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Year-end wrap-up: Sept. 11 set new work for church

12/4/2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: For photographs to accompany this story, editors can visit the UMNS photo gallery at http://umns.umc.org/photogallery.html online.

A UMNS Report By Linda Bloom*

In the year 2001, one terrible day stood apart from all others.

Steve Gill, a member of Mamaroneck (N.Y). United Methodist Church, would never forget escaping from a restaurant in the base of the World Trade Center's second tower, then watching from a nearby road as the second hijacked airplane rammed into the tower.

Larry McGaughey, a corporate lawyer for the United Methodist New York Annual Conference whose office was nearby, saw people jumping from high windows in a hopeless attempt to escape the flames and witnessed the collapse of the first tower as he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Churches in Manhattan tended to the "walking wounded," both ash-covered individuals who had fled from downtown in terror and those simply in shock from the unprecedented attack on their city and country. Washington Square United Methodist Church in Greenwich Village, for example, set up food, water and cots for passersby, while pastors at Park Avenue Church and the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew took to the streets to invite people in to pray and talk.

United Methodist leaders in New Jersey immediately planned special training sessions for their pastors to help them provide spiritual leadership and comfort to those affected by the tragedy.

Washington and Virginia churches, reacting to the terrorist strike against the Pentagon, threw open their doors to provide comfort stations, places for prayer and assistance to stranded travelers.

In Pennsylvania, staff and volunteers at United Methodist Camp Allegheny -- near the site where a plane crashed after passengers struggled with terrorists - provided food, drink and ice to emergency workers, law enforcement personnel and news reporters.

As the Rev. James Law, pastor of Chinese United Methodist Church in lower Manhattan, reminded participants in a New York Conference remembrance service: "I remember Jesus wept when Lazarus was found dead. If Jesus wept for one individual, I'm convinced Jesus wept on 9/11."

So while other events and issues commanded the attention of the United Methodist Church before Sept. 11, their importance seemed somewhat overshadowed in a world gripped, at least temporarily, by fear and horror.

In the wake of tragedy

As members of a global tradition with a strong connectional structure, United Methodists and other Methodists worldwide felt the impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Messages of concern and support to U.S. church members, mostly via e-mail, arrived quickly from British Methodist Church officials; members of the European Methodist Council, meeting in Moscow; the seven-member college of Methodist bishops in Brazil; the United Methodist bishop of Mozambique; Korean Methodists and many others.

Immediately following the attacks, the United Methodist Council of Bishops issued a call to prayer in a "time of national grief and sorrow." Later, the bishops expanded that call into a pastoral letter. Bishop Joe E. Pennel Jr. of the church's Richmond (Va.) Area, was among two dozen religious leaders invited to talk and pray with President Bush several hours before a Sept. 20 address to the nation.

Across the country, local churches held impromptu worship services and offered their sanctuaries for prayer as Americans tried to comprehend the tragedy. By coincidence, the denomination had launched a long-planned media campaign on Sept. 4 welcoming visitors to local churches with "open hearts, open minds, open doors."

United Methodist Communications, the agency coordinating the Igniting Ministry campaign, quickly changed the narration of one of the television ads to suggest that at a time of grief and sorrow, strength can be found in a local church community. Another television spot broadcast on CNN in late October and early November urged people to pray for safety, justice and a "change in angry hearts."

By the end of the week of Sept. 11, the United Methodist Publishing House and churchwide Board of Discipleship had made special resources, both for worship and discussion purposes, available online for local congregations to use.

United Methodist chaplains were involved from the beginning, when the Rev. Dale White, a U.S. Navy chaplain, and the Rev. Terry Bradfield, an Army chaplain, were among those ministering at the Pentagon crash site. Pastors of churches near military bases also intensified efforts to reach out to military personnel and their families. In many locations, chaplains and pastoral counselors helped people deal with grief, trauma and ongoing anxiety resulting from the terrorist attacks.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) responded to Sept. 11 on local, national and international levels and as of Nov. 3 had raised $5.3 million through its "Love in the Midst of Tragedy" fund. UMCOR officials expected to draw up a three- to five-year comprehensive response plan by the end of the year.

In New York, UMCOR and the local conference opened a series of "listening posts" in selected Manhattan churches to serve as counseling and referral centers for those struggling with the trauma of the terrorist attacks. Some volunteers, such as the Rev. Chuck Ferrara, a former New York police officer serving as a Connecticut pastor, also interacted with emergency workers and those present at "ground zero." Native Americans from Oklahoma arrived to reach out, in particular, to Native American workers there.

