The global church -- January 31
Professions of faith rise
By Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service
LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (Jan. 7) —United Methodist annual conferences in the United States reported an increase in total professions of faith in 2012. That is the first increase reported in 11 years.
Preliminary figures for professions of faith show a gain from 123,986 in 2011 to 124,635 in 2012 — less than 1 percent, but still an upward trajectory.
"Clearly this is the beginning of everything that we’ve been working toward for the past couple of years," said New Jersey Area Bishop John Schol at the fall Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska. Schol has led the denomination’s Vital Congregations Initiative.
"What this really says is we’re starting to move in the right direction. Certainly, it’s not a trend. But it’s a hopeful sign for the journey ahead."
For professions of faith, churches count youths completing Confirmation and adult members who make a profession to follow Christ. The number does not include people who transfer from one church to another.
Twenty-eight of 59 U.S. annual conferences reported gains in their professions of faith to the General Council on Finance & Administration, which tracks conference statistics.
U.S. churches also reported overall increases in small groups, mission engagement, and giving to mission.
"We’re not seeing (an increase) yet in worship attendance," Schol told United Methodist News Service. "But that’s generally the last one to come."
Some bishops sounded a note of caution about the profession-of-faith numbers. Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson was among them.
She leads the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences, which both reported increases in professions of faith. But, she pointed out, the gains do not outnumber the deaths of longtime church members in her area.
She also said some aspects of church vitality cannot be measured with numbers. Churches have helped change hearts and touch lives in ways that only God knows about, she said.
Schol stressed that the increases in professions of faith are not limited to a particular region or determined by where churches fall on the theological spectrum.
Hunger-relief agency reports on year
The Society of St. Andrew is a national nonprofit ministry that each year salvages millions of pounds of excess fresh produce and distributes it to feeding programs across the country. Oklahoma United Methodist Men are among volunteer groups that have coordinated Potato Drops and gleaned peaches and watermelon for the ministry. In 2013, the Society saved and delivered 32.2 million pounds of food. A total of 36,846 volunteers joined in the work.
Religious hostilities surveyed in nations
The number of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. Sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, still feeling the effects of the 2010-11 Arab Spring. There also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the "high" category for the first time. (UMNS, Jan. 16)
UMCOR promotes Eco-Palms
Each year, Americans purchase as much as $4.5 million worth of palm leaves — mostly for church celebrations and events including Palm Sunday.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief supports the Eco-Palms program, through which harvesters are paid a fair price for quality palms. The incomes help send children to school and support community projects. Eco-Palms also are harvested in a way that protects the environment and the health of the plant.
Palm Sunday is April 13. Learn more at www.ecopalms.org.