The Baltimore Conference of the United Methodist Church voted this week to set aside for "the poor and needy" 1 percent of the incomes of both the conference and its 754 congregations throughout Maryland, the District of Columbia and eastern West Virginia.
The action, which church leaders estimated could generate more than $400,000, won overwhelming approval from delegates to the annual meeting here. The new fund is to be over and above the programs for the poor already included in the budgets of the conference and many local congregations.
The Rev. Louis Schockley, a Baltimore pastor, said a conference task force on the needy recommended the increased aid because "the needs of the poor are rapidly increasing as a result of the reprioritizing of federal, state and local government budgets."
The conference specified that money for the poor raised by local congregations should stay in the community, "utilizing wherever possible presently existing local structures for meeting human need." Delegates agreed that congregations, scattered as they are throughout the area, were in a better position to identify areas of need than a committee at conference headquarters in Baltimore.
Conference delegates also went on record opposing federal budget cuts in government programs designed to aid the poor, such as food stamps, medical care, day care for children of working mothers, rent subsidies and other assistance measures.
In his address to the meeting, Bishop D. Frederick Wertz, head of the conference, condemned the resurgence of Ku Klux Klan and other racist activity, saying "there is no place for it in our society," and told delegates that "there must never be any doubt where the United Methodist Church stands" on such extremist groups.
Earlier this year, the Elijah United Methodist Church in Poolesville was broken into by vandals who damaged church fixtures, scrawled racial epithets about the church and carved the initials KKK into the communion table.
Wertz also condemned nuclear weapons, calling them "the death knell of the human race," and urged church members to continue to protest against "the madness that leads us to the brink of disaster."
As it has in recent years, the conference housed and fed delegates at Methodist-related American University but held its plenary sessions at the Washington Hebrew Congregation synagogue, a few blocks down Massachusetts Avenue, since there is no Methodist church in the area large enough to accommodate the sessions.
Big red banners with the stark outline of a fish, the ancient Christian symbol, flanked the synagogue's massive stone tablets of the Ten Commandments to give an aura of Judeo-Christian friendliness to the huge auditorium. Sharing space with contemporary Jewish art works in the synagogue's social hall were Methodist-related exhibits on African missions, choir robes and pulpit gowns in a rainbow of hues, and anti-Reagan bumper stickers that read " 'Let Them Eat Jellybeans'--Reagan."
In an added ecumenical note this year, the conference bused delegates across town Tuesday night to the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for ceremonies in which Bishop Wertz and retired Bishop James K. Mathews ordained 19 men and women to the ministry of the church.
A statistical report indicated that total membership in Maryland Conference churches declined by 1,515 during 1981 for a total of 242,632 persons. In his address, Wertz deplored the fact that 65 percent of the conference's churches had no confirmation class last year and more than half received no members on profession of faith. "If you do not feed in new life, old life will not go on forever," he warned.
In other action at the annual meeting, delegates adopted a resolution on drunken driving that calls for raising the minimum drinking age to 21, laws that would authorize the courts to commit offenders to "accepted treatment facilities when evidence of alcoholism is present," and increased programs of "alcohol education" in driver training programs in schools and the community at large.
Noting that "95 million people in this country" use alcohol, the conference resolution addressed solely the problems caused by drunken drivers, without offering moral judgment on the use of alcohol as such. United Methodism in the past has been antialcohol; until 1968, ministers were explicitly forbidden by church discipline to drink. But in recent years, the church's pronouncements have tended to address the "responsible" use of alcohol.
Delegates approved recommendations that set $11,300 as the minimum salary for full-time ministers, all of whom have completed at least three years of graduate study beyond a bachelor's degree. In addition, ministers receive housing (either in a church-owned parsonage or a housing allowance), $2,200 yearly travel allowance and pension benefits. The conference itself provides supplements for small or poor congregations unable to meet the minimum requirements.