In Washington, UMCOR was a co-sponsor, with the United Methodist Baltimore-Washington Conference and the Renaissance Hotel, of an Oct. 19-21 retreat on healing. Nationally, the agency began its "Honoring Differences in the Midst of Hate and Violence" grant program to encourage innovative joint projects with Islamic and Arab-American organizations and other groups of people who may be experiencing hostility and stereotyping. Child-related workshop provided training at district and conference levels for those working with children.

To assist the people of Afghanistan, suffering from hunger and oppression, United Methodists offered support through Church World Service, which has had a presence in nearby Pakistan for many years. UMCOR's relief project in Tajikistan, another country bordering Afghanistan, also assisted refugees along the border.

Many United Methodists, including the members of the denomination's Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, cautioned Americans against stereotyping all Muslims because the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks were Muslim. The Rev. Bruce Robbins, the commission's chief executive, noted that "Muslims are nearly all faithful people of one of the great religious traditions in the world." During their October meeting in Los Angeles, commission members issued a joint statement with the Islamic Center of Southern California, affirming a "common commitment to living together, under God, in the unity of mutual respect and compassion."

On the political front

United Methodists made new White House connections in 2001. When George W. Bush became president on Jan. 20, he was only the third president officially recognized as a Methodist upon taking the oath of office. Among the United Methodists filling positions in his administration were Donald Evans, secretary of commerce, an active member of First United Methodist Church in Midland, Texas; Norman Yoshio Mineta, secretary of transportation, active in Wesley United Methodist Church, San Jose, Calif.; and Andrew H. Card Jr., chief of staff, a member of Arlington (Va.) Forest United Methodist Church. His wife, the Rev. Kathleen Card, is an associate pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Arlington.

Another Bush cabinet member, Secretary of State Colin Powell, met in June with a delegation of church leaders, including United Methodist Bishop Bill Oden of Dallas. The delegation discussed concerns about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In August, Jim Winkler, chief executive of the denomination's Board of Church and Society, applauded President Bush's decision to limit federal funding of research on embryonic stem cells. In an earlier letter to the president, Winkler had written that "destroying human embryos for the sole purpose of carrying on scientific research that promises only the possibility of potential treatment … raises profound and disturbing moral and ethical issues."

The resumption of bombing practice by the U.S. Navy on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques drew expressions of dismay from the church. Both the United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico support an end to all military activities on Vieques and the return of the land to the people.

Two Methodists were among a group arrested and tried for trespassing during protests on Vieques on Aug. 3. The Rev. German Acevedo-Delgado, a Board of Global Ministries staff member, was sentenced to a year of probation after being found guilty. The Rev. Lucy Rosario-Medina, pastor of the Vieques Methodist Church, also received a year of probation, along with five days in jail and 150 hours of community work.

Throughout the year, United Methodists spoke out for numerous causes and groups often marginalized by society. In 2000, the church had called for the elimination of sports logos considered demeaning to Native Americans, such as "Chief Wahoo" of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, and in 2001, the denomination put some money behind the call. The church's Commission on Religion and Race awarded a $10,000 grant to the Illinois Chapter of the Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, which was seeking to remove "Chief Illiniwek" as a symbol of the University of Illinois sports program. Complaints about the grant from some church members led to United Methodist-sponsored discussions about multiracial relationships.

Around the globe

The church's global nature was reinforced when United Methodists joined the ranks of nearly 4,000 participants in the World Methodist Conference July 25-31 in Brighton, England. Sponsored by the World Methodist Council, with its 77 member churches in 130 countries, the event included a tribute to the Rev. Joe Hale, retiring after 25 years as the council's top executive. The Rev. George Freeman of Virginia succeeded him.

On the African continent, a Board of Global Ministries delegation, led by the Rev. Randolph Nugent, chief executive, and Bishop Onema Fama of Central Congo, met in June with Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Discussion topics included how the church could further foster efforts toward peace and reconciliation.

Reconciliation seemed less certain in Zimbabwe, where political unrest and severe economic problems led to a currency collapse and violent land disputes between some blacks and white farmers. Concerns about the safety of staff and infrastructure at United Methodist-related Africa University impeded fund raising for the school, with a number of major donors delaying their gifts until the country's political climate improved. However, Africa University did dedicate a new dormitory and library in the early spring and broke ground for a new theology building.

In Europe, the country of Macedonia - whose president, Boris Trajkovski, is a United Methodist layman - became a place of conflict as fighting broke out between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces. A peace agreement was signed in August, and parliament approved a new constitution broadening the rights of the Albanian minority in November.

