preacher. Joy Moore, assistant professor of preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary, was the Bible study leader. Prior to the conference opening, hundreds of youth gathered on the campus for a day of music, games, and fellowship. The evening included a message from Bishop Willimon and a concert by the band Superchic[k]. On Monday morning, members walked off campus to the site of the McCoy UMC, which was closed in 1993. There they participated in a Service of Confession and Recommitment to Disciple-making. Conference goals for the next year were read as signs of the recommitment the conference is making not to repeat its same mistakes. These goals include starting six new congregations, including an intentionally multicultural congregation, a Korean ministry, a Hispanic ministry, and an African American ministry. The conference presented the Denman Evangelism Award to youth director John David Crowe (laity), who grew a youth group from four teenagers to more than 90, and Fernando del Castillo (clergy), who started a Hispanic congregation that has participants from 12 countries. Members: 1) voted to observe Volunteers in Mission Sunday in the fall and also to observe Hunger Awareness Day; 2) agreed to join the HealthFlex Insurance Program; 3) accepted a challenge from the cabinet to work toward a 5% increase in each local church's worship attendance; 4) voted to retain a clergy person as director of servant ministries; 5) voted on amendments to the UMC constitution; and 6) approved a budget of $13,148,958. On Sunday night Bishop Willimon ordained 17 new elders. Membership is 155,683, down 2,179. Worship attendance is 72,961, down 1,105. - Danette Clifton and Jackie Hall, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

North Carolina met June 8-11 at the Crown Theatre in Fayetteville, N.C. The theme was "Worshiping in the Light of God." Four six-foot photographs of local churches welcoming, singing, baptizing, and celebrating Holy Communion were suspended near 16-foot tall shelves. Bishop Al Gwinn presided. Bishop Robert C. Morgan was a guest preacher, Grace Imathiu preached and conducted the Bible study, and Laurie Beth Jones was the speaker for the laity banquet. In other matters, the conference: 1) approved a Safe Sanctuary policy for children and youth at the conference, district, and local church levels; 2) adopted no health premium increase and approved that the conference continue a self-funded program administered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina; 3) adopted a budget of $18,590,439, which represents an 2.85% increase over the budget adopted last year; 4) decided to tie 2006 superintendent salary increases to the dollar increase for pastors receiving minimum salary, which is $1,380 (previously both groups received the same percentage increase as the average for all pastors in the conference); 5) decided to meet the next two years in Greenville, after meeting 33 out of the last 35 years in Fayetteville; 6) requested that Bishop Gwinn appoint a volunteer task force on mental illness ministries; 7) passed the constitutional amendments except for Amendment VII, which regarded the definition of clergy membership; 8) approved resolutions encouraging personal stewardship training and establishing the tithe as the minimum expectation, supported an overhaul of federal and state tax codes, expressed disapproval of the Northeastern Jurisdiction's Committee on Appeals' decision regarding Irene Elizabeth Stroud, and commended Mount Olive Pickle Co. and its president, the N.C. Grower's Association, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee for reaching an historic labor agreement. Six other resolutions were referred to committees, six were defeated, and one was declared out of order. The conference remembered 37 clergy and spouses of clergy who died since the last conference. A special moment of remembrance was offered for J. Allen Norris, former conference treasurer, and Bishop Robert Blackburn, who also died. Lay Ministry of the Year Awards went to WFWC-LP 99.3 Christian Radio Ministry of Fremont UMC and to the Moore Free Care Clinic Ministry of Southern Pines UMC. Sadat Mendez, a layperson from Center Hill UMC, and Danny Allen, pastor of Centenary UMC, were presented Harry Denman Awards for Evangelism. Membership is 235,565, up 1,509. Worship attendance is 88,820, down 1,130. - Bill Norton, UMNewscope, June 24, 2005.

North Central New York met June 2-5 in Liverpool. Bishop Violet Fisher presided over the 197th session. The conference theme was "Gifted as Vessels of Grace." A budget of $3,682,400 was approved. Members also approved a recommendation from the conference board of pension and health benefits to adopt HealthFlex, effective Jan. 1, 2006. The conference also unanimously approved a motion to send the conference's check from the UM Publishing House to the Central Conference Pension Initiative. Lay members gathered for lunch and heard about "Healthy Churches," sharing ideas of Good Works and Faith Development programs in their own churches. Dan Dick of the General Board of Discipleship presented sessions on a spiritual gifts assessment, based on his book Equipped for Every Good Work. The conference is embarking on gifts assessments in congregations and districts. Membership is 79,049, down 834. Average worship attendance was 24,406, down 504 from 2003. - Sharon R. Fulmer, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

North Indiana met June 2-4 in West Lafayette. The theme, "Molded by Grace . . . Making a Difference," was lived out on the stage at Purdue University by potter Russ Harris of Nashville, Tenn., who threw pots and engaged in conversation during six Bible study sessions. Those studies, in lieu of preaching services, were led by Bishop Michael J. Coyner, a native of Indiana presiding over his first annual conference session in the state, and Karen Greenwaldt, general secretary of the General Board of Discipleship. The Bible studies spoke about leadership, church development, mission and outreach, Christian conferencing, and stewardship. Ken Vance, missionary and pilot serving Wings of the Morning in Congo and Zambia, said the church must become the infrastructure in Africa to provide money for agricultural development. The conference gave more than 7,200 health kits to the UM Committee on Relief and celebrated giving $335,597 to UMCOR South Asia Tsunami relief. The conference also has raised more that $56,000 to rebuild the Methodist church in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Indiana-based Operation Classroom asked each district to adopt a school in Liberia or Sierra Leone. Concerning apportionments, the conference replaced traditional apportionments and for 2006 will ask local churches to give a tithe (10%) of their church's income to the conference's Shared Ministry. General church apportionments will be asked in addition to the conference tithe. The 2006 conference budget will be considered during an October special session following June listening sessions. The council on ministries was restructured into four ministry groups: leadership development, church development, mission and outreach, and peace and justice advocacy. The conference has four new congregations, and 11 local churches now have off-site congregations. The newly formed Church Development Ministry Team will focus on strengthening and growing ministry with African Americans and Hispanics in addition to church development. The conference retired 26 clergy. Bishop Coyner commissioned ten probationary members and ordained six elders to ministry. The conference has 566 local churches with 519 appointments.

