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Protestant Cooperation, "Truthquest", Cremation & Russia

Protestant Cooperation, "Truthquest", Cremation & Russia

In Today's Edition:
  • Protestant Faiths Cooperate on Increasing Membership
  • Thanks to Cremation, Church Burial Once Again Becoming a Hot Topic
  • Christian Artists to Appear on "TruthQuest: California" Series
  • New York City to Host Festival of Life
  • Russians Return Church Windows Taken During War to German Church

Protestant Faiths Cooperate on Increasing Membership ... The Associated Press (AP) reports that after a steady decline in membership, the leaders of seven Protestant denominations are looking for ways to reverse the trend. The denominations include the Christian Reformed Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ. Each has seen a drop in attendance over the past 20 years.

To help them understand the reasons for the decline, leaders commissioned a survey asking tough questions. Research results showed church leaders that hiring innovative ministers and reaching out to minorities are "critical" to rebuilding. "The demographics are shifting," said the Rev. Robert Scudieri, head of church development in North America for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. "If local churches continue to only see white, English-speaking people as their market, that market is drying up."

According to AP, the study used surveys and focus groups to identify key characteristics of successful church planters. Study director H. Stanley Wood of the Presbyterian Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., revealed the preliminary results at a recent gathering at the United Church of Christ headquarters in Cleveland. Wood noted that "successful church developers have been willing to take risks, and have tenaciously pursued their goals. They also tend to be charismatic leaders who clearly communicate their vision, delegate tasks and recruit good assistants." The Christian Reformed and Presbyterian churches are among those developing interview strategies to find church builders with those crucial characteristics of leadership, reported AP.

Thanks to Cremation, Church Burial Once Again Becoming a Hot Topic ... (Associated Baptist Press) -- The church cemetery is making a comeback, of sorts, with a growing number of congregations including a columbarium on their church grounds. Time was when the church graveyard was the final resting-place of choice for most Americans. With the rise of urban and suburban congregations, however, the cost and availability of property made church burials less practical. As a result, most Christians today are buried in sprawling, public cemeteries among rows of monuments that memorialize people they never knew.

With the increasing popularity of cremation, however, a number of churches are recapturing the concept of Christian burial by installing vaults or church walls with niches designed for the interment of cremated ashes. The term columbarium comes from "columba," the Latin word for dove, the Christian symbol for peace. It also denotes the resemblance of the compartments that hold burial urns to a dovecote, a raised box or house with niches for domestic pigeons.

While a common feature in Episcopal churches, the idea is catching on more slowly among Baptists, because a lot of them have a problem with cremation, said Jack Springer, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America. But a handful of Baptist congregations are joining the trend. "Christian burial at one time was within the church building," Roberts said. "When interior space became limited, burial took place outside in the churchyard cemetery. As fewer churches had space for such burial on their grounds, interment took place in secular cemeteries. In our time, as more and more churches have a columbarium as an alternative to in-ground burial, it is possible to return to the church for the final resting place."

Christian Artists to Appear on "TruthQuest: California" Series ... Christian recording artists Bebo Norman, Sarah Sadler and the Paul Colman Trio will make guest appearances on FamilyNet's new Christian reality series "TruthQuest: California." The artists are represented by the Nashville-based Essential Records label. TruthQuest: California is FamilyNet Television's twist on reality TV, differing from previous reality fare as 12 Christian teenagers take a journey to California to apply their faith in the real world. For 18 days in July, the TruthQuesters will write stories about and participate in cutting-edge ministry in the state. Their stories will appear on Baptist Press and their adventures will be chronicled in 13 half-hour episodes by FamilyNet Television to air weekly beginning Oct. 3.

The TruthQuest: California team will learn to surf with Christian surfers in San Diego, attend a church on the beach, meet Christian celebrities, rappel with missionaries in Yosemite National Park and interact with locals in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco. As a study guide, participants will use the TruthQuest Inductive Student Bible provided by Broadman & Holman Publishers.

"This program is about what's right with young people today," said Martin Coleman, FamilyNet vice president of programming, "It's Christian teenagers who desire a deeper relationship with Christ and who want to make a positive impact on their world."

New York City to Host Festival of Life ... (ANS) - From Aug. 26 through Sept. 2nd, hundreds of Christians from around the country will be traveling to New York City, not to see the sights but to practically share the love of Jesus Christ in conjunction with the New York City Festival of Life. Mike MacIntosh, who served in New York City for the first two weeks after 9/11 as a law enforcement chaplain at Ground Zero, the city morgue, and at the family assistance center, is the visionary behind this outreach. "My heart broke for America," says MacIntosh, "but it also broke for the people of New York." Now, along with many churches from the East Coast and around the country, he has a vision for reaching out to the hurting heart of New York City with the good news of Jesus.

The Festival of Life will present the message of Jesus Christ to the city in a real and tangible way by utilizing dozens of different venues and involving hundreds of individual believers. It goes far beyond a typical large crusade type event that focuses primarily on one man preaching to a large crowd. Each Festival of Life provides opportunities for hundreds of everyday people to get involved, use their gifts and make an impact for the gospel.

Currently the Festival team is planning to conduct outreaches in all five of the boroughs of New York City. Some of the venues will include evening crusades at Centennial Hall, outreaches in Central Park, Times Square, Union Station, Battery Park and dozens of other areas all over the city. There is even an outreach planned for Rykers Island Prison, the largest prison in the country. There will be extreme sports outreaches, an appreciation breakfast for the Sanitation Workers who cleaned up the debris from Ground Zero and an FFC Ladies Tea.

Russians Return Church Windows Taken During War to German Church ... (ENI) -- The Russian government has returned 111 medieval stained-glass windows to a German church almost six decades after the Soviet Red Army seized them. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) hailed the action as "a good sign for peace and reconciliation" in Europe and a "remarkable sign of the Christian fellowship" between the German church and the Russian
Orthodox Church.

The windows, depicting biblical scenes from Creation to Judgment Day, were handed over in St. Petersburg to German culture minister Julian Nida-Ruemelin on June 24. They will be reinstalled in their original location in the Marienkirche in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder on the German-Polish border. The 14th century windows were seized by Soviet troops who occupied the city in 1946, three years after they were dismantled and stored to prevent damage from Allied bombing. German church leaders have been negotiating their return since the early 1990s.

Bishop Wolfgang Hueber of Berlin-Brandenburg said that he had discussed the issue privately with Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church. "This helped the Russian authorities accept that they weren't state property but the possessions of a Christian church," he said. It will take four years to reinstall the windows but Hueber said that he hoped several would be back in place for the Marienkirche's 750th anniversary in 2003 when the city would host the nation's first ecumenical Kirchentag or church festival.