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 answers questions that run the gamut from beliefs and theology to church structure, 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 the format, name (previously InfoServ) and team members have changed over the years, the mission and work have not.
When individuals submit questions to the Ask The UMC team, team members research the answer and respond or direct the questioner to the best agency or contact in the entire denomination who can assist them.
The team also 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 Ask The UMC.
Although relatively new to the position, he has been an active part of answering questions for the team since 2005 and has been developing feature content since 2018. As an ordained pastor and former director of worship resources for Discipleship Ministries, he provides valuable expertise in liturgy, polity, church history and theology to 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 readily available to United Methodists and others interested in learning about the denomination. Twenty-one new/revised articles were added last year as a part of the team's 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 on issues impacting society. In 2020 alone, the Ask The UMC website section received more than 660,000 page views.
For those who prefer one-on-one assistance, the team is readily available to provide help. The team can provide personal interaction with those seeking help via a live chat, email or telephone call. The group also provides information as needed to the UMC Facebook team as it responds to messages. At times, these multitasking pros can be working on an email, live chatting and be on the phone all at the same time.
On average, the team fields 600-1,200 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,” Burton Edwards says. “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.”
Deeann Bogle, a United Methodist layperson who is a part of the Ask The UMC team, says, “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."
Bogle, who has years of experience on the team, specializes 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. The team members will answer questions about Christian beliefs, living out their faith, what the church believes and practices as well as how the church does its work at every level. They’ll even help people work 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, over time, being made available 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 associate director, PR, at United Methodist Communications.
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