Methodist Church

UK Methodist Church won’t bless same-sex marriages

EDINBURGH – The Methodist Church in Britain will not formally bless same-sex Civil Partnerships although ministers will be allowed to offer informal, private prayers to couples.

It voted on the report on “Pilgrimage of Faith”, the Church’s ongoing discussion about human sexuality, during the June 23-29 British Methodist Conference in Edinburgh. It was the first time that the British Methodist policy-making body has ever held its conference in Scotland. More than 400 delegates were present.

After a long and careful debate carried out in a respectful atmosphere, the Methodist Conference confirmed the statement of good practice issued by the Methodist Council last December.

While Methodist ministers may say private prayers with a couple in a Civil Partnership, the Church will not authorise a liturgy for blessing Civil Partnerships, and Methodist premises cannot be used for any prayers for Civil Partnerships.

“As Christians we are naturally keen to mark all of the key moments of life with prayer,” said the Rev Jonathan Kerry, a member of the working party and Methodist Co-ordinating Secretary for Worship and Learning.

“But earlier Conference resolutions make it clear that we cannot as a Church offer formal blessings for same-sex partnerships. This is a difficult subject, but we are glad that the debate has been conducted in a supportive and respectful atmosphere.”

The Methodist Conference also passed a resolution confirming that there is no reason why a Methodist cannot enter into a Civil Partnership. But it reaffirmed the Church’s traditional teaching that marriage can only take place between a woman and a man, and its requirement that Methodists remain faithful within marriage and celibate without.
– Methodist Church House, London.

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US United Methodist membership dips below 8 million

NEW YORK – For the first time since the 1930s, the US membership of the United Methodist Church has dropped to just under 8 million.

A preliminary report from the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration, released recently, shows that total US membership dropped to 7,989,875 in 2005. The final statistical report will be completed soon.

Membership decreased 1.05 per cent in 2005. A council report released in April this year, “The State of Our Connection,” noted that US membership had decreased by 0.81 per cent, to about 8.07 million in 2004. Membership had declined annually since the formation of the denomination in 1968.

Church attendance in 2005 was 3.34 million, the lowest level in reported history, according to the council. Attendance had decreased by 1.63 per cent from 2004 to 2005.

The trend is different for membership outside the United States. According to information released by the council in April, lay membership in the central conferences – regions of the church in Africa, Asia and Europe – increased more than 68 per cent between 1995 and 2004. As at 2004, the non-US membership stood at 1.88 million.

Bishop Scott Jones of Wichita, Kansas, said that the council already has significant initiatives under way to reverse the membership decline.

A major emphasis has been placed on starting new congregations in the US, allocating resources at both the annual conference and national levels, he said. Pastors and district superintendents also are being trained “to strengthen our existing churches”.

Outreach to Hispanics and immigrant groups in America is a focus, and the Council of Bishops recently held a summit on new church starts for general agency and some conference church development staff members.

In 2007, a convocation for district superintendents, lay leaders, conference staff and bishops is planned “to focus on how we can make disciples of Jesus Christ and improve our efforts at strengthening local congregations”, Bishop Jones said. – United Methodist News Service.

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Liberian President, Bush to address 2008 UMC General Conference

TAMPA (Florida) – The Commission on the General Conference is inviting the President of the United States and the President of Liberia – both United Methodists – to address the denomination’s 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Rev Gail Murphy-Geiss, Chairman of the commission, said: “It would be fitting to hear from President Bush as we are meeting in his native Texas. President Johnson-Sirleaf is an extraordinary woman leading the effort to rebuild a country ravaged by war.”

The 2008 General Conference will meet from April 23 to May 2. About 1,000 delegates from the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia meet every four years to decide issues of church law and polity.

President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are members of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, where both taught Sunday school before his election. He is the third Methodist to serve as US president. The others were William McKinley (1897-1901) and Rutherford Hayes (1877-1881). Ms Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is an active member of First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Liberia. The United Methodist Church has been active in Liberia since 1822 and is the largest Protestant denomination in the West African nation. – United Methodist News Service.

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