Methodists in Cambodia can now sing and worship from a new hymnal written in the Khmer language. The volume, composed mainly of songs reflecting the Cambodian culture, was a collaboration of the United Methodist Church, Korean Methodist Church, Methodist Church in Singapore, Methodist Church in Malaysia and Wesleyan Church.

After two major earthquakes struck El Salvador early in the year, United Methodists and Puerto Rican Methodists joined with other denominations in relief and rebuilding work there.

Leadership changes

The need to fill two bishops' positions resulted in special elections during 2001. For the first time ever, the Southeastern Jurisdiction called a special session in February to elect a replacement for Bishop Cornelius Henderson, who had died the previous December. The Rev. Timothy W. Whitaker, 52, superintendent for Norfolk, Va., won on the 17th ballot. In the Philippines, the Rev. Solito "Sol" Kuramen Toquero, who had been serving in Hong Kong, was elected bishop April 17 during a special session of the Philippines Central Conference.

The issue of who should elect the top executives of United Methodist agencies, and whether and how long they should remain beyond a 12-year term limit, was discussed twice during the year by the General Council on Ministries. Council members decided in October to extend for another year the tenure of the Rev. Randolph Nugent, who has led the Board of Global Ministries since 1981. They also elected the Rev. Jerome Del Pino as the new chief executive of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Some United Methodist agencies undertook belt-tightening measures as the weakened U.S. economy hurt church income. In early October, the Board of Global Ministries reduced its staff by about 20 percent, citing the need to cut spending in the face of the stock market decline, an anticipated drop in church giving and unexpected program expenses. Higher Education and Ministries directors, meeting the same month, voiced concern that reduced funding, combined with the cost of new program initiatives, could bring their agency's reserve funds dangerously low within the next few years. A six-member finance team was created to find possible solutions.

On the docket

The most publicized-issue confronting the Judicial Council this year involved two Pacific Northwest pastors, the Rev. Karen Dammann and the Rev. Mark Edward Williams, who had both announced their same-gender sexual orientation. Dammann said she was living in a covenanted relationship with another woman, and Williams said he was a practicing gay man. Neither pastor then received an appointment by Bishop Elias Galvan of Seattle. But the bishop did ask the Judicial Council, the church's supreme court, to rule on possible contradictions within the church's Book of Discipline.

One rule states that a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" may not be accepted as a candidate for ordained ministry, become clergy or, if a pastor, be appointed to serve a congregation. Another rule guarantees ministerial appointment to all clergy in good standing.

Meeting in October, the Judicial Council said the rules are not contradictory and that declaring involvement in a same-sex relationship was enough to warrant review of a pastor's standing within the denomination. However, the council also said that a bishop cannot take unilateral action to deny an appointment but must follow the "fair and due process" of a review proceeding. That process includes the right of trial by committee and of appeal.

Passings

Three retired United Methodist bishops died during 2001: Prince Albert Taylor, 94, on Aug. 15 in Somers Point, N.J.; Ernest A. Fitzgerald, 76, on Sept. 27 in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Paul Locke Granadosin, 76, on Oct. 4 in Manila, Philippines.

Other church-related deaths included the Rev. Charles Leon Smith Jr., 82, a marriage and family educator, on Jan. 23 in Nashville, Tenn.; the Rev. Dennis Fletcher, 91, a longtime mission agency staff member who helped establish the Black College Fund, on Jan. 28 in Englewood, N.J.; and Odette Kennedy, 83, a major benefactor for Africa University, on April 10 in Florence, S.C.

Also, John W. English, 68, a leader of the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits, on March 27 in Sarasota, Fla.; and William Randolph "Randy" Smith Sr., 72, chairman of the United Methodist Publishing House board, on May 8 in Kerrville, Texas;

Also noteworthy

Other highlights of 2001 included:

· The appointment of the Rev. Rebecca Chopp, a United Methodist scholar of Christian theology, as the 13th dean of Yale Divinity School, the first woman to hold that position.

· Celebration of the 50th anniversary of the US-2 program, which offers young adults the chance to work on justice and peace issues.

· Celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Lina McCord Intern Program for United Methodist college students from historically black colleges.

· Introduction of a songbook, The Faith We Sing, which includes a variety of worship traditions from different cultures and can be used as a supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal.

· Selection of Fort Worth, Texas, as the site of the 2008 United Methodist General Conference.

· The start of a new round of dialogue between the United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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*Bloom is director of United Methodist News Service's New York office.


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