News Briefs
July - August 2002

Intergenerational programs receive award

Phoebe Home, a UCC-related nursing home in Allentown, Pa., has received the 2002 Distinguished Service Award for "Innovator of the Year" for its intergenerational programs from the Pennsylvania Association of Non-Profit Homes for the Aging. The home has formed partnerships with a local elementary school and several local day cares and preschools. Public areas at the home have children's sections and a little red wagon in which children can ride to visit relatives. A record 52 young people participated in Phoebe's summer youth volunteer program last year. There also is an intergenerational Brownie troop, Camp Phoebe, Fun Days for parents with scheduling problems and Snow Buddies for children of employees on snow days.

Mark September 11 with interfaith open houses, urges NCC

The National Council of Churches is urging Christian congregations to hold interfaith open houses on or around Sept. 11, 2002, thus commemorating the first anniversary of the attacks by extending hospitality to their Muslim neighbors. After the September 11 attacks, hundreds of Islamic centers and mosques across the United States held open houses, inviting their neighbors of other faiths in to grieve together and build bridges of understanding.

"For many Christians, it was their first occasion to enter a mosque and talk with a Muslim," says the Rev. Jay Rock of the NCC. "Muslims for their part wanted their neighbors of other faiths to understand who they really were—not terrorists, but peace-loving, PTA-going, regular Americans who came here from all parts of the world." For resources, go to  www.ncccusa.org/interfaith/openhouse-intro.html.

2004 Olympics truce gaining support

More than 100 church and government leaders have signed a formal appeal for a world-wide truce during the next Olympic Games, scheduled for Athens in 2004. Six Orthodox patriarchs have joined a growing list of religious and political leaders appealing for a global suspension of wars during the games. Promoted by the International Olympic Truce Centre, established last fall by the International Olympic Committee and the Greek government, the appeal has gained the support from Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Christodoulos of Greece and political leaders in China, Iran, Ukraine, Germany and the former Yugoslavia. In ancient Greece, similar truces enabled athletes and spectators to travel unhindered to the games.

Three death penalty decisions make news

In May, Governor Parris Glendening issued an executive order enacting a moratorium on all executions in the State of Maryland, pending completion of his study of racial bias now in progress at the University of Maryland. More than 2,000 national and local groups, municipalities and faith communities have called for a moratorium on executions. Among those are 72 local governments, including Philadelphia, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Atlanta, Tallahassee, Nashville and Detroit. (For a complete list, call 301-699-0042 or see the National Tally at  www.quixote.org/ej.)

In June, by votes respectively of 6-3 and 7-2, the Supreme Court barred the death penalty for mentally retarded defendants and ruled that the death penalty is up to juries, not judges. Currently about 3,700 persons are on death rows in the United States. For more death penalty information, visit www.deathpenaltyinfo.org.

New U.S. Catholic guidelines criticized

Despite having adopted new guidelines at an unprecedented meeting in Dallas, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops continue to face criticism from those who say the long-awaited guidelines do not go far enough. The new guidelines would ban a priest from ministry who has sexually abused a minor, but would not defrock him. The guidelines also do not address what many Catholic laity say is at the heart of the scandal, the way too many bishops have passed problem clergy along to other settings rather than dealing with them at the time.

Sacred Trusts Conference set for National Cathedral

Those who care for older and historic houses of worship will gather Oct. 24-26 in Washington, D.C., for a Sacred Trusts conference. Sponsored by Partners for Sacred Places, the conference's educational sessions will include fund raising, repair and maintenance, community outreach and best practices. Speakers include Jim Towney, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and the Rev. James Wind, President of the Alban Institute. Registration before Aug. 31 is $275. For information and registration forms, go to www.sacredplaces.org or phone 215-567-3234.

Ex-Klansman convicted in 1963 church murder

(ENI)—A predominately white jury has convicted a former Ku Klux Klan member for the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four young black girls. The May 22 conviction of Bobby Frank Cherry, 71, marked the conclusion of a long battle by black clergy to convict a group of former Klansmen of one of the most notorious crimes committed at the time of the 1960s civil rights struggle. The bombing stunned the world and often has been cited as a landmark in demonstrating the depth of hatred and racism that existed at the time—and in eventually galvanizing public support for federal civil rights legislation.

