May 4, 2006

World News 2

Presbyterian Church (USA)
to Cut 130 Staff Positions

BY ADELLE BANKS                                                                        © 2006 Religion News Service 
capThe Presbyterian Church (USA) announced May 1 that 75 national staff jobs will be cut at its Louisville, Kentucky, headquarters, along with 55 positions in its overseas missionary force.

The reductions amount to "the most radical restructuring" of the mainline Protestant denomination's mission program since 1993, Presbyterian News Service reported.

Most of the 75 national staff cuts were effective immediately, while others will occur by October. The church's General Assembly Council, which functions as its board of directors, determined that the cuts were necessary to reduce the mission budget by $9.15 million.

The changes will eliminate three church-wide divisions: Congregational Ministries, National Ministries and Worldwide Ministries. The senior executives of those divisions will be among those whose jobs will be eliminated Oct. 1.

"The senior staff felt that our witness would be strengthened by realizing the significant savings that would come from reorganizing the senior leadership level to also focus on the objectives rather than programs," said the Rev. John Detterick, executive director of the General Assembly Council.

Among programs that will be eliminated are those related to criminal justice, environmental justice and older-adult ministries.

Programs related to small and rural churches, racial and ethnic caucuses and staffing in a Washington office will be scaled back.

Detterick said the new "Mission Work Plan" realizes a goal to increase support of ministries of congregations and presbyteries, the regional groupings of Presbyterian churches.

"We didn't do this just to cut a budget," he said. "In moving to an objective-based structure, we will be in a stronger position to facilitate the mission activities of the presbyteries and congregations of the PC(USA)."


Interfaith Alliance Calls for Shutdown
of White House Faith-based Office

                                                                          © 2006 Religion News Service 

Interfaith leaders have called for President Bush to close the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives a week after the resignation of the office's director.

"The so-called faith-based initiative was a bad idea as a campaign promise in 1999 and it's even a worse idea today after we have seen the bureaucratic and political realities growing out of this initiative," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, speaking to reporters in a April 26 audio news conference hosted by his Washington-based organization.

"The faith-based initiative turns houses of worship who receive its funds into contract employees of the federal government."

Jim Towey, the director of the office since 2002, announced his resignation on April 18. He will leave by June 2 to become president of St. Vincent College, a Catholic school in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Towey told Religion News Service shortly after his announcement that the office will stay open, despite the hopes of its critics.

"That's wishful thinking," he said. "The reality is this initiative has taken root in America and will carry on after the president leaves office."

But opponents to the office question the connections it may foster between church and state. They charge that the office has sapped some religious groups' ability to speak out against the government.

"If you're bound to the government, it's very, very difficult to have that kind of prophetic voice," said Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon, senior adviser to the Interfaith Alliance board of directors and a retired Episcopal bishop of Washington.

Imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said, "As an African-American, I'm deeply concerned about the fact that the faith-based initiative has been used in a partisan manner often to recruit African-American pastors into the Republican Party."


Gallup: Southerners Have Highest Church Attendance Rate

BY ADELLE BANKS                                                                       © 2006 Religion News Service 

Americans living in Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina are most likely to attend church on a regular basis, a new analysis by the Gallup Organization shows.

Fifty-eight percent of people polled in each of those Southern states said they attended church weekly or almost weekly, according to data released April 27. Utah, a predominantly Mormon state, was not far behind, with 55 percent reporting similar attendance.

Analysts for the Princeton, N.J.-based research organization looked at more than 68,000 interviews conducted in the past two years to determine which states have the highest and lowest church attendance.

Overall, 42 percent of Americans say they attend church or synagogue once a week or almost every week while 43 percent say they seldom or never attend worship services.

The New England states of New Hampshire (24 percent), Vermont (24 percent) and Rhode Island (28 percent) were among the states where people reported the lowest levels of regular attendance.

Western states, most notably Nevada (27 percent), also reported low levels of regular attendance. Thirty-two percent of respondents in each of three other Western states -- Washington, California and Oregon -- reported attending church weekly or almost weekly.

Residents of some Midwestern states reported high church attendance, most notably Nebraska (53 percent).

The breakdown for weekly and almost weekly attendance in some states follows:

    Alabama: 58 percent
    Louisiana: 58 percent
    South Carolina: 58 percent
    Mississippi: 57 percent
    Nebraska: 53 percent
    California: 32 percent
    Rhode Island: 28 percent
    Nevada: 27 percent
    Vermont: 24 percent
    New Hampshire: 24 percent