Headlines Learning Posts

The "Learning" section of our Headlines page keeps growing and growing! It's all interesting and relevant news, but we've decided to start moving older articles into this post. 

United Methodism Around the World

United Methodism is a global
denomination! Here are a few stories about Methodists at home and a

West Virginia (Topic: Hidden Figures movie)
Philippines (Topic: Human Sexuality)
Nigeria (Topic: Refugees)

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Update

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty has released its 2016 Annual Report. 

God Sightings include: Decline to only 1 execution in Missouri in 2016. This is a significant decline from the 6 executions that took place in 2015, and the ten that took place in 2014. No new death sentences handed down in Missouri in 2016. This is the third consecutive year without a new death sentence in Missouri.  

As Sister Helen Prejean has said, "A person is more than the worst thing he or she has ever done.  God loves all human beings and endows them with dignity and worth..."

Standing Rock Sioux to fight Trump’s pipeline order

Read how UMC pastors and laypersons are standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux protesters. See updates on the protest here. 

UMC Efforts to End Violence in the Congo

Read how UMC leaders in Africa are responding to the ethnic violence in the Congo that has killed, injured and/or displaced thousands. 

Bridge Bread Featured on St. Louis On The Air

Bridge Bread, a local UMC ministry, was recently featured on the local NPR show, St. Louis on the Air. Bridge Bread employs homeless and housing-insecure people, giving them an income and professional skills they can use to improve their lives. Listen to the podcast on the show page or on itunes

Mass Incarceration is a Civil Rights Issue

The "School to Prison Pipeline" results in an astounding mass incarceration of people of color in the U.S. Read this article to find out what the UMC has to say about the issue and how you can help.

Faith and Race Podcast

Season 2 of the Faith and Race Podcast is available on iTunes. Listen to interviews with African-American Methodists from Missouri to explore the intersections of history, scripture, faith, race, and justice.

13th Documentary 

Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th is available on Netflix. It follows the progression of the 13th Amendment as it has lead to mass criminalization and mass incarceration of our current prison industrial complex. It is an extraordinary look at a part of our country's history and present that many of us would rather forget.

UMC Response to Immigration

During our recent Sermon on the Mount series, a few congregants asked about how the UMC is responding to recent immigration policies and issues. We've gathered together several articles that help shed light on this crisis and how we as Christians and Methodists are called to respond.

1. Commentary: An Executive Order with Memory
Rev. Mark Nakagawa reflects on how the recent Executive Order is reminiscent of the Japanese internment during WWII. This article is especially poignant for us because a late member of UUMC, Mimi Durham (Bull Durham's mother), was interned during WWII. She later helped to establish the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

2. United Methodist Universities Join Amicus Brief Against Immigration Orders
Although this article is about action against the first executive order, the points raised here are still relevant.

3. Immigration officials detain United Methodist leader
Recent detentions hit close to home for this United Methodist.

4. Statement on Current Immigration Raids
The official UMC General Board of Church and Society statement about immigration raids and our beliefs as Methodists. 



Who are the poor in spirit? Who are the meek?

From the #140characters response cards:

  • "What does 'poor in spirit' really mean? Does it actually = meek?"
  • "What is the meaning of 'meek,' and how does one be meek in this time?"
  • "Pastor Diane-- what are the meanings of 'poor in spirit'? Does this mean the depressed? 'Blessed'-- what does this mean, imply, explain, signify?"

My not-so-secret social justice self prefers Luke's version of Jesus' teaching: "Blessed are you who are poor" (Luke 6:20). Blessed are the poor. Full stop. Jesus goes on to say, "Woe to you who are rich" (Luke 6:24). This teaching is clear, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Jesus blesses people without financial resources. We can even claim that Jesus has a "preferential option for the poor" --- that God cannot be impartial because the justice of God demands taking the side of the oppressed against their oppressors.

Matthew's gospel softens the radical economics of Luke/Acts. Rather than financial poverty, Matthew emphasizes spiritual poverty: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5, NRSV). So what is this spiritual poverty? Other translations of "poor in spirit" include "humble" (CEB), "meek" (KJV), "free of pride" (NIRV), "gentle" (NASB), and "kind-hearted, sweet-spirited, self-controlled" (AMP). The Message paraphrase offers, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought" (MSG).

