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A former stand-up comedian and bartender offers an unusual alternative to traditional church. United Methodist pastor Jerry Herships’ After Hours Denver holds worship services in bars. Herships believes that in today’s world you have to reach people where they are. This is not a new idea. Herships says, “Jesus never said, ‘If you need me, I’ll be in the temple.’ Jesus was always out in the world.” The congregation makes a commitment to community service their main focus. Thoughts? Todd HT:  MinistryMatters

During annual conference season, hundreds of United Methodist clergy around the United States expressed their willingness to defy the denomination’s ban on officiating at same-sex unions. Organizers say at least 900 active and retired United Methodist clergy have signed on to blessing such unions. That’s about 2 percent out of the nearly 44,400 United Methodist clergy in the United States. However, the raw numbers do not convey the full scope of support in some conferences. In Northern Illinois, for example, nearly a third of the conference’s clergy — 212 of 696 — signed the statement. Longtime church observers say the number of clergy who indicate they are willing to bless same-sex unions regardless of church law is a new turn in what has been a longstanding church debate. The topic of homosexuality routinely surfaces at annual conference sessions the year before General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body. Since 1972, delegates to the gathering consistently have voted to keep the language identifying the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The public stand by the clergy this year came first in the Minnesota Annual (regional) Conference, where 70 clergy signed a statement saying they would “offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage,” including same-sex couples. Similar statements were signed by clergy in at least four other conferences including the New England, Northern Illinois, Oregon-Idaho and Tennessee conferences. The unofficial caucus Methodists in New Directions is gathering signatures in the New York Conference for “A Covenant of Conscience” that declares signers will make marriage available “on an equal basis.” That effort has gathered signatures from 150 clergy and 619 lay people so far and is continuing until the group’s marriage initiative officially launches Oct. 17. “Signed statements like what happened in Minnesota do seem to be a departure from bringing in resolutions seeking change or resolutions urging that everything stay the same,” said the Rev. Robert J. Williams, the chief executive at the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History. He pointed out that the clergy are saying they will participate in the church version of civil disobedience, or as he called it, “ecclesiastical disobedience.” via More clergy offer to bless same-sex unions | Church Executive. Thoughts? Todd

A United Methodist minister acquitted Wednesday on a church charge of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual,”was sentenced Thursday to a 20-day suspension for presiding at a holy union ceremony for a lesbian couple in 2009. As part of the penalty, the Rev. Amy DeLong must work with Wisconsin church officials to craft a document that will help resolve future disputes in a more collaborative way in an effort to avoid trials. Both sides heralded the penalty and split verdict as just. “I feel good about what the church has done. I think we’ve sent a message that the United Methodist Church will not throw out its gay and lesbian people, and that it has opened the doors for a more inclusive church,” said DeLong, who has long acknowledged to church officials that she is a lesbian in a committed relationship. The Rev. Tom Lambrecht, a Wisconsin elder who served as church counsel in the trial, said the penalty recognizes that DeLong harmed the clergy covenant and that there are consequences for such actions. “I think the suspension is just the first step,” said Lambrecht, who had asked the jury to suspend DeLong indefinitely until she agreed not to officiate at same-sex unions in the future. “What’s important is Rev. DeLong’s written work that will look at ways we can resolve issues without creating that adversarial spirit and doing harm to the clergy covenant.” DeLong, 44, of Osceola, is executive director of Kairos CoMotion, a United Methodist advocacy group that promotes, among other things, greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people. She was appointed to that job by her bishop. via JSOnline. Thoughts? Todd

The church’s call to exclusion is ‘killing its soul’.  Those are the words of Dr. Joretta Marshall of Brite Divinity School talking about the upcoming trial of lesbian pastor Rev. Amy DeLong in the United Methodist Church. Watch this: The soul of the church is what’s at stake, according to Marshall. The soul of the church deserves to be set free. Thoughts?

Current Events
Thirty-three of the United Methodist Church’s 85 retired bishops have signed a statement asking the church to reconsider its policy banning gays and lesbians from becoming ministers. Retired bishop Don Ott wrote and distributed the statement along with retired bishop Sharon Rader. Ott said the idea came after he and Rader talked about having been troubled for a number of years by the policy. Ott said the denomination has lost the talents of gays and lesbians who had the gift for ministry but could not serve. He has also seen straight church leaders and seminarians who have left the denomination because their consciences would not allow them to support the policy. Ott hopes the statement that was released last week engages the church on the issue and influences next year’s General Conference, the denomination’s lawmaking body. via Some retired Methodist bishops seek policy change on gay pastors. Thoughts?

