By Heather Hahn*
In 2013, The United Methodist Church experienced important transitions in its leadership as well as widely recognized milestones in the life of the denomination and individual United Methodists.
Here is an overview of the year’s landmarks.
General agency leadership changes
This year, seven of the denomination’s 12 general church agencies experienced or announced changes in their top leadership.
Dawn Wiggins Hare, an active United Methodist laywoman and former Alabama circuit court judge, in January started work as the top executive of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Hare succeeded M. Garlinda Burton, who retired in December 2012 after leading the agency for 10 years.
The Rev. Karen Greenwaldt will retire Dec. 31 after 13 years at the helm of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. The Rev. Timothy L. Bias, senior pastor of the multi-campus Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, will become the next top executive on Jan. 15.
Jim Winkler, who has earned both praise and criticism in advocating the church’s social positions, will depart on Dec. 31 as the top executive for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the Chapel and Religious Life at Emory University in Atlanta, will succeed Winkler early next year. Winkler will become the top executive of the National Council of Churches on Jan. 1.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief, part of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, saw a changing of the guard this year. The Rev. Denise Honeycutt, a Virginia Annual (regional) Conference pastor and former missionary, on Sept. 16 became the head of the relief and disaster-response agency. She followed Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, who now leads the Louisiana Conference. Gregory A. Forrester of the Upper New York Conference started leading the UMCOR’s U.S. disaster response May 1. He succeeded the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, who is now the director of connectional ministries in the Memphis Conference.
The General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination’s finance agency, announced that 18 staff members — out of about 70 — are part of voluntary separation program as part of an agency reorganization. Among those slated to leave in the coming months are John Goolsbey, deputy general secretary for administration; Peggy Sewell, assistant general secretary for episcopal services; Brent Smith, chief financial officer, and the Rev. Pat Youngquist, director of church administrative resources.
Two church agencies this year also announced the planned retirements of their leaders. The Rev. Robert Williams has said he will retire as top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History no later than July 1 next year. Neil Alexander, president and publisher of the United Methodist Publishing House, announced he would retire by or just after the May 2016 General Conference.
Seminary leadership changes
United Methodist seminaries also saw transition in leadership.
Claremont School of Theology in California chose Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan as president. He replaced Jerry Campbell, who retired at the end of June. Kuan had been dean at Drew Theological Seminary, in Madison, N.J., and Drew tapped Virginia Samuel as interim dean. She has most recently been associate dean for contextual education at Drew.
Philip Amerson announced that he would retire at the end of this year as president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. Trustees chose Lallene J. Rector, the school’s vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, to replace him. She’ll be the first woman and first layperson to lead Garrett-Evangelical.
Thanks to the generosity of United Methodists around the world, the denomination made great strides in its fight against malaria and its support for sharing God’s grace around the world.
In November, Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton told the Council of Bishops that the Imagine No Malaria campaign was nearing $60 million in its goal to eradicate the disease in Africa. The United Methodist Church hopes to raise $75 million for the effort by 2015.“The vast majority of the money we have raised has come from the people of The United Methodist Church who sit in our pews every Sunday,” he said. “We are ready to eclipse the $60 million mark because of the grassroots efforts.”
The denomination on Dec. 3 committed to fulfilling its $28 million pledge to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The denomination’s contributions to the Global Fund come out of the funds it is already raising for Imagine No Malaria and will be designated for the malaria fight. The Global Fund draws together leaders from national governments around the globe and large private donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to combat the diseases of poverty. “The Global Fund through its scope and scale saves 100,000 lives every day. United Methodists have joined this partnership by working with the Global Fund on the ground, identifying nations where we can work together,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, the top executive of United Methodist Communications, which includes United Methodist News Service.
Also on Dec. 3, the first-ever United Methodist #GivingTuesday generated a record $6.5 million during a 24-hour online giving period for United Methodist missions. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which matched the first $500,000 received, reported that nearly 11,000 donors in 34 countries gave more than 16,300 gifts through The Advance to mission and ministries. The agency’s previous one-day online giving record was $492,882 set on Jan. 14, 2010, shortly after the Haiti earthquake.
