The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
Haiti’s quake tops 2010 news Robin Russell, Dec 24, 2010
PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL JEFFREY/ACT ALLIANCE
Survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake remove debris from devastated houses in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Belair.
By Robin Russell Managing Editor
It took just days into 2010 for the biggest story of the year to hit: a staggering earthquake on Jan. 12 that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti and left United Methodists scrambling to provide relief—even as they mourned two of their own.
Mission agency executives, the Rev. Sam Dixon and the Rev. Clint Rabb, died of injuries after being trapped for more than 50 hours in the rubble of a collapsed hotel following the earthquake. Dixon was head of the denomination’s humanitarian relief agency, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Rabb was head of Mission Volunteers. A third, Jim Gulley, a consultant for General Board of Global Ministries, survived with cuts and bruises.
The United Methodist leaders had been attending meetings in Port-au-Prince when the Montana Hotel collapsed around them. They were among the estimated 220,000 who died in the quake, which also injured 300,000 and left more than 1 million homeless.
Dixon, 60, died before rescuers could free him; Rabb, also 60, was rescued from the rubble and taken to a Florida hospital in critical condition, but died of his injuries Jan. 17.
Dixon had traveled the world as UMCOR’s leader, assisting those in need: Indonesians whose homes were washed away by the tsunami, Africans whose crops had withered under unrelenting drought and Americans needing shelter after tornadoes destroyed their neighborhoods.
Rabb had been airlifted to Florida with unspecified injuries. His wife, the Rev. Suzanne Field Rabb, and other family members were able to join him at a hospital before he died.
A member of a mission team from Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas also died from injuries sustained in the earthquake. Jean Arnwine, 49, died Jan. 15 from internal injuries after the free eye clinic where she was volunteering collapsed in the village of Petit Goave.
Despite the fragile infrastructure and the onset of a cholera outbreak, United Methodists continued throughout the year to provide donations, prayers, medical assistance and relief volunteers to help Haiti’s displaced population.
Call to Action
In what some have called a “seismic shift” within the United Methodist Church, the denomination’s bishops unanimously adopted key recommendations in November to help reform the church and focus on growing vital congregations in the next decade. The Council of Bishops agreed to pursue recommendations of the Call to Action Steering Team that include consolidating general church agencies and holding themselves accountable for church growth.
“It’s time to stand up and get this thing done,” said Western North Carolina Bishop Larry Goodpaster, council president.
An interim operational team of bishops and members of the Connectional Table will guide the Council’s decision-making in the months leading up to the 2012 General Conference. Some steps will require General Conference approval, but bishops say they are taking initiative to spur conversation and action.
The report’s key recommendations include: dramatically reform clergy leadership development and evaluation; help the denomination better measure attendance, growth and engagement; and reconstitute the agencies with smaller, competency-based boards.
Life changed drastically for those dependent on the Gulf Coast’s tourism, real estate, fishing and deep-sea drilling industries when British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and leaking between 66 and 120 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. The spill took months for engineers to cap the well and BP to clean up beaches along the Gulf.
United Methodist churches hosted prayer vigils where people of all denominations and faith traditions were invited to pray for the Gulf and its people. Some organized services of healing for creation and the community, others posted suggestions for a more sustainable, environmentally conscious lifestyle on their church websites and still others collected materials for oil-absorbing booms.
The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles encourage the church to place a high priority on change in lifestyles to support a more ecologically just and sustainable world, ultimately leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.
Other disaster-related stories included a dramatic rescue Oct. 13 of 33 miners in Chile who had spent more than two months being trapped nearly half a mile underground. The world celebrated as the miners were hauled up one-by-one in a 28-inch-wide escape capsule.
Miners in the Upper Big Branch coalmine near Montcoal, W.Va., were not as fortunate when an explosion April 5 killed 29. Church members coordinated a response to help establish the Montcoal Mine Disaster Fund, and United Methodist pastors helped grieving family members who mourned the loss of fathers, sons, uncles and brothers in the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.
United Methodists also rolled up their sleeves to help residents affected by the worst flooding the mid-South has seen in decades when torrential rains pounded Tennessee, causing severe flooding and $1.5 billion in damage. FEMA declared 18 of the 21 counties in West Tennessee as major disaster areas, and the storms were responsible for at least 11 deaths. United Methodists in neighboring conferences sent emergency response teams to Nashville, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief issued a special appeal June 8 for all areas affected by the storms.
Health care, politics
Health care and immigration reform measures topped the year’s political headlines.
A landmark vote on health care by the House of Representatives March 21 affirmed the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles that declares health care is a “basic human right,” said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS).
But the unofficial conservative caucus Good News expressed disappointment with the health care reform bill, saying it strays from a pro-life stance and did not “fairly represent other proposals for meeting the health care needs of Americans.”
In other health-related news, the United Methodist Church launched the Imagine No Malaria campaign on April 15 to raise $75 million to eradicate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. Part of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative, the anti-malaria campaign serves as an entry point to larger health and poverty issues using the church’s 250 clinics, hospitals and health-care stations in sub-Saharan Africa.
In July, some 350 young people from more than two dozen nations drafted 10 legislative proposals for the 2012 General Conference during a Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly in Berlin. The assembly denounced killings in Africa and the Philippines, asked for young people to be represented on general agencies, and sought legislation promoting alternatives to abortion.
A 10-year dispute ended in October when a District of Columbia Superior Court ruled that donations to the Board of Church and Society “were not restricted solely” to promoting temperance. At stake was about $1 million in annual revenue.