Coalition receives foundation grant

The UCC Coalition for Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Concerns has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the Gill Foundation, a nonprofit, philanthropic organization. The foundation's goal is to secure equal opportunity for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. With an endowment of approximately $260 million, the Gill Foundation awards grants three times a year. For information call 303-292-4455 or go to www.gillfoundation.org.

Dutch Mennonites to register conscientious objectors

(ENI)—The Mennonite Church in the Netherlands is planning to set up a national register of Dutch conscientious objectors to protect the interests of pacifists in time of war. Inclusion in the register will be open to all those who refuse to serve in the armed forces because of their pacifist convictions. The Mennonite Church says the register is needed because the law on military service has changed and no longer allows for objection to war on moral grounds.

Presbyterians join Taco Bell boycott

At the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), held in Columbus, Ohio, in June, delegates approved, by a vote of 297 to 176 with 21 abstentions, a resolution calling on Presbyterians to support a national boycott of Taco Bell restaurants and products. The boycott will last until tomato growers and Taco Bell agree to negotiate with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers about working and living conditions. In 2000, the UCC's General Synod 23 voted a similar resolution.

Ordination vow questioned

When the state of Massachusetts passed legislation requiring clergy members to report knowledge or suspicions of child abuse to legal authorities, it joined 30 other states in mandating a reporting function for clergy.

The Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, Massachusetts Conference Minister, played a key role in getting the legislation passed. Now she is raising questions about an ordination vow in the UCC Book of Worship in which ordinands promise they will "keep silent all confidences" shared with them.

"This vow contradicts the new Massachusetts law...," she says. "Equally important, the vow no longer represents the ethical convictions of many clergy."

She and the Massachusetts Area Ministers are suggesting that the vow be changed to "honor all confidences shared with you," rather than "keep silent"—until a larger conversation can be convened throughout the UCC.

The Pilgrim Press wins 5 awards

This spring, The Pilgrim Press books won five national awards, one from the Publisher's Marketing Association (PMA), two from ForeWord magazine (a magazine for editors), and two from the Lambda Foundation. Lambda Literary Awards (Lammies) are the most prestigious awards given in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered) community.

"Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach" by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott won a PMA Benjamin Franklin Award in the gay/lesbian category. "Omnigender" also won a Lambda Literary Award in the transgender/bisexual category.

"Our Daughter Martha: A Family Struggles with Coming Out" by Marcy Clements Henrikson won ForeWord magazine's "Book of the Year" award in the gay/lesbian category.

"Sacred Journey: Spiritual Wisdom for Times of Transition" by Mike Riddell won a ForeWord "Book of the Year" award in the spirituality category.

"Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible," edited by Ken Stone, also won a Lammy in the religion/spirituality category.

Health care plan changes coming next year

In an effort to provide the highest quality coverage at the most affordable cost, the UCC Health Benefits Plan will likely undergo significant changes in 2003 with a major restructure anticipated in 2004.

This was the word from a meeting in May of the Pension Boards' newly-expanded Health Advisory Committee. The meeting was "a direct response" to concerns raised last year in the two health care conversations convened by the Pension Boards and the Council of Conference Ministers (CCM), according to PB Executive Vice President Michael A. Downs.

Downs noted that the UCC Health Benefits Plan provides comprehensive coverage to approximately 12,000 ministers, lay employees, retirees and their families.

"The average age of participants in the Health Benefits Plan is 51," he said, "and the average age of participants in the prescription drug plan is 54."

Participation in the plan declined by 17 percent between 1991 and 2001. A total of 4,105, or 69 percent, of UCC churches do not participate.

The new 13-member Health Advisory Committee includes representatives from the CCM, the national setting, Council for Health and Human Services Ministries, Medicare-eligible retirees, health care professionals, and PB trustees and staff.

The committee will meet next in August. Health care plan changes for 2003 will be announced in early September.

Send news items c/o United Church News, fax 216-736-2223, email  goldere@ucc.org.

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