Membership is 99,349, a decrease of 1,978, from 101,267. Average Sunday worship attendance stands at 68,109, a decrease of 585 from 68,694. - Daniel R. Gangler, UMNewscope; June 10, 2005.

Oklahoma met May 29-June 2 in Oklahoma City. Conference members celebrated the new episcopal leadership in Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. The theme was Pentecost, the birthday of the early church as described in Acts. UM-related Oklahoma City University (OCU) and St. Luke's UMC were the hosts. Zan Holmes Jr., familiar to Disciple Bible Study participants, exhorted the crowd three times. A total of 3,355 health kits, 797 school kits, 130 flood buckets, and many bulk items, for a total value of $62,072, was collected for UMCOR. The first indigenous team assumed leadership of Hispanic ministry outreach in Oklahoma. Worship highlights included a bi-district children's choir, a choir of retired clergy and their spouses, and Holy Communion early each morning. Four massive video screens illustrated the numerous projects and programs available to the local church, including technological advances: a redesigned site and new e-mail capabilities. Conference members approved a 2006 budget of $15,199,414, a 2.64% increase from 2005. They approved eight constitutional amendments proposed by the 2004 General Conference. Newly elected to the episcopacy, Bishop Hayes listed as his priorities for the conference: 1) increasing membership numbers by 5%, including professions of faith; 2) starting one new church; 3) starting a satellite church from one of the major churches; 4) funding major camp improvements, which include building lodges at Egan and Crosspoint camps; and 5) completing the fundraising campaign for the Wesley Foundation at Langston University. Hayes commissioned and ordained a total of 34 persons. For the first time in years, those entering into clergy membership outnumbered the retirees. Church membership at the end of 2004 is 247,039, down 2,325. Worship attendance averaged 62,575, an increase of 242. - Holly McCray, UMNewscope; June 10, 2005.

South Carolina met May 29-June 1 at Wofford College. The conference welcomed its new bishop, Mary Virginia Taylor, who introduced the theme from Matthew 28:16-20. She emphasized that the conference would be and should be a worshiping one. The conference welcomed Bishop William H. Willimon (Birmingham Area) as the speaker for the ordination service and Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa (Zimbabwe Area) during the Monday night celebration service. The conference approved a resolution concerning the funding of public education in South Carolina. The resolution states the conference will "oppose legislation that provides tax credits or any form of state financial support for non-public elementary and secondary schools and urges the General Assembly to appropriate funding necessary for all schools in all sectors of the state." The conference voted on constitutional amendments and approved a $16.4 million budget. Two churches, Glendale and Sumter Chapel, have been discontinued. Membership is 241,680, down 377. Worship attendance is 9,547, down 576. - Allison Trussell, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Conference UMs made history by meeting jointly for the first time in nearly 150 years. The two conferences came together for a joint awards banquet June 3 and ordination service June 4. However, a gastrointestinal virus started infecting people at both meetings June 2. The illness made news across Texas and the nation June 8 as state health officials began investigating the cause. They have established a secure Web page ( ) where people who attended the meetings could enter information. Bishop Joel N. Martнnez conducted the joint ordination service in English and Spanish. The theme for the Southwest Texas meeting, June 1-4, was "Offering Christ to All: Transforming Our World." In other business, conference members approved by wide margins the ratification of eight UM constitutional amendments. Membership is 120,080, down 191. Worship attendance is 50,805, down 157. - Douglas Cannon, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

West Michigan met June 2-5 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. The theme was "All Connected." Conference members welcomed Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton to his first session with them. The Michigan Area Cooperation Task Force asked for more time, study, and dissemination before presenting any concrete proposals for a merger of Michigan Area conferences that might increase stewardship of resources. The task force presented the same report at the Detroit Conference in May. West Michigan voted to give a portion of its Cokesbury contribution for pensions to the central conferences to aid retired clergy. The conference voted again to ask the Judicial Council to rule on a 2004 vote to provide domestic partner benefits to lay persons enrolled in the conference's health insurance plan. At issue is Discipline ¶ 612.19, which prohibits funds being used to "promote the acceptance of homosexuality." The Judicial Council declined to hear a previous appeal because it lacked a specific Discipline paragraph reference. In other actions, the conference: 1) voted, by a very small margin, not to renew its boycott of water bottled by Nestle-owned companies; 2) agreed to ask local churches to observe a Disability Awareness Sunday; 3) voted to send a letter to President George W. Bush thanking him for his strong public support of the Millennium Challenge Account; 4) called on elected officials to begin a "serious dialogue" to develop a single-payer national healthcare system; 5) urged congregations to offer more programs to older adults as an alternative to gambling; 6) asked pastors and lay members to provide information on genocide in the Sudan; 7) set a goal of a 10% increase in new professing members in the next year; and 8) designated Lent 2006 as a special time of spiritual discipline to unite evangelism and justice ministries. Membership is 67,816, down 606. Average worship attendance was 44,736, down 537. - Ann Whiting, UMNewscope, June 17, 2005.

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To have faith where you cannot see; to be willing to work on in the dark; to be conscious of the fact that, so long as you strive for the best, there are better things on the way, this in itself is success.

Katherine Logan