NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A United Methodist Church agency that ministers to men plans to end its 56-year tradition of holding national meetings in Indiana and will have the next event at a Baptist college in Nashville.
United Methodist Men, which meets every four years, has held its national meeting at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., since the conference began in 1953.
But group leaders said on Tuesday they decided to move the meeting to Belmont University in Nashville because most of its members live in the Southeast and the new location is easier to access.
The United Methodist Church, with denominational offices in Nashville, is one of the largest Protestant denominations in the U.S., with nearly 8.3 million members and more than 35,000 churches.
"We weren't unhappy at Purdue. People just thought it would be nice to move to a new location," United Methodist Men spokesman Richard Peck said on Tuesday. About 5,000 men are expected to attend the group's next conference in 2009.
The Rev. David Adams, an executive with United Methodist Men who is helping to plan the event, is a graduate of Belmont and said the close proximity of the school with the Methodist Men's Nashville-based facilities are also ideal for the event.
The announcement of the Methodist group's plans to have the meeting at Belmont comes as the Baptist school seeks to diversify its board with trustees who are not Baptist. The Tennessee Baptist Convention has filed a lawsuit against Belmont over the issue and argues the school is losing its Baptist identity.
The suit, which claims Belmont has received nearly $58 million from the convention's executive board since 1951, seeks damages for all its past contributions and the value of any property or other items given to the university in today's dollars, plus interest.
James Porch, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, would not say whether or not he thought the Methodist plan to hold the event at Belmont's campus meant the school was trying to further distance itself from Baptists.
"It's an internal decision made by officials at Belmont. That's the decision they've made," said Porch.
The Methodist Men's event is slated to be held at Belmont University's newly built Curb Event Center, a 90,000-square-foot sports and entertainment complex.
"We are excited to welcome the United Methodist Men to the Belmont campus," Belmont President Bob Fisher said in a news release.
"Their rich tradition of faith, fellowship and community fits perfectly at Belmont ... Anytime we can welcome esteemed groups to campus with values similar to Belmont's, we are honored to do so."
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