Thousands of United Methodist Women at the 2010 Women’s Assembly in St. Louis, Mo., were among those who rallied May 1 to protest an anti-immigration measure passed April 23 in Arizona that requires police officers to question persons they suspect of being an illegal immigrant when they come into legal contact with such persons. Supporters say it will help secure the state’s southern border; opponents fear it will lead to racial profiling.
Phoenix Bishop Minerva Carcaño urged United Methodist Women to petition U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about the nation’s “broken immigration policies” that can lead to racial profiling, arbitrary detention and deportation.
United Methodist bishops also asked annual conferences to create rapid response teams to disseminate information on the immigration debate and how church members can respond.
In San Antonio, United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith, was jailed in a sit-in and declared a hunger fast until the DREAM Act is passed, allowing undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to apply for conditional legal status after attending college or serving in the military for two years.
A planned Islamic community center a few blocks from Ground Zero became a litmus test for tolerance toward American Muslims. United Methodist Bishop Jeremiah Park said in a Sept. 1 letter to members of the New York Conference that preventing construction of the center would deny religious freedom and “makes us less as Americans and weaker as a nation.”
In Florida, a non-denominational pastor drew worldwide criticism as he threatened to torch a pile of Qurans on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center said his goal was to give Muslims an opportunity to convert to Christianity. Meanwhile, Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Fla., counteracted those plans by hosting an open house Sept. 10.
In June, a United Methodist-affiliated seminary announced a bold move to help prepare future clergy for America’s increasingly diverse religious landscape. Claremont School of Theology is now offering clerical training for Muslims and Jews as well as Christians. Though some criticized the move as diluting the institution’s United Methodist heritage, seminary officials emphasized its faith ties.
“If you come here as a United Methodist, we believe you will leave here as a United Methodist who better understands his or her neighbors,” said President Jerry Campbell.
On a lighter note, a United Methodist elder joined a Jewish rabbi to officiate at the July 31 wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky. The Rev. Bill Shillady, former senior pastor of Park Avenue UMC, led the interfaith ceremony with Rabbi James Ponet, the Jewish chaplain of Yale University. The bride, 30, is a United Methodist; the groom, 32, comes from a conservative Jewish tradition.
The denomination’s social action agency condemned a May 31 raid of a flotilla attempting to break a blockade and bring relief supplies to Gaza. Nine activists were killed in fighting when Israeli troops boarded the largest ship. Mr. Winkler of the denomination’s GBCS called the raid “symptomatic of a broader, hopelessly flawed policy by Israel to subjugate the Palestinian people, allegedly to protect its own security.”
United Methodist Daniel Terry was one of 10 aid workers killed in August in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
A July 11 terrorist bombing of a restaurant in Kampala, Uganda, injured six members from Christ Community Church, a United Methodist congregation in Selinsgrove, Pa. The missionaries had gathered to watch the World Cup final match after finishing a church construction project.
More than 3,000 invitation-only guests that included former White House aides lauded the legacy of President George W. Bush during a Nov. 16 groundbreaking for his Presidential Center at SMU. The center, set to open in 2013, will include a library, an interactive museum and a policy-making institute.
Meanwhile, United Methodists were among the 80 who protested the groundbreaking at a church-affiliated institution, citing Mr. Bush’s record on torture and initiating the war in Iraq.
After a rash of teen suicides and anti-gay bullying in September and October, a poll found that two-thirds of Americans see a link between religious teachings against homosexuality and higher rates of suicide among gay youths. Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas published a six-week study guide, This I Know, designed to provide a safe environment for church members to talk about their faith and their experience.
Members of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., voted Sept. 26 to allow same-sex weddings at the church and to support clergy who perform the ceremonies. Bishop John Schol cited the denomination’s Book of Discipline, saying he would follow through with complaints against clergy who conduct weddings or unions of gay and lesbian couples. Same-sex marriage was legalized in D.C. in March.
Five retired bishops died in 2010: Bishop Abel Muzorewa, 84, of Harare, Zimbabwe, on April 8; Bishop Raymond Owen, 78, of Oklahoma City, on May 15; Bishop James K. Mathews, 97, of Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8; Bishop William Dew Jr., 74, of Elk Grove, Calif., on July 14; and Bishop James Samuel Thomas, 91, of Atlanta, on Oct. 10.
Last spring, the denomination lost two civil rights pioneers. Dorothy Height, a United Methodist laywoman who served four decades as president of the National Council of Negro Women, died April 20 at age 98. Mai Gray, a retired teacher and former president of the Women’s Division who helped craft the United Methodist Women’s Charter for Racial Justice, died May 6 at age 88.
Elizabeth Edwards, 61, a United Methodist laywoman and the wife of former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, died Dec. 7 after a long battle with breast cancer. A public memorial service was held Dec. 11 at Edenton Street UMC in Raleigh, N.C.
Other deaths included Lina McCord, 86, a former executive at the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry who started the denomination’s Black College Fund intern program; John Procter, 91, former president and publisher of the United Methodist Publishing House; the Rev. Robert Huston, 90, top executive of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns from 1980-1990; and the Rev. Bill Carter, who led the Advance for Christ and His Church, the denomination’s designated mission-giving program, for 27 years.
Ill health forced United Methodist layman Donald Wildmon to retire as head of the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss.-based conservative group that seeks “to restore American culture to its moral foundations.”
The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino retired Oct. 15 from his post as general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM). John Lesesne, the agency’s treasurer and chief financial officer, will serve as interim top executive.
Associate editor Bill Fentum, Religion News Service and the United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.