Women 'marry Christ' in rare Catholic rite
Angela Scannapieco, above, and Junette Romero went to a bridal shop to buy white dresses, but not for a regular wedding.
Instead, they needed gowns for an ancient Roman Catholic rite so rare that fewer than 100 American women have gone through it: The Solemn Rite of Consecration of Virgins for Women Living in the World.
The rite formally affirms the chastity of women who are devoted to the church, but who do not want to become nuns.
The ceremony was performed recently by Bishop Thomas Daily of the Brooklyn Diocese. And both now wear gold bands on their ring fingers to symbolize their marriage to Christ.
The rite can be traced back to the year 500, but it was revived by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Consecrated virgins have no formal obligations other than daily prayer, but most also have lay ministries.
Church membership tops 151 million
Total U.S. church membership is 151,097,906 in 320,697 congregations, according to the "2001 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches." Three-fourths of those members belong to the
10 largest denominations.
The nation's biggest denominations are the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention, which posted membership increases of 373,048 and 122,400 respectively from the previous year.
The third-ranking United Methodist Church declined by 33,841 members. Also showing losses were the American Baptist Churches (53,012), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (28,557), Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod (11,964) and Presbyterian Church (USA) (13,775).
The National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. typically ranks fourth in size but provided no data and was not listed.
N.D. legislators approve classroom displays
The North Dakota state senate has voted to endorse a bill that allows schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms as part of an exhibit of historical documents.
Meanwhile, House members have approved legislation that permits school boards to allow voluntary classroom prayers to be led by a teacher or student.
Both measures will go to opposite chambers for review.
"Why are some so fearful that our children may be exposed to God, or religion, or morals, or values in our school?" asked Rep. Mark Dosch, a Republican from Bismarck. "It's as if some horrible thing will happen to our children if they're exposed to something good."
Baptist missionaries report expansion
Southern Baptist Convention missionaries and groups they work with in other nations established 6,520 new congregations and baptized 451,301 believers last year, the denomination's International Mission Board reported.
That represented a 37 percent jump over 1999 in newly formed congregations, while baptisms increased 24 percent.