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Always missed, never forgotten: Jose Velasquez

Born in Mexico City, Jose Velasquez came with his family to the United States when he was a teenager. It was here he found the Lord and was called to the United Methodist ministry.

Jose was a long-serving and beloved member of the Good News board of directors from 1989-2002. At the Spiring meeting of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, Jose will be among the clergy remembered who has gone on to be with the Lord. He was 76 years old.

Jose received his B.A. degree from the college division of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago. After a year of study at Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, he transferred to Asbury Theological Seminary and earned the M.Div. degree in 1967. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity by Asbury Seminary in 1981.

Jose served pastorates in the Chicago area for a number of years, during which time he served two years as the National President of MARCHA, the official Hispanic caucus within the United Methodist Church. He went on loan from Northern Illinois Conference to do ministry in the Rio Grande Conference and retired there in 1996.

Though retired, Jose continued in ministry as a hospice chaplain in El Paso, Texas. According to his loving wife of 48 years, Ruth, those nine years included some of the greatest ministry experiences a pastor could have. “He saw many people come to know the Lord,” Ruth told me recently.

In addition to serving on the Good News board, Jose served as a member of the board of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1989 to 1999. Then, in 1999, he was elected to the Asbury College (now University) Board of Trustees and was still an active member at the time of his death.

Jose was burdened that so many Hispanic students did not have the finances to attend a private Christian college such as Asbury, where his two sons Jose and Pablo attended. As a result of this oft-expressed concern, an anonymous donor established the Jose Valesquez Scholarship Fund for Hispanic students at Asbury, evidence of the high esteem in which Jose and Ruth were held by the Asbury community.

Ruth recalls lovingly about Jose that “He was an evangelist, a pastor, and an apologist. As evangelist, he would talk to anyone, anywhere, about the Lord. As pastor, people’s concerns were his concerns. And as apologist, he would always respond graciously and lovingly to faith questions. He never angered people by his response.”

“Whenever they were in town, Jose and Ruth made it a point to come by and visit the Good News staff,” recalls my long-time colleague Steve Beard, editor of Good News. “Their presence never failed to brighten up our office. Jose’s smile and witness will always be missed, but never forgotten.”

I remember Jose as a dear friend and colleague both at Good News and on the Asbury University board. I still thank God for him. He was one of the most Christ-like, compassionate, and caring Christian brothers I have ever known. He was a man of prayer and of the Word—an authentic Wesleyan in every way.
Our prayers are with Ruth, a prayer warrior and faithful servant in her own right. She lives in Dallas near Pablo and his family, and continues serving on the Steering Committee of the Renew Network for Women.

By James V. Heidinger II, President and Publisher Emeritus of Good News.

United Methodist giving, membership decline in recession

The recession continues to affect giving to the United Methodist Church at a time when the denomination is experiencing its largest percentage decline in membership since 1974.

United Methodist churches in the 63 annual (regional) conferences of the U.S. contributed 84 percent of what the denomination budgeted to support ministries around the world in 2009. The total apportioned was $150.3 million; $126.3 million was collected.

Meanwhile, membership dropped 1.01 percent to 7,774,420 in 2008, according to the latest data from the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration. The council coordinates and administers finances for the denomination. Average worship attendance was down 1.83 percent.

What continued, amid sacrifices, was the work of the church, officials said.
“With the economic ups and downs of 2009, church leaders are reporting that ministry happened on tighter budgets, and the people of the United Methodist Church are still supporting the mission of the church,” said Moses Kumar, top executive of the council, and Bishop Lindsey Davis, president of the council.

Apportionments. Fourteen of the U.S. annual (regional) conferences contributed to the church’s global ministry funds at the 100 percent level. Fourteen conferences also increased their giving percentage over 2008. In 2008, 18 conferences paid 100 percent.

The conferences at the lowest end include Northwest Texas, 58 percent; Alabama West Florida, 59 percent; Memphis, 59 percent; and California-Nevada, 50 percent.

Those paying 100 percent are Alaska Missionary, Baltimore-Washington, Central Texas, East Ohio, Greater New Jersey, Illinois Great Rivers, Iowa, North Carolina, Oklahoma Indian Missionary, Peninsula Delaware, Red Bird Missionary, Rio Grande, New York and Wisconsin.

The conferences that increased their giving over 2008 are Holston, Kansas West, Louisiana, Missouri, North Texas, Northern Illinois, Rocky Mountain, South Georgia, Southwest Texas, Texas, West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Yellowstone.

Membership drops. Statistics reported by local churches and annual conferences indicate that professing membership in 2008 was down 1.01 percent over 2007, the largest percentage decline since 1974, when membership dropped 1.06 percent.

Membership was the highest, 10,789,624, when the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist churches merged in 1968. It has been declining since the mid-1960s.

There are signs of growth, however.

Eight conferences reported increases in membership, and seven reported increases in worship attendance, said Scott Brewer, executive with the council.
The number of constituents—persons who are not officially members of the church, but for whom the church assumes pastoral responsibility—increased 1 percent over 2007, with 36 conference reporting increases in this category.

“We assume that increasingly people getting active in churches today are more reluctant to officially become a member of the church,” Brewer said. “This indicates the picture may not be as bleak as the membership data alone indicates.”

Churches with memberships of 100 and less reported a decline in membership of 2.25 percent, while churches with 3,000 and more members increased membership by 1.9 percent.

By Kathy L. Gilbert, a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tennessee.