Boy Scout membership changes
United Methodists had good reason to pay attention when Boy Scouts of America leaders voted in May to lift the organization’s longstanding ban on openly gay youth members. The United Methodist Church is second only to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the number of congregations that host Boy Scouts of America groups. The United Methodist Church hosts more Cub Scout packs than any other religious group. Altogether, some 6,700 United Methodist churches in the United States sponsor Scouting groups.
But in changing the membership rules, the group did not change its standards for Scouts’ behavior including its prohibition against any sexual conduct. Larry Coppock, United Methodist Men’s national director of Scouting ministries, said the change in practical terms has not affected troop operations.
Coppock does not have any exact figures. But anecdotally, he said, he has heard about more United Methodist churches choosing to welcome new Scouting troops and packs than those dropping Scouting groups as a result of the decision. Many of the new United Methodist-sponsored troops had seen their previous charters discontinued in protest of the Boy Scouts of America vote.
Transition for two United Methodist institutions
This year saw heart-wrenching changes to two longtime United Methodist institutions — both felt the impact of increasing reliance on the Internet for shopping and news.
In April, the United Methodist Publishing House closed the last of its 57 brick-and-mortar Cokesbury stores. The closures affected about 285 full-time and part-time employees. Cokesbury continues to reach customers online and with Cokesbury resource consultants across the United States.
In May, UMR Communications voted because of mounting financial losses to shutter its operations, laying off 26 people and ending the printing of the United Methodist Reporter newspaper that had covered Methodism since 1847. In June, the United Methodist Reporter got new life as an online-only publication run by CircuitWriter Media LLC.
New ecumenical office
After a denominational vote by the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, the formerly independent Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns has become an office on ecumenical and interfaith ministries lodged within the United Methodist Council of Bishops. The new Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, which began Jan. 1, aims to “strengthen and enhance” the denomination’s efforts toward the unity of Christ’s church.
New structure and new leaders for Council of Bishops
The Council of Bishops began the year with new leadership teams that the council approved just before the 2012 General Conference. The active bishops also met for their first annual forum, which largely was closed to the news media.
On Nov. 13, bishops elected their officers. Most will take on their new roles starting next year. Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., who leads the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference, will be the next president of the Council of Bishops. The bishops also elected Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough as the president-designate and Louisiana Area Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey as secretary.
United Methodists in the news
United Methodists from varied walks of life saw their accomplishments gain recognition and make U.S. headlines.
Doug McNeil and Jesse Salem — both members of Los Gatos United Methodist Church in California’s Silicon Valley — were honored April 5 at the White House for founding Lighting for Literacy. The program is a partnership between the church and Los Gatos Morning Rotary. It brings together youth and solar energy to address a real need — illuminating the night for people in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula who lack electricity.
The dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in April was — to no small degree — a United Methodist event. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are active United Methodists. They chose to put the facility at Southern Methodist University, a United Methodist school and Laura Bush’s alma mater. And their pastor at the time, the Rev. Mark Craig of Highland Park United Methodist Church, delivered a prayer. Bush later in 2013 credited his presidential run in part to a sermon by Craig, who is now retired.
Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, in June honored a group of Mississippi United Methodist ministers who stood against discrimination in 1963 after unrest during the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. The Rev. Maxie Dunnam, retired president of Asbury Theological Seminary, was one of those clergy and recounted the background of the “Born of Conviction” statement he helped writ
James B. Comey Jr., a former United Methodist Sunday school teacher in Virginia and now a member of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, in July was confirmed as the seventh director of the FBI.
Shaun Casey, a United Methodist professor of Christian ethics, in August took on a newly created position at the U.S. State Department. Casey, who previously taught at United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary, is now a special adviser who leads the new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives. His job is to reach out to religious groups around the world.
Edith Lee-Payne, a United Methodist who at 12 was featured in a famous photo of the 1963 March on Washington, returned to Washington on her 62nd birthday along with her granddaughters for the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Richard Lugar and the late Daniel Inouye — lifelong United Methodists and former U.S. senators — were among the 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President Barack Obama in a Nov. 20 ceremony at the White House.
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.