Can I be confirmed online? Is it ever appropriate to place the Advent Wreath on the Lord’s Table? What's the United Methodist position on rebaptism? Can a lay servant wear a robe in the pulpit? What countries have United Methodist churches? Do apportionments help pay for church camps? How do you get to heaven?
These are only a handful of the thousands of questions received by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications, the information service for all things United Methodist.
Weekly, the staff answer questions that run the gamut from beliefs and theology, to church structure, to the work of agencies and what’s going on in The United Methodist Church at large. They are a trusted and unbiased resource for members, leaders and seekers alike. Though their format, name (previously InfoServ), and team members have changed over the years, their mission and work have not.
When individuals submit questions to the Ask the UMC team, they research the answer then respond, or direct them to the best agency or contact in the worldwide denomination who can assist them.
The team keeps track of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and creates content for UMC.org based on those inquiries. “We’ve found that if we get two or three questions about something it may mean there is interest in it by many hundreds or thousands more,” notes the Rev. Taylor W. Burton Edwards, director for the Ask the UMC. Though new to the position, he has been an active part of answering questions for the team since 2005 and developing feature content since 2018. As an ordained pastor and former director of worship resources for Discipleship Ministries he brings expertise in liturgy, polity, church history and theology to the Ask the UMC.
Over time, the team has worked to build and update a comprehensive knowledge base. The Ask the UMC webpage includes links to many articles that answer frequently asked questions. This self-serve option makes the information available 24/7 to United Methodists and others interested in learning about the denomination. Twenty-one new/revised articles were added last year as a part of their continual efforts to keep information timely.
The ever—expanding web series of FAQs touches on a wide-range of topics in relation to The United Methodist Church overall, holidays and hot topics centered around issues impacting society. In 2020 alone, the Ask the UMC website section received more than 660,000 page views.
For those that prefer one-on-one assistance, the team is readily available to provide assistance. Live chat, email and telephone calls provide personal interaction with those seeking help. They also provide information as needed to the UMC Facebook team as they respond to messages. At times, these multitasking pros can be working on an email, live chatting and on the phone all at the same time.
On average, the team fields 600-1200 questions per month, with much higher volumes around the time of General Conference and when social issues dominate the news.
“Our team is dedicated to getting people details quickly and in the way that best meets their needs,” adds Burton Edwards. “We want to alleviate fears that can be caused by lack of information by helping people find information, gain clarity, educate themselves and be equipped to better inform others.”
“I think it’s a really positive thing to be able to offer this service as finding information, resources and contacts within The United Methodist Church is not always an easy task” says Deeann Bogle, a United Methodist layperson with years of experience on the team, specializing in live chat and the Find-A-Church service. “It’s helpful to be able to click a button online, submit a question, and get a good answer often with supportive links within just a day or two [during the workweek].”
No church-related questions are off limits for the team. They answer questions about Christian beliefs, living out their faith, what the church believes and practices and how the church does its work at every level. They’ll even help people think through deep personal needs and concerns about things going on in society, how the church responds and how the church can help them think through things.
Committed to aiding the global church, their frequently asked questions are being made available over time in multiple languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Korean. This information is also shared with denominational staff to identify educational opportunities and resources to help church communications.
No matter your question or means of communication, when you reach the Ask The UMC team, you can be confident that you’ll get a prompt, accurate, thoughtful and caring response grounded in the official positions, theology, and polity of The United Methodist Church.
*Brenda Smotherman is a Senior Public Relations Specialist at United Methodist Communications.