News In Brief - June 1, 2012

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News in Brief -- June 1, 2012
Brief items for use in local church newsletters
Prepared by United Methodist News Service

June is national AIDS Education Month, and United Methodist leaders are doing their part to promote awareness and testing. A CBS television special to be aired June 17 will include an interview with a United Methodist elder who believes faith communities can lead the way in ending discrimination associated with AIDS. Bishop Peggy Johnson and district superintendents from the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference were tested for HIV/AIDS on May 23 to show church leaders are willing to do what is being asked of others. Get tested and know your status. June 27 has been set aside as national HIV Testing Day in the U.S.

Fires consumed churches in Arkansas and Minnesota in the same week. On May 27, the historic Walker Community United Methodist Church in south Minneapolis was gutted by a fire that may have been caused by a lightning strike. Five firefighters were injured in the blaze. In what may be another casualty of a lightning strike, Hickory Plains United Methodist Church north of Carlisle, Ark., was destroyed May 30. "We lost the building, but we didn't lose the church," said Hickory Plains' pastor, the Rev. Debbye Harrison.

Drinking by college students contributes to an estimated 1,825 deaths, 599,000 injuries and 97,000 cases of sexual assault each year in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. United Methodist-related Oklahoma City University has introduced a bachelor's degree program in addiction studies that it hopes will put a dent in these statistics. "The degree is designed to help combat one of our nation's most widespread and destructive problems," said Peter Messiah, director of the school's addiction-prevention efforts.

The Baltimore community is celebrating the completion of a four-year project to restore a United Methodist cemetery where some of Maryland's most prominent African-American leaders are buried. The Mount Auburn Cemetery, established in 1872 as "The City of the Dead for Colored People," was refurbished by United Methodist Men - with a lot of help from state prison inmates.

Fewer than 6 percent of United Methodist clergy are under the age of 35. One of the biggest problems facing young clergy is burnout. With these two issues in mind, the Western Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference began a mentoring program in which a retired pastor is assigned to young clergy to support and nurture them. That was five years ago. So far, the efforts of the Rev. Brian Bauknight, who came out of retirement to become a mentor, seem to be working. As one young pastor put it, the mentoring program "helped us get used to not being the Lone Ranger."

The Rev. Paul Jeffrey trained to be a United Methodist pastor, but his ministry is now more through a camera lens than from a church pulpit. Jeffrey is missionary who "uses both images and words to show how God is moving in the world to empower people who've been relegated to the margins." His award-winning portfolio comes from more than 65 countries, where he captures not only the faces of poverty but also the richness of their spirit. "I'm continually evangelized by the poor," Jeffrey says. You can see a video of his work at You can also go to his website to learn more:

The top executive of the World Council of Churches condemned Sunday's massacre in Syria as "morally and ethically unacceptable" and urged Syria's government to stop the ongoing violence against its own people. "We, as churches, cannot but condemn this inhumane act and manifest our feelings of solidarity with the families of the victims, mourning their beloved ones," said the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit in a statement released May 29 from his headquarters in Geneva.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief, the denomination's relief agency, is forming a new strategic partnership with Episcopal Relief and Development to prevent and control malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. Together, the two agencies expect to reach 21 countries where malaria is endemic. The partnership began informally in 2010, when the agencies began working together to amplify United Methodist and Anglican/Episcopal anti-malaria efforts in Africa. It has been particularly effective in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.

The West Michigan (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church has a suggestion for the perfect Father's Day gift. Instead of giving Dad another tie, how about giving ties that bind? Give a gift in his honor to Church World Service Blankets+ Program, which provides blankets, education, small-business loans and other resources to help empower fathers and encourage their families. Congregations might even consider hosting a Blanket Sunday on Father's Day, which is June 17. Interested? Go to

North Texas Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe announced in a videotaped message that he will retire effective Aug. 31, after serving only one term as a bishop. "This is where I believe God is leading me and my family," he said in his brief address. He said he and his wife hope to move closer to their families.

Churches have the opportunity to promote healthy eating habits for children, says Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. Winkler was among the 19 faith leaders attending a May 31 meeting on childhood obesity with Sam Kass, White House head chef and senior policy advisor for healthy food initiatives. "As one who has attended many a church potluck dinner where healthy food options are limited, I know that churches have a choice: We can model unhealthy or healthy eating habits," Winkler told the Presbyterian News Service. "Churches across the country engage in significant children's ministries every day, and I am happy to be able to say that many of our churches have initiated food pantries, community gardens and many other important health-related initiatives."

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