My modern twist would be: "Blessed are those who check their privilege. Blessed are those who have no privilege to check." 

To be poor in spirit is to be humble in your humanity and confident in your Creator. Acknowledge the pride and privilege that separate you from others. Confess, repent, and work to lift up others. But don't allow a false sense of "unworthiness" to separate you from the God who created you, called you "good," and is bringing you into the New Creation. 

Humility does not mean abasing or debasing yourself. Humility (from "humus," earth) is being fully grounded in who you are and whose you are. We're children of God, made from dirt and yet made in God's image.

When we're meek, we see ourselves as God sees us --- no more, no less. We acknowledge our sin and give thanks for the grace that doesn't leave us there. To be poor in spirit is to walk through the world acknowledging the reality that we're simultaneously sinner and saint -- and that everyone else is, too.We begin to see all people with the radiant light of God. We're equal under the cross. In the words of Joe Biden's father, "No one’s better than you, but you're better than nobody." 

So know who you are. Root yourself in God's love. And encourage everyone else to discover and declare their own worthiness. Those of the earth are blessed to inherit the earth. 


Cindy Finkenkeller's Godsighting

Good morning!

I would like to tell you about my Godsighting, which is about gratitude and has two parts.

The first part is the many consistent supporters and the devoted volunteers from UUMC who staff the expanded Open Door Ministry on Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. People in need each can take two full bags of groceries per month, toiletries, up to four bus passes per adult, socks, gloves, hats and personal hygiene kits. The church buys the bus passes, but everything else is donated. On Dec. 21st, we had nine adults and five children come through the building. All of the adults shopped carefully and filled their bags to overflowing with food. The need is great and ongoing. I find it inspiring that UUMC is trying to work on complicated issues like hunger and poverty, week in and week out.

In case you have not seen one, this is a personal hygiene kit. This Ziploc gallon bag has a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a sturdy comb, a small bottle of shampoo, a deodorant stick and a packet of tissue. These items are not covered by foot stamps and are prized. It costs between 12 and 15 dollars to make one personal hygiene kit, depending on the size of the items. On average, UUMC gives out about 25 personal hygiene kits per month, which costs about $300 to $375 per month. That is a big financial commitment for this church, and I appreciate every donation.

The second part of my Godsighting is about the gratitude of small children. In October, a family came to the Open Door ministry shortly before 4 p.m. The extended family had three children, 5 and under. The children played quietly with toys in a corner of the Fellowship Hall near the back entrance to Rev. Diane’s office while their parents thoughtfully made food choices to stretch the donations as far as possible. When the parents were finished and told the children that it was time to go, the 5-year-old knocked on Rev. Diane’s door and asked where she should put the toys away! I was impressed that a 5-year old would be this responsible and considerate, especially in a new environment.

Please continue to donate to our food pantry and its many parts, especially in the winter months. It makes a difference to many. Thank you.

Witnessing Whiteness: Joyce King

White privilege? Not me – I grew up in rural poverty, the child of a parent with an eighth grade education. No way am I privileged. Racist? Not me – I had a black fiancé in St. Louis in the 1980’s and have several mixed race great nieces and nephews today. How wrong this perspective was. Through Witnessing Whiteness I learned that we ALL are part of the problem of race in this country and we all CAN be part of the solution.

Witnessing Whiteness is a YWCA led workshop. Approximately six UUM folks joined a large group of our neighbors at Bais Abraham, meeting on Sunday evenings for ten weeks beginning last fall. I was particularly struck by how many older Jewish congregants participated, some in their seventies or eighties, and how they were still committed to learning and making a difference in our local community. One particularly bitterly cold, snowy evening, one of the eldest among us asked if anyone who lived west of 270 could take her home because her husband had refused to return to U-City in the elements to fetch her. Her dedication to these at times, difficult conversations and self-reflection really spoke to me.

Next, I’d like to read an excerpt from Shelly Tochluk’s book Witnessing Whiteness, to help you understand what this is really all about. "White people in general are not known for questioning (1) how we receive unearned privilege in our daily lives and (2) how whiteness marks our environments…people need to be clear that when we can witness the whiteness present in our surroundings, we let people know that we can be part of conversations that most white people generally avoid, defend against, or deny. In some ways, our ability to witness white privilege may offer validation for the experiences of the people of color in our lives. At other times, our increased vision may help to build trust, connection, and mutual sharing. In either case, when white privilege can be named and discussed as a real factor affecting people’s lives, the doorway opens for an entirely new ability to relate."

