Can United Methodists use the sign of the cross or is this a Catholic only practice?
The sign of the cross is a Christian practice and is associated with the catholic side of the church --Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and some United Methodists and Presbyterians. There is nothing in United Methodism that either forbids or encourages the practice. Since The United Methodist Church is, generally speaking, a product of the Protestant Reformation, it has a piety that tends to be iconoclastic--that is rejecting statues, icons, and many of the "catholic" practices. Again, this is a church cultural thing and not something that is in print.
All of that being said, I strongly favor making the sign of the cross and do so regularly in my private prayers and when receiving communion (just before taking the elements and just after) and, as a pastor, I made the sign of the cross toward the congregation when blessing them at the end of the service. In order to do that, I had to do some teaching about what it meant and why I chose to do it.
The sign of the cross will, I predict, come to be more accepted in places where we recover a sense of our having been united with Christ in his death and resurrection in baptism. It is a sign often made on the forehead at baptism, when praying for healing and when a person is dying.
I encourage you to use the sign as a remembrance and claiming of your baptism and as a sign of encouragement to follow Christ as one of his own. If people are uncomfortable with it and you notice their attention and puzzlement, be a teacher and share with them why you do it. Invite them to feel free to make the sign too. I believe we need to be free to raise our hands in praise in worship and to not do so. Why not be equally free to make the sign of the cross, kneel, touch water in the font to our foreheads. Worship is about bodies and movement, not just words and thinking!
Rev. Dan Benedict
Center for Worship Resourcing
General Board of Discipleship