So… how are the denominations doing these days?  Not so well.  Here is the top ten of denominations in the United States as reported by the new 2010 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, as well as their increase of decrease over the past year. 1. The Catholic Church: 68.1 million, up 1.49 percent. 2. Southern Baptist Convention: 16.2 million, down 0.24 percent. 3. The United Methodist Church: 7.8 million (U.S.), down 0.98 percent. 4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 5.9 million (U.S.), up 1.71 percent. 5. The Church of God in Christ: 5.5 million, no change. 6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc: 5 million, no change. 7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 4.6 million, down 1.62 percent. 8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.: 3.5 million, no change. 9. Assemblies of God: 2.9 million, up 1.27 percent. 10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); 2.8 million, down 3.28 percent. More here… Any thoughts? Todd

According to M. Garlinda Burton, the top executive of the United Methodist Commission on the status and Role of Women (in the current issue of Church Executive Magazine), the UM church has made some strides in the area of sexuality, but still has a very long way to go. A survey of some 6,000 United Methodists shows some startling results:
  1. Half of all laywomen and one-third of laymen witness or are victims of some degree of sexual harassment or misconduct in their congregations, from inappropriate comments by the pastor or laity in leadership to physical assault and stalking.
  2. 77 percent of United Methodist clergywomen and 50 percent of clergymen say laity have violated their boundaries through unwanted sexual behavior or comment.
  3. Half the people who make sexual misconduct complaints at the local church level say the pastor or laity in leadership routinely “trivialize” their concern
According to Burton, the good news is that the church as a whole is becoming more aware, more vigilant and better equipped to “prevent, address and bring justice in cases of misconduct and malfeasance of a sexual nature.” You can read the whole article here at Church Executive. On result #1:  This is pretty sad.  50% of women, according to their survey, have described some type of sexual misconduct?  And 33% of MEN?  That’s horribly high, isn’t it? On result #2:  Well, this seems to maybe help back up #1, huh?  77% of women UM pastors admit they have violated their boundaries?  (Yes the percent in number one is lower?)  Why are the percentages higher for women pastors?  I, for one, would have expected the mail pastor’s percentage to be higher in the sexual area. On result #3:  This I totally believe.  I think many in church leadership are not equipped to handle any type of conflict… ESPECIALLY sexual misconduct.  Trivialization and ignoring the problem would run fairly high in churches, I would guess. So… what’s your take on this survey.  Have these percentages seemed to be about right in the churches/denominations that you’ve been involved with?  Why or why not? Todd

According to  In a bow to the growing diversity of America’s religious landscape, the Claremont School of Theology, a Christian institution with long ties to the Methodist Church, will add clerical training for Muslims and Jews to its curriculum this fall, to become, in a sense, the first truly multi-faith American seminary. The transition upends centuries of tradition in which seminaries have hewn not just to single faiths but often to single denominations within those faiths. Eventually, Claremont hopes to add clerical programs for Buddhists and Hindus. Huh? Why? Is it a money thing to keep the ‘seminary’ alive? Is it a politically correct thing? Where is the United Methodist Church in all of this?  (According to Wikipedia, Claremont is one of 13 approved seminaries affiliated with the United Methodist Church… Claremont’s website seems to back that up). Here’s what the Claremont website says about the change:

Affiliated with The United Methodist Church, Claremont School of Theology has a long history of educating religious leaders. Founded in 1885, the School embraced an ecumenical vision upon its move to Claremont, California, in 1957. Today, it is making a similar adjustment of vision, to meet the cultural and religious demands of a world in transition.

While maintaining a strong School of Theology to prepare Christian ministers, Claremont is developing other schools to prepare teachers, counselors, scholars and community leaders for the interreligious realities of the 21st Century. We call this plan the University Project.

Also from the Claremont website:

We envision a model of theological education in which students are educated rigorously and intensively in their own religious traditions and in contact with the other religious traditions that are thriving throughout our society.  We aim to instill our students with a strong sense of their own religious identities and the integrity of the religious traditions that they represent, while simultaneously teaching them to recognize the legitimacy and integrity of the other religious traditions which they will encounter at Claremont and the world beyond.

According to Jerry Campbell, President of the school:

Some times, change seems glacial in its pace.  And at others, it hits like an avalanche.  Today, I am invigorated by the rush of change coming to Claremont, and we’re running as fast as we can to keep one step ahead of it all!

Your thoughts? Todd

Current Events
I know some people who really love John Wesley, but not enough to literally steal hand-written letters of Wesley from the United Methodist Archives and sell them overseas for big money. That’s what William John Scott is accused of.  When police searched his room they also found letters from Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, William McKinley, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. You can read the article here.