For a revealing glimpse of white privilege in St. Louis, please see Amy Hunter’s Ted Talk, Lucky Zip Codes.


Welcome, Elizabeth Coker!

We are thrilled to introduce you to our new Communications and Office Manager, Elizabeth Coker. After orientation this week, Elizabeth will begin officially on October 1st. Read a message from her below!

I'm excited to join the staff of University UMC as the Communications and Office Manager. I recently served at Manchester UMC for two years, working as a lay minister and writer. Before MUMC, I was an English/ Humanities professor for 11 years, most recently at Lindenwood University. A few years ago, I realized that although I loved teaching, my true calling was working and serving in the church. I love being part of a community of faith and using my gifts to serve God and others. 

I grew up in the St. Louis area and came back here (after several years in Texas) to raise my children. I am blessed with two sons, Jonathan and Lucas, who are both in grade school. In my spare time, I enjoy freelance writing, getting outside to run, walk, or bike, reading, listening to music, and enjoying St. Louis' fantastic art museums. 

My favorite Bible verse is Micah 6:8: "He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God." That verse guided me as a professor and continues to guide me today on my faith journey. I'm pleased and humbled to share that journey with you.

Witnessing Whiteness: Tom Mitchell's Journey

This post is written by Tom Mitchell, the Discipleship Ministry Team Leader.

Racism is a giant issue for the United States.  I have known that for a very long time, with a heart yearning for movement forward, with volunteering in many capacities of assistance to its victims, and always with the comfort of being able to pull back into my nice, almost all white neighborhood and circles.  And occasionally participating in well-intentioned inter-racial dialog that seemed to create more heat than light.
So, why plunge into Witnessing Whiteness, nine challenging sessions with a small, all-white group, facilitated by white leaders trained through the YWCA?   I knew this would be a time of deep inward looking at our country, our community and myself.  It would not be, and was not comfortable.  But, it was a safe space in which to learn, share and support one another.
Why an all-white group?  It seemed as if this was backwards.  I see two very good reasons for doing it this way:
1.    It is a simple justice matter that white people would do their own home work -- to dig into the dung heaps of racism and come to new insights, rather than the usual asking of those who are oppressed to do the work of educating us.
2.   To penetrate deeply into the realities of our country, community and our own lives and inner feelings is difficult, and is best done in a safe, confidential environment in the beginning.
This initial process will be in vain unless there are further steps, which will demand interaction with people of color.

It was difficult to want to attend and do the reading, as most of us felt as if we were being beat up on, session after session.  Not by the facilitators, who were skilled and  delightful, but by the subject matter and getting rubbed in the face with the dreadful realities of racism in our country.
So, my issue is whether I came out of it not just wiser, but in a better position to be a positive force.  Session 7 finally began to feel partially helpful in building up my strength and drive to move forward personally.  Sessions 8 and 9 fortunately turned toward how to proceed further in this journey, with practical suggestions, and an orderly process for development of personal social justice ministry.
The title of the book implies a hope that we will become better witnesses of our white culture, our racism, and be ready to verbalize this actively in appropriate situations.  I have felt some progress on this already.  However, this class, by itself, did not get us to the point of being well prepared for activism, though it helped.

My first steps:
1. I was referred to A People's History of the United States, and Birth of a White Nation for further reading. Witnessing Whiteness training focused mostly at a psychological level, and is lighter on learning about our history than makes me comfortable in discussing the issues beyond our safe space.  
Birth of a White Nation, a concise book, covers racial developments from early colonial times through the end of the 19th century, focusing on how and why oppressive systems were set up.

I highly reccommend Howard Zinn's Peoples History of the United States.  It is long, but lively, presenting what has been left out of our history books. He covers from Columbus through the middle of the 20th century in detail. Not pretty, but very important to know.
2. Using Witnessing Whiteness as a jumping off point for more justice involvement.  First, a new practice of responding firmly, calmly and knowledgable to racist remarks (be they explicit or implied).  Not ducking it.  

