Methodist Church

Can you spell ‘birthplace’?

NEW YORK – Scrabble, the popular word game, has a historic link to a United Methodist congregation. Among the first players of the game were members of Community United Methodist Church in the borough of Queens in New York City, according to the Rev Austin Armitstead, who served as pastor there from 1974 to 1995.

The game’s acknowledged inventor, Alfred M. Butts, had always liked anagrams and word games. In 1931, unable to find work as an architect because of the Depression, he created a word-construction game by analysing the English language. It was first called by several names, including “Criss Cross”.

The most enthusiastic player of Criss Cross was his wife, Nina, who introduced the game to her friends at Community United Methodist Church, which is in the Jackson Heights neighbourhood. She became very skilled at the game, causing her husband to reportedly remark, “She beat me at my own game.”

Butts also gave handmade game sets to other friends but he was unable to find a commercial game manufacturer interested in his invention, according to the Rev Armitstead.

Finding work as the Depression ended – Butts designed the church’s educational building, which was dedicated in 1953 – he stopped trying to license the game. But in 1948, a friend, James Brunot, who came up with the Scrabble name, volunteered to make and sell the game on a small scale.

A few years later, Macy’s Department store began carrying Scrabble and it boomed in popularity. Production was turned over to Selchow & Righter, which had previously rejected the game.

More than 100 million Scrabble sets have been sold in 29 languages. Mrs Butts remained a member of Community United Methodist Church until her death in 1979.

Butts – who died on April 4, 1993, at the age of 93 – earned royalties of about three US cents (nearly five Singapore cents) a game set for many years.

When the Rev Armitstead became the Pastor of Community Church, the women there were still Scrabble players. Butts, he said, “would stop and see me once in a while and tell me what he had done. I didn’t know him that well and didn’t realise he was such a celebrity”.

But the pastor grew to appreciate the connection to Scrabble, to the point where people started calling him “the Scrabble boy”, he added. The Rev Armitstead joined other community leaders in Jackson Heights to plan and execute a celebration of the birthplace of Scrabble.

He also was instrumental in getting the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation to recognise the contribution of Community United Methodist Church. The church’s education building now has a medallion recognising it as the historic birthplace of Scrabble. – United Methodist News Service.


Membership dips in US but rises in other nations

NASHVILLE (Tennessee) – US membership in the United Methodist Church decreased by less than 1 per cent in 2004, and worship attendance experienced a similar dip, according to a report from the denomination’s finance agency.

The number of United Methodist members in the United States decreased by 0.81 per cent, to about 8.07 million, and worship attendance was down by 0.96 per cent from 2003, according to the General Council on Finance and Administration’s report, “The State of Our Connection”.

Membership has declined annually since the formation of the denomination in 1968. During the last 10-year period, the number of members churchwide decreased by 5.48 per cent.