3. Next this needs to go beyond talk. I do not have discernment presently as to what that would be.  Witnessing Whiteness does offer a structured suggested path for moving on. 
Our interchange with Bais Abraham and All Saints people in our group was very positive.  Bats Abraham has come alive for me as real people well engaged in faith and justice work.
YWCA is planning new rounds of Witnessing Whiteness groups.  I encourage you to take the plunge!

Write here...

U City Microcredit Club

The UCity micro-credit club met virtually on July 15 and made 9 loans, totaling $700, as follows:

Marta Alicia, age 55, is a single mother and lives in her own home in El Salvador with her family.  She has been selling cashew nuts at different markets near her home for 16 years.  She is borrowing $500 to buy cashew nuts in bulk.  More than 20%of children below 5 years old in El Salvador come from families where single mothers are the sole source of income.  Since it is almost impossible for single mothers to borrow money from traditional sources, this loan is filling a great need.  It will help Marta increase her income and reach her goals.  She will repay in 12 months, beginning in September.  We loaned $100.

Celia is 53 years old and is the owner of a small store and snack bar in Asuncion, Paraguay.  She has many customers because she is located close to many workers.She has been in the business for more than 20 years and is borrowing $1,000 to renovate her kitchen and buy tables and chairs.  She will repay the loan over 12 months beginning in October..  We loaned $100.

Asssiya is 54 years old and lives in Hatizabad, Pakistan.Her village is surrounded by green fields and is an excellent agricultural area.  She owns a buffalo and sells her milk in the community .  However, her milk production is below average because cannot afford to buy nutritious , dry, green fodder for feed.  She is borrowing $350 to purchase the recommended food for her buffalo.  She will repay the loan in 12 months,  beginning with a double payment in September.  We some risk in this loan and loaned only $50.

Haym is a 26 year old opthalmologist who lives in Vanadzor town, Armenia.  He is listed as a service provider and currently provides any service relates to glasses.  He is borrowing $1700 to purchase optometry examination equipment in order to be able to provide high quality service.  He lives with his parents and sister and is the sole provider for their support.  He also cares for his 74 year old grandparents..  Haym will repay the loan over 24 months, beginning in September.  We loaned $75.

The Pada Welhoore Group is three women who live in Ougadougou Kilwa, Burkina Faso.  This is the groups second loan, with the first loan paid back on schedule. Assaiatov is the leader of the group and will use her portion of the $1,025 loan to buy tofu, two bottles of oil, a cartload of wood, skewers and a bag of sugar to make tofu skewers and juice to sell.  The group will repay the loan in 6 payments, beginning in September.  We loaned $50.

The Kajwenge Group consists of 32 men and women who live in Kasese, in the southwest corner of Uganda.  Mariam is the leader of the group.  She has an agricultural produce business and she also farms.  She is doing well enough that she is able to save some money.  However, she faces the challenge of fluctuatiing prices and tries to beat that problem by selling a variety of products that she purchases to resell - maize, beans, and g nuts.  The group is borrowing $4,425 and will repay the loan in 6 monthly installments, beginning in September.  We loaned $100.

The Tiessini Group is a group of 16 women who live in the Sourou River valley of Mali.
Juliette, a member of the group, is married , 42 years old, with 4 children.  For the last 25 years, she has purchased sheep in the neighborhood markets, raised them and sold them in the larger markets.  Her average profit is 25,000 FCFA (about $35).  She will use her portion of the $2,375 group loan to buy more sheep and animal food.  She can then feed them better and make a larger profit of $25,000 FCFA ($42).  The group will pay the loan back in one payment in April 2017.  We loaned $100.

The Waqayhuillqui Group is 12 individuals who live in the Cusco area of Peru. Pauline is one of he group members. She is a 49 year old widow with three children and works very hard.  She has been growing vegetables since was very young and sells them to some vegetable stands in the market.    She works every day and knows the business well.  She will use her portion of the $4800 to buy seeds and fertilizer.  The loan will pay back in 6 months, starting in September.  We loaned $100.  

Distey Phorey is a 25 year old bachelor and the sole income producer for his household of his mother and three siblings.  He lives in one of the most vulnerable areas of Port-Au-prince, Haiti and is a community leader.  He realized that extreme p0verty and deforestation had the greatest impact on his community and, after talking to many people, he found that 90% use charcoal as their primary cooking fuel.  That high usage isa contributor to the deforestation issue and causes many people to spend much of their income on charcoal.  He has launched an energy project named "Consume Less for Less".  He purchases high efficiency stoves from D& E green Enterprises.  These stoves create more heat for a longer period of time, thereby requiring less charcoal.  He is borrowing $1,000 to purchase more stoves to sell.  He will pay the loan back in two payments of $500 in October and $500 in November.  While we find this idea to be a potential solution to a huge problem, it is still in its early stages and we see much risk.  We loaned $25.

If you are interested in joining this small but impactful mission, please contact Rich Wymore.

Annual Conferences

I’m excited for annual conference! This is the yearly gathering of United Methodists in each region. The practice of gathering for annual conference dates back to John Wesley’s days in the 18th century.  Early Methodists traveled by horse and were called "circuit riders."

This week I will be attending the Missouri Annual Conference alongside Stacy Braeske, the voting lay member from our congregation.  

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Celebrating “Strangely Warmed” Hearts!

I’m very excited about worship this week --- we’ll be celebrating our Wesleyan heritage through music and reflection!  Our worship will focus on the meaning of salvation as shown in John and Charles Wesley’s sermons, lyrics, journals, and lives.  This week is known as “Aldersgate Sunday” or “Heritage Sunday.” We are commemorating John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience on May 24, 1738.

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Betty Melby’s Love for Our Church

As many of us know, Betty Melby went to Heaven December 26, 2015. She was a long-term and very supportive member of our church. Her support of University Church included something few are aware of. Betty established a Charitable Gift Annuity naming University United Methodist Church as the beneficiary.

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United Methodist General Conference

This week we pray for the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. This global gathering of United Methodists is meeting May 10-20, 2016. General Conference is held every four years (dating back to the 18th century!). This General Conference will be held in Portland, Oregon; its location rotates among regions (“jurisdictions”) in the United States --- beginning in eight years, it will begin rotate among regions of the world! 

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Holy Humor Sunday

This week's service is a little different as we especially make space for jokes and laughter in the service. This is a “resurrection” (pun intended) of an old Easter custom begun by early Christians.  The week following Easter Sunday was observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter.” This was inspired by early Christian preachers who envisioned the risen Christ laughing at the devil. I hope you have a joyful worship experience!  

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UCity Microcredit Club: Making Loans that Change Lives

The UCity Microcredit Club met on February 12 in the library of University United Methodist Church and made eight loans for $675, as follows:

Rosenda lives in Comarca Nyabe-Bugle, Panama and has a lot of experience raising cattle.  He is borrowing $2,000 to purchase more heifers to increase his herd.  The loan will be repaid over 3 years, beginning in April, 2016.  We loaned $100.  This is our first loan in Panama.

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Let's talk about Lent....

Did you know?

Lent is part of a recovery of ancient Christian practice. The recovery of Lent was not simply about re-syncing our current calendars with more ancient ones. Instead, it was primarily about recovering the church's mission of discipling people in the way of Jesus, and realigning our worship practices to support that mission.

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Draw the Circle Wide

The United Methodist General Conference will meet for two weeks this spring to worship, discuss, debate, celebrate, and vote on issues affecting the global church. This global gathering happens once every four years, and it is the only time when the denomination's Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions can be changed.

One of the issues that will be near to the hearts of many people at University UMC is winning full LGBTQ rights. Currently, The United Methodist Church discriminates against gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons by not allowing clergy to conduct same-sex unions, by allowing  and by refusing to ordain "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" (meaning that gay and lesbian clergy have to remain single or closeted --- although the exact definitions of "self-avowed" and practicing" are regularly argued in church courts).  

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Testimony on Spiritual Gifts

When Diane called me this week and asked me to talk for a few minutes about my spiritual gifts journey, I answered right away. No problem! I can do that. How hard can it be, right?  

Because even though I am confident that public speaking is neither one of my spiritual gifts nor talents, I can talk for a few minutes about how it is possible to be nearing the end of my fifth decade on this planet and still struggling to figure out what god is calling me to do. Right? How hard can that be?

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